Amicus Productions’ 1970 oddity, The Mind of Mr Soames, sees the brilliant Terrence Stamp play the eponymous character, a 30-year-old revived after a life-long coma to be reintroduced into a world he has no knowledge of.
Review contains spoilers.
Somewhere down the line, The Mind of Mr Soames got lost in an ever growing pile of forgotten classics. Perhaps this was due to being wrongly marketed as a horror film, or perhaps it’s just that bit too weird for mass consumption, either way, Mr Soames is a hidden treasure, released for the first time in the UK on Blu-ray by Powerhouse Films, and definitely worth a watch.
Before I get started, this film is weird. Seriously weird, and fantastically so. A sort of mash up between heartfelt institutional drama and Drop Dead Fred. You need to go in with an open mind.
Mr John Soames (Terence Stamp) has been in a coma all his life, thirty years to be exact. Under the observation of strict and organised Doctor Maitland (Nigel Davenport), a revolutionary procedure that stimulates dormant areas of consciousness is set to bring Soames to life. Performed by American specialist, Doctor Michael Bergen (Robert Vaughn), the world is on standby for the miracle surgery.
Once awake, John has the body of a man and the mind of a baby. This is something I imagine was beyond bizarre to even attempt acting, but Stamp delivers an exceptional performance, from first cry to first steps and beyond.
The psychological institute/John’s home, has fast become the base for a documentary, or more precisely a sort of warped reality TV show with a pestering journalist who needs to be in on the action. Thomas Fleming (Christian Roberts), a failed medical student turned budding reporter is eager to exploit Soames for his own claim to fame. Fleming is unique in that he narrates the story for spectators, especially leading up to and throughout the operation scene, but soon becomes an irritant as the film develops.
Admirably, the film takes a novel approach in how it tackles psychological development. In a sort of good-cop-bad-cop sense, Maitland imposes a robust learning plan, that will see Soames talk, walk, eat and all the other essentials before six weeks; he’s already thirty years behind his peers. Burgen however, takes a more delicate approach, treating Soames as a human before an experiment, putting patient before practise.
We witness the two approaches to parenting; the kind, and well, the cruel to be kind. As Maitland states: “There are two approaches to parenting, soothe it, or let it cry.” As Soames develops, it becomes increasingly obvious that director, Alan Cooke, is painting a much bigger picture about philosophical and psychological understanding than just a strange film premise. We witness unique insights into human nature, and that in order to grow up fully, kindness and fun are essential for proper development.
Once Soames has learnt the essentials, basic speech and reasonable walking, and has been let outside by Bergen, much to Maitland’s disgust, he is ready for the world. Well, sort of.
The whole: “Can this baby kill?” tag line is, to be honest, laughable. After Maitland gets mad at Bergen’s fun approach, he is removed from the programme which leads Soames to lash out at Jim, a worker at the institute who has been cruel to him in the past. By lash out, I mean he hits him over the head with a wooden chair and runs away to the big city of London.
The film is already interesting, but now it becomes pretty funny too. For starters, a grown man in a baby pink onesie probably should have turned more heads, that being said, this was the 70s so who knows.
John’s favourite toy car at the institute was red, and when a red car driver offers him a lift into the hustle and bustle of modern life, how can he resist. The driver does comment on John’s outfit, asking him if he is training for the Olympics, which is a word John undoubtedly doesn’t know.
John Soames find himself on some awfully big adventures for such a young soul. He gets thrown out of his first pub for quite hilariously being too drunk, interrupts a children’s game of catch to be stared down and chased, and gets hit by a drunk driver. Life events come full and fast.
While Soames is trying to find his feet in the real world, the police are on his tail, looking for an institutionalised escapee wanted for “murder”. An awful lot happens in a short space of time, and while the first quarter of the film is undeniably quite slow, the rest more than makes up for it.
Finding his way on to a train, Soames tries to befriend fellow passenger, Melanie, who causes panic when she claims Soames tries to attack her. Sadly for Soames, the poor chap was only trying to help her pick up her things, but after he ate her apple and seen as he only knows basic words, most of which are about the institute, she finds him terrifying. Either way, Melanie is pretty dramatic, and the event sees him fleeing from society once again.
In order to appreciate how truly wonderful and weird this film is, it needs to be seen to be believed. The ending sees Soames hiding in a barn while his doctors and the police try to coax him out. Bergen is there with his helpful and caring approach as always, but the annoying reporters are also on hand, interfering with a delicate psychological situation. The ending leaves a very sad taste to an otherwise fairly funny film.
As a final point, it is worth mentioning the acting across the board of Mr Soames is brilliant. Stamp, however, takes centre stage and genuinely deserves all the credit he can get. I cannot think of a more challenging, weirder character to take on, and there are few who could have portrayed it so perfectly.
Upon research I found that Stamp got a lot of his inspiration from James Dean, and in the scene where Soames is laying by the flowers on his first day outside, Stamp supposedly took his cues from Dean laying down in a field in East of Eden.
Expect the unexpected. Mr Soames was poorly marketed and missed finding its audience. A psychological drama but never a horror, if you want to watch something unlike anything you have ever seen before, you will not be disappointed.
Written by Leah Wimpenny
Directed by: Alan Cooke
Written by: John Hale, Edward Simpson
Starring: Terence Stamp, Nigel Davenport, Robert Vaughn
Released: 1970 / Genre: Sci-fi/drama
Country: UK/USA / IMDB
More reviews: Latest | Archive
The Mind of Mr Soames was released on Blu-ray in the UK on September 24.