Tag Archives: Max Rosenberg

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970, Alan Cooke)

The Mind of Mr. Soames is preternaturally gentle (which, getting ahead of myself, is kind of the point) but it’s always a surprise how much more gentle it can get. The film doesn’t forebode or foreshadow, even though doing either wouldn’t just be predictable, it might even be appropriate given the subject matter.

The film opens at a private British medical institute, where everyone is very excited because they’re going to operate on star patient Mr. Soames (played by Terence Stamp). Stamp was born comatose due to a super-rare condition in his brain stem and this institute has kept him alive for thirty years. They’ve been waiting for medical science to get to a place where it can help Stamp. And it has. American surgeon Robert Vaughan (sporting a very cool beard) crosses the pond to do it. He’s not interested in Stamp’s recovery process, just the surgery.

At least, not until he realizes Davenport wants to train Stamp like a pet, not raise him like a child. Because even though Stamp’s got an adult brain, he’s pristine tabula rasa.

Also in the mix is scuzzy TV journalist Christian Roberts. He’s got Davenport’s permission to turn Stamp’s “childhood” into a documentary series. Part of the film’s gentle is how much the filmmakers trust the audience. The script trusts them to keep up, director Cooke trusts them to keep up—a big thing in the first act is American doctor Vaughan realizing British doctor Davenport is less concerned with Stamp recovering than with him making the Institute famous. But it never comes up. The whole arc of the film turns out to involve Donal Donnelly as Davenport’s underling, who gradually learns how to be a good doctor. Vaughan’s a big influence on him, but so’s Stamp.

Even though it’s almost a spoiler how much agency Stamp gets in the film given he starts it inanimate, kept alive by a roomful of machines. When Mind starts, it’s a split between Vaughan, Davenport, and Roberts, with Donnelly bouncing between Vaughan and Davenport. But once Stamp wakes up, the film starts its gradual transition into being his story.

It’s a great film, but it’s very hard to imagine it being able to do any more than it already does. Stamp eventually encounters all sorts of other people—most importantly kindly (potentially too kindly) miserable housewife Judy Parfitt—and Mind treats them as caricatures. Only Stamp, with this necessarily reduced agency and potential of it, gets to be a full-fledged character. These people he encounters are caricatures from his perspective, but from the film’s, which I guess is where the only real problems (outside the wrong closing music) occur. Everyone relies on Stamp to handle his perspective, which is understandable, he’s phenomenal. But if the film adjusted the narrative distance to track Stamp more closely, it’d necessarily lose the doctors.

Mind of Mr. Soames can’t be a character study, but it also can’t be a medical thriller because it can’t maintain the medical procedural. It also can’t do straight drama because it’s got a speculative air to it. Director Cooke does that gentle thing instead of trying to hit various intensities. It’s never calm, it’s never placid, it’s just gentle. Mind is based on a novel and there’s definitely the potential for some sort of comparison to Frankenstein, maybe with the book but definitely with the film; whether or not Stamp is going to go Frankenstein is one of the film’s many questions, but never one of Stamp’s and it’s Stamp’s film.

The film doesn’t exactly have charm—it’s too intense, stakes-wise—and it’s never overly stylish, but the deliberate but still surprising way the narrative unfolds is rather agreeable. Mind of Mr. Soames does a lot, provides its cast a lot of great scenes, and it’s not an easy story to do. So when it works out so well… not charming, but nice.

It’s a story very well told.

Outside the occasionally too obviously shot in the studio night time exteriors, Billy Williams’s photography is always good. The actual exterior shooting—when Stamp and the film get outside his “playroom”—is excellent. Really strong direction from Cooke, both with the actors and the composition. The film seems to get a certain patience from Cooke, while it gets a different one from John Hale and Edward Simpson’s script; the story’s about agitated people but the story’s never agitated.

Pretty good music from Michael Dress (except the closing track, which is fine but not good enough for what the film has just accomplished).

Great performance from Stamp (you can’t imagine anyone else in the role after he does it). Excellent support from Vaughan, Davenport, and Donnelly. They’re ahead the other caricatures because, well, they get enough time not to be caricatures.

Stamp, Cooke, and everyone else make something special with The Mind of Mr. Soames.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Cooke; screenplay by John Hale and Edward Simpson, based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine; lighting cameraman, Billy Williams; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Michael Dress; production designer, Bill Constable; produced by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Terence Stamp (John Soames), Robert Vaughn (Dr. Bergen), Nigel Davenport (Dr. Maitland), Christian Roberts (Thomas Fleming), Donal Donnelly (Joe Allan), Norman Jones (Davis), Dan Jackson (Nicholls), and Judy Parfitt (Jenny Bannerman).



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Rock Rock Rock! (1956, Will Price)

Some of Rock Rock Rock! is awful. Director Price goes for the most boring shot every single time–with his cast members on cheap sets, never making it into location establishing shots. Just once would’ve been great. There’s some really bad acting too. Fran Manfred, Teddy Randazzo, Jacqueline Kerr. Randazzo has the “excuse” of being a singer acting, but Manfred and Kerr are just atrocious. Price can’t direct, of course. When there’s a good moment from Jack Collins, it’s because he’s visibly bored and trying something with his performance.

But some of Rock Rock Rock! is great. Chuck Berry’s performance is great, some of the other performances are excellent too. Of course, these performances are when Tuesday Weld–who plays the lead in the rather strained narrative tying together live rock performances–is watching Alan Freed on television. When Weld and the rest of the cast go to their prom–Randazzo has arranged to have Freed come and DJ the prom, bringing a variety of performers with him–those performances aren’t so good. The narrative, at its most dramatic point, stops.

And it’s a bunch of groups performing on a terrible country club banquet hall stage. Still, La Vern Baker’s performance is good; the rockabilly guy seems a tad embarrassed to be situation in front of a giant paper maché fireplace though.

And Randazzo’s performance–after two generally okay in scene numbers–is weak. Probably because the film doesn’t acknowledge he’s part of the narrative. He just steps out of it for a second, even though his performance should have all sorts of dramatic overtones. Like I said, bad direction from Price.

Weld’s pretty darn good. She gets some terrible scenes, some terrible writing, but she gets through it all. She’s great at lipsyncing to Connie Francis too.

Blandine Hafela’s editing doesn’t help things–it’s amazing how there are clearly good dancers and Price and Hafela butcher their abilities.

And the film does have one excellent scene where Weld, previously played as something of a dope, outsmarts her nemesis.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Will Price; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on a story by Subotsky and Phyllis Coe; director of photography, Morris Hartzband; edited by Blandine Hafela; produced by Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by Distributors Corporation of America.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Dori), Teddy Randazzo (Tommy), Fran Manfred (Arabella), Jacqueline Kerr (Gloria), Ivy Schulman (Baby), Jack Collins (Dori’s father), Carol Moss (Dori’s mother), Eleanor Swayne (Miss Silky) and Alan Freed (himself).


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