Mad, Bad and Glad when it was over!

Art-house movies and I have never really been what you’d call the best of friends.

Same goes with historical costume dramas.

So what was I thinking taking myself off to see THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, which, as it turns out, is both art-house movie and died-in-the-wool costume biopic – set in 19th century London?

What was I thinking? Quite a lot actually, and up to the point of the movie theatre lights going down in that time-honored, sped-up sun-set kind of way, it was all positive.


THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN is really two based-on-fact stories rolled into one. The first centers around the 70 year long project – begun in 1857 – of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary. In real life this monumental task – the equivalent back in its day of mapping every star in the heavens – was helmed by Scottish schoolteacher and self taught linguist (he was fluent in more than a dozen languages) James Murray, played by Mel Gibson.

The second story concerns real-life American Army surgeon Dr Chester William Minor – played by Sean Penn. He spent 38 years in the infamous English mental asylum for the criminally insane Broadmoor. While incarcerated there he sent more than 10 000 submissions to James Murray for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.

A film about a dictionary compiler was always going to be a tough ask shaping it into something marketable and even mildly watchable for the general public. The inclusion of the numerous psychiatric institution scenes was an attempt to inject some drama and pathos, yet this film remains strangely lacking in energy.

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN manages to generate as much tension as a broken guitar string. It’s ability to generate emotion is likewise on a par with a 2am multi-folding-ladder info-commercial.

Every character with a speaking part is saddled with delivering speech-long, overly serious monologues that have you wishing time would somehow magically speed up. And it’s all set to a wearying, sappy soundtrack that alternates between full-on opera and a mega-blast from the strings section of the London Philharmonic.

Two hours with this movie felt like two days. Managing dutifully to avoid reading a single review before seeing the movie, I poured over a heap of them afterwards. “A film which ends up being only mildly more interesting than reading an actual dictionary” was a reoccurring lambasting quip from a number of paid opinion-givers.

Going into the movie I held genuine curiosity. After enduring 124 minutes of near unrelenting tedium, I came out with eyeballs feeling like this –

If all that sounds a bit harsh, I can agree – it feels harsh saying it and writing it. Though perhaps not as harsh as Mel Gibson unsuccessfully suing the production company in a valiant attempt to wrestle back creative control of the project, and thus saving it from the commercial and critical disaster it has ended up becoming.

Nor maybe as harsh as both Gibson’s and Sean Penn’s decision to abstain from doing any interviews to promote the movie, less they somehow convey the false impression that they in anyway approve of the final product.

I really wanted to like this movie. Yet I’ve concluded what would probably be far more to my liking is the 1998 book which the movie is based on. The Surgeon of Crowthorne was written by British author (and Oxford graduate) Simon Winchester, a journalist with more than three decades of experience.

As a final note I should add that perhaps I could have recognized the writing was on the wall with me and this movie long before I actually took my seat and the lights went dark. The theater I ventured to see THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN at (The Regal at Graceville) has history for me. Bad history.

The last time I lined up to buy a movie ticket there was 16 years ago. That sadly lackluster occasion also ended with the eyeballs madly spinning and the smelling salts having to be brought out to revive me. And before anyone tries telling me what a marvelous viewing spectacle the Bill Murray/ Scarlett Johansson movie LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) was, I say this…

Ps. Every cloud has a silver lining (except apparently the mushroom shaped ones which have a lining of Iridium and Strontium 90) so watching THE MADMAN AND THE PROFESSOR wasn’t a total loss.

Seeing this film set me on track to unearthing some pretty interesting facts and figures about the English language. You’ve borne the brunt already of my version of the madman. Now comes the Professor

The English language passed the MILLION WORD mark back in 2009 (at 10:22am GMT on June 10th, to be precise).

As of this writing, there are currently 171 476 words in use in English.

The average adult knows the meanings of approximately 30 000 words.

3000 words will cover 95% of everyday writing. 1000 words will cover 90% of everyday writing.

The English language adds a new word every 98 minutes.

Arabic is a language reputed to have over 12 million words.

The word “dictionary” first came into the English lexicon in 1220.

22 thoughts on “Mad, Bad and Glad when it was over!

  1. Mel’s back being Scottish again! Hope he wasn’t hung, drawn and quartered, this time!
    “A film which ends up being only mildly more interesting than reading an actual dictionary” LOL
    I’d never heard of this film or even the two guys it’s about so thanks you for that. Just looked at the pretty big cast! Plus Natalie Dormer is rather saucy. Would love it if the film ended with the guy in the asylum had sent him 10000 different words for potato!
    Love the added facts English language and I can’t believe paint can dry with Scarlett’s pink panties on the screen! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Glen – you have saved me the trouble of seeing this movie which when I first read about it I thought ‘how interesting’ but unlike you I did read some reviews (more than one) and all were non-flattering so once again Thanks Glen

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s kinda sad how downhill Mel went and so fast after his domestic troubles and public squalling.
    He really is a talented director.
    Hubby also hated Lost in Translation. I didn’t HATE hate it. It annoyed me. I thought it was based on a novel, and there IS a novel called Lost in Translation, but evidently it would have made a much better movie than Sofia Coppola’s treatise on self-pity and naval-gazing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have a big love for Lost In Translation. It’s on mine and my daughter Nyah’s films to watch together before she goes off to Uni this year. I could watch Bill Murray watching grass grow. I love the fact nothing really happens as they go from one scene to another. With it all beautifully filmed and joined together with a really cool soundtrack. Especially the cool melancholy of “Death in Vegas – Girls” and the electronica of Air and the other chilled stuff. I got myself wanting to watch it right now hehe.. PS I do totally understand people not being that into it though, it’s all a bit arty farty but for me…. it was perfection. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Totally get Wolfman’s take, though. My father and I have a movie we love: “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeves. It’s our sentimental time travel love story that brings us both to tears at the end. Him more demonstrably, me just tearing up a little bit. It happens! Love happens for things when they happen! And I could actually watch Bill Murray watching grass grow, too! LOVE HIM

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m sentimental at the best of times. Especially when I became a Dad. The animated Disney “Tarzan” beginning broke me! LOL… And if that broke me ffs!!! Oh my! After “Rabbit Prove Fence” I was completely FUBAR!
      Wow I haven’t seen “Somewhere in Time” since the 80s! Maybe with my track record I should keep away! Hehe I love that wonder movies can you move you in unexpected ways. “The Land Before Time”! Oh no the tears are building. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Wolfman’s take adds balance to the argument. When I’m in the midst of a raging film-induced fury, wildly throwing metaphorical critical punches like some kind of raving thrashing machine, I do on occasion need some kind soul to step in and take the opposite view… just so I can regain my senses.

    Wolfie is that kind soul.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well apart from when I’m ripping the limbs off the evil tyrants of the world or “borrowing” a farmers cow for my lunch, looks from side to side. After that I might have a kind soul. Hehe thank you for the nice words. Did make me smile. Cheers Glen.

      PS Me and my daughter watched Lost In Translation just now. We both loved it. Such a chilled and beautiful film. I related to it even more this time round. So I thank you for giving me an unexpected nudge to watch it again. There goes my big smile again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nine days later, I’ve finally caught your meaning…
      McQueen is Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980) Hollywood actor and icon.
      Ibsen is Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) Norwegian playwright and theatre director.
      And the film being compared to THE PROFESSOR & THE MADMAN is the 1978 movie AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. based on Arthur Miller’s 1950 adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play with Steve McQueen in the lead role as scientist Thomas Stockmann who battles a tannery that is accused of polluting a local town’s water supply.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Totally get Steve wanting to do this. Obviously the story spoke to him. The final production probably reached a few people. Not CB. So I wont elaborate. Filming plays can be tricky (in my opinion) and usually look like … a play being filmed. I love Steve’s work but this missed me.
        It would benefit from a Glen take. You have the right style to tackle it. I enjoyed your review of The Prof and Madman but will leave the time to watch something else, maybe Road Warrior again. Later Glen.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Lost in the Fog | Scenic Writer's Shack

  7. By sheer coincidence I’m rewatching THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) at present in half hour blocks each afternoon.

    After all these years I wondered if I could still take to it – given it’s PG rating and the fact the war movies produced in the last forty years have been so much grittier. Sure enough it’s winning me over with it’s sheer charm all over again just like it did back in my childhood.

    To Steve McQueen – “Cooler!”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s