Late twentysomething Sybil Dorsett (Field) finds herself standing in a Central Park lake one day and can't remember how she got there. This is nothing new for the mousy and nervous woman, who has worked as a teacher. She's had blackouts throughout her life, some lasting for months. Luckily, Sybil finds a sympathetic ear at the office of noted psychiatrist Dr. Cornelia Wilbur (Joanne Woodward), who is willing to take on the case even though she has no idea what she's in for.
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The "fine madness" of the title refers to Samson Shillitoe (Connery), a poet who's having trouble completing his next work. He's also a bit of a deadbeat: He can't keep a day job to save his life, he's months late on alimony payments and being chased by debt collectors, who he regularly beats up, invariably destroying the room he's in along the way. Oh, he cheats on his wife (Joanne Woodward), too. But she loves him so much she's willing to spend all her savings on, get this, psychoanalysis, so he can finish his poem.
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Joanne Woodward's performance in the title role is pretty much the only reason to see the film today -- mental illness has been handled with much more grace in the years since. Woodward deftly handles the difficult task of running through three characters: At first she's Eve White, a troubled and plain young woman, and soon enough Eve Black, a brazen hussie, comes to the forefront, doing battle with Eve White. As her psyche continues to degenerate, a third identity, Jane, comes to the forefront. Eve's psychiatrists are offered up as heroes -- looking back at them today reveals that they're all total chumps -- and through a series of absurd hypnotisms she eventually comes to grips with her past abuse and, like that, gets well.
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This bizarre oddity actually features real-life husband and wife Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, five years after they were married, and thrown into an absurd love story that makes minimal sense and barely holds your interest for more than a few minutes. The setup is this: Newman is a journalist in Paris, and he thinks Woodward (despite her mannish looks here) is a high-priced call girl. He claims he wants to write a story about her, which of course is an entry to a love affair.
Continue reading: A New Kind Of Love Review