Cast & Crew
John Soames, a victim of congenital brain damage, has been in a coma for 30 years. Dr. Michael Bergen, an American neurosurgeon, operates on him and brings him to consciousness, whereupon Soames undergoes a highly accelerated educational program administered by Dr. Maitland, head of the neurophysical institute. With television director Thomas Fleming monitoring Soames's every movement with his cameras, Bergen argues that Maitland is trying to accomplish too much too fast and allows the patient to have a brief, unauthorized encounter with the outside world. Maitland locates Soames, however, and brings him back to the hospital, but the frustrated man escapes. Shortly thereafter, Soames is struck by drunk driver Richard Bannerman, who takes him home, where his sympathetic wife, Jenny, learns the victim's true identity and decides to return him to the hospital. He again escapes, this time on a train to London. Tracked to a barn by the doctors, Soames is finally persuaded to give himself up, but the clamor of newsmen frightens him, and he stabs Bergen with a pitchfork. In the ambulance returning him to the hospital, Soames indicates that he may begin to trust Bergen's associate, Dr. Joe Allen.
Max J. Rosenberg
John Williams And The Vesuvius Ensemble
The Mind of Mr. Soames -
One of the companies that failed to succeed in acquiring the rights to the story was Amicus Productions, a British production company founded by Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. They had made a splash in the horror field with macabre anthologies like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), but they were also dabbling in single-narrative films ranging from Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) to The Deadly Bees (1966). They soon found a property that had enough parallels to Flowers for Algernon to suit their tastes, namely a 1961 novel entitled The Mind of Mr. Soames by Charles Eric Maine, the pen name for English writer David McIlwain. Studio backing was provided by Columbia Pictures, who had released Torture Garden in the United States, which allowed for one of Amicus's highest-budgeted productions to date.
Cast in the title role of John Soames, a thirty-year-old man in a coma since birth who's awoken by scientists thanks to a breakthrough surgical procedure, was British actor Terence Stamp, who had made an auspicious, Oscar-nominated debut in 1962 with Billy Budd. He was quickly building a reputation for choosing auspicious, daring projects including William Wyler's adaptation of The Collector (1965), Ken Loach's kitchen sink drama Poor Cow (1967), and John Schlesinger's Far from the Madding Crowd (1967). However, by the time he was cast in this film he had just come off of a particularly hot two-film streak in Italy with Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema and Federico Fellini's "Toby Dammit" segment of Spirits of the Dead (both 1968), which made him an obvious choice for the demanding role of a man with the mind of a newborn trying to cope with the demands of the modern world. However, the quality of his roles declined for the most part after this apart from a handful of Italian projects in the '70s, finally rebounding in the '80s as General Zod in Superman II (1980) and a dramatic comeback with Stephen Frears' The Hit (1984). Since then he has enjoyed a busy career alternating studio projects with acclaimed indie turns in films like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and The Limey (1999).
The rest of the cast is rounded out with a particularly solid assortment of actors including Robert Vaughn, who had just come off of a four-year stint on TV's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as well as the films Bullitt and If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (both 1968), while veteran English stage and screen actor Nigel Davenport had just appeared in the thematically overlapping Sebastian as well as Play Dirty (both 1968). However, he is perhaps best known for his appearances in costume dramas, most notably A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Mary, Queen of Scot (1971). Also notable was the film's cinematographer, Billy Williams, who shot this back to back with his pioneering work on Ken Russell's Women in Love (1969). He followed this film with several significant works including Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), John Milius' The Wind and the Lion (1975), On Golden Pond (1981), and Oscar-winning work on Gandhi (1982).
The Schlesinger connection also carries over to this film's director, Alan Cooke, who was classmates with the filmmaker at Cambridge. This actually marked a rare big screen effort for Cooke, who had work on such TV programs as Out of the Unknown and Armchair Mystery Theatre and would continue working in television until his death in 1994. The film's chilly reception most likely had an impact on his career, since the release was oddly marketed as an intense sci-fi thriller despite the fact that it's really more of a thoughtful drama. Critics at the time were mostly nonplussed, with The New York Times opining, "Terence Stamp must have the best fun in the movie. Not only does he get to cry a lot and to play with toys, but he also is allowed at one time or another to dump baby food on all his doctors and keepers--with which inspiration The Mind of Mr. Soames exhausts itself and falls into moral platitude and heavy breathing." However, its reputation has since improved significantly thanks to frequent TV airings and its belated release on home video, with Stamp's performance in particular now being singled out as one of his most memorable from this fertile creative period.
By Nathaniel Thompson
The Mind of Mr. Soames -
Opened in London in November 1970; running time: 98 min.
Released in United States 1970
Released in United States 1970