Director: Alan Cooke
Script: John Hales, Edward Simpson
Cast: Terence Stamp, Robert Vaughn, Nigel Davenport, Donal Donnelly, Dan Jackson, Scott Forbes, Judy Parfitt, Christian Roberts
Running time: 96.5 minutes
John Soames (Terence Stamp) has been in a coma since birth and is now 30 years old. He’s housed in a psychiatric hospital and fed intravenously to keep him alive. The head of the hospital, Dr Maitland (Davenport), invites a consultant, Doctor Bergen (Vaughn), over from the States to see if he can awaken John from his coma using his new laser treatment to stimulate the ‘sleep centre’ part of John’s brain.
Dr Bergen is successful with his procedure and Soames awakens from his 30-year coma, essentially a 30 year-old infant who has to learn everything that a child would, but obviously in a much shorter time-frame, or at least that’s Maitland’s plan. The head of the hospital is quite dictatorial and sees John as a project to be managed, rather than as the scared and confused person Dr Bergen sees.
The two doctor’s methods of bringing about John’s integration into society differ considerably and they clash, with John struggling in the middle. One day Bergen allows John to go outside, into the hospital’s extensive grounds, which brings things to a head between the two academics. However, John, having tasted freedom, makes a break for it, almost killing one of the male nurses who care for him 24/7, and he escapes into the outside world; an adult with the mind of a four year-old!
A man-hunt ensues, but John, more by accident than by design, manages to keep going and to keep two-steps ahead of his pursuers, escaping the clutches of the authorities until he has an unfortunate misunderstanding with a young woman, on a train, and is thereafter hunted as a sex-pest too!
The Mind of John Soames is the sort of film that would never get made today. It’s neither ‘art-house’ nor mainstream, and therefore has become a movie that’s looking for an audience; a fact backed up by its poor box-office returns at the time of its initial release. Perhaps the closest niche it might fill is as a so-called cult movie, but even then its very obscurity makes that theory a hard sell too.
I have to say that despite the rather pedestrian direction, by TV director Alan Cooke, I still found the film to be engaging and I really wanted to know what happens next; the story is certainly unusual enough to be classed as an original concept. Even the musical score is unusual, and is played out by John Williams and his, then band, Vesuvius.
Probably the thing that really helps the film along is the performances from the main actors that really bring the characters to life. Terence Stamp is excellent as the adult baby/child coming to grips with a world he’s already inhabited for thirty years, but was asleep during that whole time period. His wide-eyed wonder, and horror, of the world around him, is quite emotionally affecting. Another great performance is that of Robert Vaughn, who was a much better actor than many people gave him credit for. His take on the sensitive and kind Dr Bergen is a great one, and his ‘showdowns’ with Nigel Davenport, as Dr Maitland, make for great drama since the two are polar opposites in their approaches to dealing with the confused Mr Soames.
Another reason I like the film is for the joy of being able to wallow in a different time period (the late sixties), which is both recognisable, but also seems like a long time ago now, in a far-away place. The fashions, the cars, the buildings, the train carriages, and the weirdness of seeing medics sitting around smoking in front of their patients, is both engaging and bizarre at the same time!
Rather frustratingly, one of the biggest let-downs of the film is the ending, which feels, at least to me, somewhat anticlimactic, and a bit of a cop-out, if I’m honest. Having not read the book, (by Charles Eric Maine), that the film’s based on, I can’t clarify if the film ends differently to the book or not, but it all comes to an end abruptly, and not satisfyingly either. A shame, as, to me, it felt like there was great potential for a more powerful third act. However, this is still a cinematic curio that deserves to have a wider audience so seek it out.
Powerhouse Films is distributing The Mind of mr Soames on Blu-Ray. As per usual with Powerhouse there are some decent special features including:
- An audio commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby;
- The Mind of Mr Stamp (19 mins) – Although the legendary actor name checks his own books a few too many times, this is still an interesting interview where the actor talks about his life and career, including his time living in an Ashram, in India, and about the best piece of advice he ever got from Lawrence Olivier, specifically to always work on one’s voice because looks fade over the years, the voice not so much.
- Memories of Mr Soames (5 mins) – A talking heads, mini documentary featuring the likes of Billy Williams, the cinephotographer, John Comfort, a researcher on the film, and actor Christian Roberts. The latter reveals that his voice was dubbed on the film, which annoyed him intensely.
- Theatrical Trailer (2.40 mins) – Quite an odd trailer that doesn’t really encourage you to want to see the film, which might explain why it wasn’t a box-office hit!
- Image gallery – 80 stills, including a book cover and posters