The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

I’ve been interested in seeing Alan Cooke’s film The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970) for many years mainly because it’s an Amicus production with a great cast that includes Terence Stamp, Robert Vaughn, Nigel Davenport, Christian Roberts, Donal Donnelly and Vickery Turner. The film also features cinematography by the talented Billy Williams. I’ve seen just about every film that Amicus produced during the ’60s and ’70s and many of them are personal favorites so I assumed I would probably really enjoy The Mind of Mr. Soames as well. The film didn’t exactly live up to my high expectations, but it had plenty of interesting moments and explored many fascinating ideas. The cast was truly exceptional and composer Michael Dress’s score is very good, but unfortunately Alan Cooke’s direction is rather dull and uninspired at times.

The Mind of Mr. Soames is based on a bestselling 1961 novel of the same name written by the British science fiction author Charles Eric Maine (pen name for David McIlwain). It tells the story of a thirty-year-old man named John Soames (Terence Stamp) who suffered a mild brain injury during birth that has kept him in a deep sleep his entire life. As the film opens Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) is traveling to London to meet Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport) and perform a revolutionary type of brain surgery that will awaken Soames from his lifelong slumber, but he’s surprised by what he finds at the hospital when he arrives there.

Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport) has turned the entire hospital into a sort of set for a reality television program that plans to broadcast the operation and follow John Soames recovery. The ongoing interviews between the doctors and the television crew are conducted by a failed medical student and budding reporter named Thomas Fleming (Christian Roberts) who seems eager to exploit the situation as much as possible for his own gain.

When Soames awakens in a childlike state he is put under the care of the rather severe Dr. Maitland and his more sensitive assistant Joe (Donal Donnelly). Dr. Maitland is determined to accelerate Soames’ developmental process and he subjects him to countless tests and educational classes that leave no room for downtime or meaningful human interactions. Thankfully Dr. Bergen and Joe occasionally step in and try to offer Soames their friendship and understanding, but their acts of kindness seems strangely at odds with the cold and clinical environment Soames is trapped in.

One of the most fascinating things about the film is the way it explores early ideas about reality television. As John Soames slowly develops into an adult he is continually filmed by a television crew that watches his every move. Back in 1961 when The Mind of Mr. Soames was first written, reality television was a somewhat impossible idea and very few people besides smart science fiction writers could have imagined what television would be like today. So much of what is shown in The Mind of Mr. Soames has become commonplace now that it might be easy for some viewers to overlook the film’s somewhat groundbreaking take on modern media.

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)
Mr. Soames (Terence Stamp) rests after the operation

It’s possible that the British documentary series Seven Up! (1964) was a minor inspiration for director Alan Cooke when he decided to turn The Mind of Mr. Soames into a film, but that’s debatable. Before making The Mind of Mr. Soames the director had previously worked in television and his previous experience both hinders and adds to the film in my opinion. Cooke’s directing is very static at times and I sometimes wondered if I was watching a television production instead of a feature film, but he does a wonderful job of portraying the subtle effects that an unblinking camera can have when it’s pointed on an unwilling subject. Cooke clearly understood the power as well as the limits of television and his knowledge of the medium is occasionally used to great effect in The Mind of Mr. Soames.

As the film progresses John Soames becomes more and more disenchanted with the claustrophobic environment he’s trapped in and he longs to escape the hospital as well as the cameras. In some of the films best moments Terence Stamp beautifully portrays Soames as someone who longs to be outside among nature and naively imagines the freedom that it offers. When Soames finally gets to explore the world outside the confines of the hospital walls, the film takes on an unearthly beauty that makes you wish the director had chosen to spend more time there instead of spending so much time inside the sterile hospital.

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

James Dean in East of Eden (1955)
Top: Terence Stamp as Mr. Soames Bottom: James Dean (1955) in a similar shot

In one beautiful scene Stamp’s character lays down in the grass and stares wistfully at some flowers which are just beginning to blossom. The scene recalls the wonderful moment in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955) when James Dean laid on the ground and willed the crops to grow. As I mentioned before in my previous piece about Terence Stamp, East of Eden is one of the actor’s favorite films and it was James Dean’s amazing performance as Cal that inspired Terence Stamp to become an actor. I have no idea if The Mind of Mr. Soames mimicked that important scene from East of Eden intentionally or if it was taken straight out of the book, but I can’t help wondering if Terence Stamp himself suggested it since the moment seems so clearly inspired by the film that encouraged him to start acting.

The Mind of Mr. Soames has an interesting, but somewhat unsatisfying ending. I liked the fact that the film didn’t offer any easy answers to John Soames complicated predicament but it somehow felt unfinished. Viewers are left to wonder what will finally become of this infantile character trapped in a man’s body and ruled by an adult world. I have no problem with inconclusive endings, but the movie seemed like it had more to say and never got the opportunity to say it.

Another complaint I have about the film is the lack of time given to the interesting cast of characters such as the kind and sensitive Joe who is played wonderfully by Donal Donnelly (The Knack …and How to Get It) and the pushy reporter Thomas who’s played by the edgy Christian Roberts (To Sir, with Love, Twisted Nerve, etc.) and his girlfriend Naomi who’s played by the cute Vickery Turner. Vickery Turner had lots of small roles in great British films and she was a popular stage actress in Britain during the sixties. When The Mind of Mr. Soames was released she was mostly known in the US as the wife of American actor Warren Oates who she met on the set of the 1969 comedy Crooks and Coronets a year earlier. The two were only married for five years and during that time Turner didn’t seem to do much acting. She’s terribly wasted in The Mind of Mr. Soames which is a shame. I think if her role had been fleshed out a bit more it would have given the film another interesting angle to explore.

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)
Vickery Turner and Christian Roberts in The Mind of Mr. Soames

The Mind of Mr. Soames is hard to see in the US now, but it was originally distributed by Columbia Pictures. The film is definitely worthy of an offical DVD release and I’d love to see a nice widescreen presentation of the film with audio commentary from the main actors who are all still alive, except for Vickery Turner who passed away last year. Even though the movie suffers from some lackluster direction at times and poor editing, the actors raise the production to unexpected heights and Terence Stamp is especially noteworthy as the childlike John Soames.

If you’d like to see more still shots from the film please visit my Mind of Mr. Soames Gallery at Flickr.

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17 thoughts on “The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

  1. Jeremy says:

    Thanks so much for this review Kimberly,
    I have wanted to see this film for years so reading this proved most interesting. It is funny but as I was reading and scrolling down, when I saw that shot of Terence looking at those plants the first thing I thought of was the opening moments of “Rebel Without A Cause” for some reason…something about the framing and the way Terence looks…so great call on the “East Of Eden” shot which matches it even better.
    You know how much I love Terence and this has definately been one of his hardest films to see. A dvd release, even if it isn’t the film it might have been, would be most welcome.
    I share your love for Amicus films as well and some of my favorites from this period were made by them…great review, thanks for posting this and the Flickr shots from it.

  2. Jonathan Lapper says:

    I haven’t seen this one yet but as a kid I loved the Amicus films of the seventies, pre-Star Wars, pre-Spielberg. I saw The Land that Time Forgot and loved it as a kid then saw it was going to be on TCM a few months back and was thrilled to watch it again, this time noticing all that was delightfully wrong with it. The dinosaurs are, hilariously, men in costumes but my favorite oddity is that Doug McLure is portrayed as a sharp and strong character with a natural talent for leadership in the first half aboard the ship and U-Boat then becomes some kind of moronic frat-boy in the second half with no explanation as to the transformation. My favorite part of the TCM presentation was Robert Osborne’s statement after the film, “Well no one could accuse this movie of having good special effects…” before going on to say that it was a hit anyway and inspired another film, At the Earth’s Core, a real doozy! And without Amicus we may never have had The Simpsons’ Troy McClure.

    As to Terence Stamp I have always loved his work going back to the first film I saw him in Far from the Madding Crowd. And James Dean’s performance in East of Eden it is extraordinary. Raymond Massey was famously confused and annoyed by Dean on and off the set and for some reason that has always amused me. Kazan said that Massey despised Dean and it was great because it worked so well for the characters.

    Jonathan

  3. Keith says:

    This is a film that I’ve been wanting to see, but never found it available. Thanks for the review. It’s a shame it’s not as great as we thought it might be. It does have a wonderful cast, especially Terence Stamp. I’ve always loved Amicus. I recently rewatched “At The Earth’s Core.” I loved a lot of their movies such as “The Beast Must Die,” ” The House That Dripped Blood,” “The Land That Time Forgot,” and many more. I loved those movies as a kid and I still do. Great job with the blog. I loved the pictures. Have a great weekend.

  4. AR says:

    Sounds like an interesting film, though it is frustrating when such great ideas are treated with such dull direction. I’m interested in these kinds of concepts, so I’ll have to check it out.

  5. robert monell says:

    I saw this film at the drive-in, of all places, when it first came out. I think we went to see the cofeature which was a lurid horror film of that era. I remember that my date liked it more than I did and I wasn’t too happy that she insisted on actually watching the film [it WAS the Drive-in, after all!}. Seriously, it did manage to linger in my mind for years as one of those compelling oddities which actually make you think. And any movie with both Robert Vaughn AND Terence Stamp has to be special. A true Cult Movie which I’ve wanted to revisit for 37 years. And I did like the ending since it gives the viewer some creative input or the potential to create further developments rather than wrapping it all neatly up. That’s something European films tend to do more of and I appreicate it. Thanks for the review. It really stirred up some pleasant memories.

  6. cinebeats says:

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone!

    Jeremy – I really hope it gets a proper DVD release someday. Even though I have my misgivings about the film, it deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

    Jonathan – I love those “Land” films with Doug McLure! They were favorites when I was a kid and so much fun to watch. Far From the Madding Crowd is another Stamp film that really needs a DVD release. The Dean vs. Massey stories have always amused me a lot. I think the tension between them really added to the tension between son and father in the film.

    Keith – Amicus produced a lot of great films. I think The Mind of Mr. Soames is probably one of their more serious efforts but that’s probably why it didn’t work all that well for me.

    AR – I hope you get a chance to see it. It’s a hard film to find.

    Robert – It’s funny, but last night I was thinking about why the ending didn’t work for me and why the whole film sort of seemed dull and I think it was the melodramatic turns it took which were especially obvious at the end of the movie. I think the director made a mistake by focusing on the drama and not exploring the science fiction as well as social ideas presented in the film more. The Mind of Mr. Soames could have been so much better if the director took some cues from Amicus’ more fantastic films instead of relying so much on melodrama to tell the story.

  7. Gautam says:

    Excellent post Kimberly! Loved all the wonderful pictures- which makes me want to ask you a question: where do you get all those lovely photos???

    Cheers!

  8. Les Pybus says:

    Does anybody know where I can get a copy of this on either Video or DVD? I am researching one of the actors in the film production who was a close frind of mine.
    many thanks in anticipation
    Les Pybus

  9. Chris says:

    I’ve been looking for this film for years after reading a very positive blurb in Leonard Maltin’s video guide and seeking out Terence Stamp’s films after being mesmerized by him in both ‘Billy Budd’ and ‘The Hit.’

    I would love to see a DVD release of this film, but it doesn’t seem like there is much demand for it. Upon mentioning the film very few people recognize the name, and even fewer have seen it.

    Those screenshots are terrific – where did you find such a nice copy?!

  10. Joanne Robrahn says:

    I saw, “The Mind of Mr. Soames” when it first came out and again a few years later on t.v., but I don’t believe this has been aired in over 20 years (if not more). I was 16 or 17 when I saw it and remember loving it and Terence Stamp in it. I, too, would LOVE to see it released on DVD in the very near future. It would be great to see it again.

  11. Stephen says:

    Hi – I stumbled upon your post after trying to do some research on this movie. Some of the reviews I’ve found have been poor, although yours has rekindled my interest in the film. Thanks for the stills – I hadn’t seen any until now. And why, oh why, are the majority of Terence Stamp’s films so obscure?

  12. Robert Dudley says:

    I have been trying to find the film all my life. When I was in Junior School, myself and a couple of mates were picked out to shout at Terrance Stamp when they shot a scene in our playground.. At least I assume it was him it was thirty eight years ago. It is the only film I have ever been in and It would be nice to see it assuming the scene did not end up on the cutting room floor.

  13. Cheryl Bradford says:

    I was so amazed to see your write-up on “The Mind of Mrs. Soames”. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I remember seeing this film on T.V. when I was a child. For some reason, my young mind retained the memory for 30+ years; probably because it involved a child-like person or because even my kid-eyes could see how beautiful Terrence Stamp is. I seem to remember a scene where Soames is being pursued and is eventually pierced with a pitchfork. Did this scene actually occur in the film, or is it a demented old dream??

  14. Lorenzo Hernandez says:

    Cheryl, you’re partially correct. There was a scene towards the end of the film where someone is in fact pierced by a pitchfork, however, it was not Soames himself but another character. Very good film by the way, with a wonderful and fascinating performance by Terence Stamp. If you look hard enough, you can find unoffical DVD-R versions of this film on sale at various sites on the net.

  15. Paul L. says:

    Growing up in NYC in the early 70’s, it seemed the quirky WOR (channel 9) broadcasted this movie every weekend. Interesting movie that reinforced the awareness that all well meaning intentions do not always end up with psitive results. FWIW, you can see the movie via you tube (just search it), it’s broken up into segments and not quite HSD quality, but there it is!
    Cheers – PL

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