The Mind of Mr. Soames for me, a movie I'd never even remotely heard of but ending up enjoying a lot.
At an isolated English manor, an extremely risky medical procedure is about to be performed, something that has never seemingly been done before safely. During its birth some 30 years earlier, damage was done to an infant boy's brain, putting him into a coma he never awoke from. Now, that man, John Soames (Terence Stamp), is just turning 30 and two doctors, Bergen (Robert Vaughn) and Maitland (Nigel Davenport), intend to wake him up. The risky procedure works, but that's only the start of things. Soames never had a chance to grow up even though he has the body of a full-grown adult. What to do? Well, Soames exhibits all the characteristics of an infant so Doctors Bergen and Maitland have to teach him literally how to be a person. Their methods differ though and threaten to cause a riff. How do you teach a 30-year old man about...well, everything? Their work is cut out for them, and nothing will come easily.
What a cool, interesting movie. And yes, to reiterate, I'd never heard of it in the least. Aired recently on Turner Classic Movies a few weeks ago as part of a Robert Vaughn-themed night, I gave it a shot. I'm glad I did although I will say I was heading into a different movie than I got. Just looking at the cast and watching the first few minutes of the flick, I thought I'd stumbled into a horror thriller from Hammer Films. I was wrong. From director Alan Cooke, 'Soames' is far more of a low-key thriller early on that morphs into a darker, more sinister psychological thriller in its second half. Definitely worth seeking out though.
For starters, the trio at the top pulled me in here, Vaughn, Stamp and Davenport. By 1970, Vaughn was the most established star by far in both film and television, Davenport was a recognizable face and a very reliable character actor and Stamp the up and coming star. These are three incredibly interesting performances, all for different reasons. Vaughn and Davenport get to play off each other and do it incredibly well. We've got two incredibly gifted, talented doctors who are also convinced of their own methods. Vaughn's Bergen is more sympathetic, wanting the infant 30-year old to grow up and learn in a nurturing, more natural environment. Davenport's Maitland is more rigid, wanting Soames to learn, learn and LEARN and then maybe have some fun. The script pretty obviously shows which one they think is right (cough Vaughn cough Davenport is always evil cough), but the two actors do a good job bringing that friction to life.
And then there's that third guy, Terence Stamp. Still a relative newcomer to feature films, Stamp had starred in a handful of movies since making his screen debut in 1962's Billy Budd and Term of Trial. Here, it's just a quality, intriguing and interesting performance. As is usually the case with roles similar to this (disabilities of any sort, mental or physical), there's always the potential to be over the top, ridiculous, forced, even hammy. Stamp manages to avoid all of those potential disasters. He's believable, sympathetic and is always interesting. The range of the character goes from an infant who can't speak and has absolutely no concept of the world to a young boy, maybe four or five who can speak and is slowly beginning to grasp things. Still, how do you explain the entire world to an individual who's 30 years behind? An emotionally effective performance, one that balances the drama and some laughs mixed in as Soames "grows up" in some sorts.
Also look for Christian Roberts as the TV personality who with a crew is taping the first few months of Soames' life for a TV special and Donal Donnelly as Allan, another doctor at the manor in the English countryside working with Soames and maybe the one who's closest to the childlike 30-year old.
As I watched 'Soames,' all I could think of was how similar at times it is to 1968's Charly, starring Cliff Robertson in an Academy Award-winning role. Both films take similar outlooks on life, stories about people deemed "different" because they aren't cookie-cutter in appearance or personality or behavior. It was cool to read then that the same studio that made 'Soames' had previously tried to buy the rights for Flowers for Algernon, the novel that became Charly. As for our movie here, I liked it a lot, intriguing to the end. I thought I had the ending pegged but I was off in the finale-predicting department. What could have been an absolute whopper of an ending is still pretty good but it taps the brakes a bit rather than going for a knockout blow. Still, an excellent, little-known flick that is definitely worth tracking down.
The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970): ***/****