Arts

Cult Movie: Offbeat Frankenstein fable The Mind of Mr Soames is an overlooked 1970s classic

Terence Stamp and Robert Vaughn in The Mind of Mister Soames
Ralph McLean

The Mind Of Mr Soames

THE Mind Of Mr Soames is a mighty strange film. Adapted from the popular novel by Charles Eric Maine of the same name, it's an odd kind of science fiction morality tale about a young man left in a coma from birth who, after 30 years, is brought back to life on live TV and then thrown into a world he cannot comprehend and exploited as a kind of living freak show.

It was helmed by television director Alan Cooke, starred moody 1960s heartthrob Terence Stamp and was produced by Amicus films, a company more famous for their cheap and cheerful horror anthologies than weird-out efforts like this.

Strange and challenging as it was, The Mind Of Mr Soames was a huge box office flop when released in 1970 and it was beaten to the post in terms of critical acclaim and Oscar nominations by the very similar Charley, a tale of arrested development unveiled two years previously. Watching it today, via a beautifully restored Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films, it feels like a proper cult classic in waiting.

As John Soames, Terence Stamp is brilliant. Playing a character with the leaning capabilities of a newborn baby trapped in the body of a 30-year-old man who's been lost in a coma can't be easy, but Stamp nails it with a mixture of wide-eyed wonder and genuine fear at the world he's suddenly facing in all its nasty glory.

He's ably assisted by a top-notch cast of British character actors including the great Nigel Davenport and Vickery Turner and there's a memorable role for American Robert Vaughn, fresh from TV superstardom with The Man From Uncle.

As Doctor Bergan who gives Soames a new lease of life thanks to a brain transplant, Vaughn – here bearded and thoughtful rather than slick and flashy as he'd been as Napoleon Solo – is coldly effective, pushing the bewildered Soames out into the world way before he's ready.

A kind of 20th century Frankenstein fable, the film has a lot to say about media manipulation and the portrayal of TV taking over real lives in the name of tacky entertainment is way ahead of its time. The early sequences as the medical boffins toy with Soames and exploit his situation for their own dubious ends are both chilling and sadly believable.

It also looks fabulous with cinematographer Billy Williams (famous for his work on the likes of Women In Love and Gandhi) mixing bright location work with the clammy 1970s sterility of the medical locations. The finished article is a seriously offbeat slice of cinema that's weird and oddly moving in equal measure.

The film's abject failure at the British and American box office resulted in Amicus swiftly setting aside the more artistic leanings they'd shown in approaching material like this and Pinter's The Birthday Party, which they released previously, in favour of the tried-and-tested horror material they'd made their name with.

The Mind Of Mr Soames was thus left to rot in that barrel of unloved cinematic gems we call euphemistically call 'forgotten classics'. Maybe its time has finally come.

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Arts