Movie of the Week: The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)
It seems that Milton Subotsky had an explanation for every Amicus Productions film that wasn’t a hit. In “Amicus: The Friendly Face of Fear,” author Allan Bryce quotes Subotsky regarding The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970):
This could have been one of the great science-fantasy films of all time. The trouble was that we never knew what to do with the basic idea – a 30-year old man, in a coma since birth, is made conscious. How does one bring up a baby who has the strength and desires of a man?
What they did was take the concept, a 30-year old man in a coma since birth that is made conscious, but then squander what happens next. Based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine, The Mind of Mr. Soames touches upon several compelling ideas, but never focuses on one long enough to leave a lasting impact.
For example, a television crew is present for most of the movie, filming 6 one-hour documentaries. American surgeon, Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughan), questions head of the experiment, Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport), about this and it’s hinted that the network is somehow funding the project, creating a conflict of interest. However, the notion is neither expanded nor mentioned again.
The primary conflict of the story is between Dr. Maitland and Dr. Bergen. When John Soames (Terence Stamp) is awakened, the former says that it’s a great moment for his institute, while the latter says that it’s a great moment for the patient. When Bergen later calls the training plan for Soames “inflexible,” Maitland calls it “controlled.”
Bergen asks, “What’s the rush?” Maitland responds, “He’s an adult; he doesn’t have time to learn.” As he progresses, Soames rejects the harsh regiment to which Maitland assigns him and Bergen finds success simply giving him time to play and have some fun. It’s a variation on a nature vs. nurture story. Neither side is necessarily wrong, but the story pits them as adversaries.
Although Columbia financially backed the movie with a budget twice as big as Amicus’s other pre-70s productions, there was still trouble behind the scenes. Bryce explains:
Assigned as director was Alan Cooke, a TV graduate whom many on the crew found arrogant. Charles Jarrott had originally been slated to direct, but he pulled out during the scripting stages. At Columbia’s insistence, Hollywood writer Stanley Jaffe was brought in to deliver a second draft of the original John Hale script, charge a hefty $100,000 for his services. But nobody was really happy with the screenplay by the time filming started, not even Jaffe, who abdicated and appropriately enough used the cheeky pseudonym of Edward Simpson!
With barely a female in the cast, The Mind of Mr. Soames can’t even live up to one of its taglines: “A 30-year old man, in a coma since birth, is awakened with the mind of a baby and the desires of a man!” Neither is it as trashy as The Baby (1973). Bryce claims it was perceived as a “poor man’s Charly, the 1968 film that won actor Cliff Robertson an Academy Award.
Perhaps ironically, Subotsky wanted Amicus to make Charly, as well:
The novel, “The Mind of Mr. Soames,” was written before the novelette Flowers for Algernon, which was turned into the film Charly. Actually, I wanted Amicus to make both films. I had just approached a popular British comedian about playing the lead in Flowers for Algernon and when he said he wanted to do it, we made a bid for the story, but found that it had just been sold.
The final act loses any attempt to make a statement and sends Soames on the run after escaping from the institute. With an odd newspaper headline that reads, “Can This Baby Kill?” driving the locals into frenzy, the movie ends with a standoff outside a barn. It’s not particularly suspenseful, but the standoff then concludes with an unexpected act, leaving us on a down note.
The Mind of Mr. Soames is entertaining enough, but doesn’t take any chances to be bold. I’m not surprised it didn’t do well at the box office. In the UK, it was released on a double-bill with The Liberation of LQ Jones, a blaxploitation thriller. It seems not only that Amicus didn’t know what to do when making the movie, but also that it didn’t know what to do with it once it was finished.
Written by John Hale and Edward Simpson
Based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine
Directed by Alan Cooke
Starring Terence Stamp, Robert Vaughan, Nigel Davenport, Christian Roberts, Donal Donnelly, Norman Jones Released Sept. 25, 1970 (UK) RT 98 min. Home Video Columbia Pictures (Blu-ray)