Tag Archives: Robert Vaughn

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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How to Steal the World (1968, Sutton Roley)

It takes a long seventy-five minutes to get there, but How to Steal the World does have some good moments in its finale. World is a theatrical release of a “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” television two-parter. It leads to an often boring ninety minutes, which improves in the second half just for momentum’s sake, leading up to the finale’s potential pay-offs. Director Roley misses all that potential as he’s an astoundingly disinterested director. Some of the framing and composition issues are just because it’s for at most a twenty-three-inch television set, but a lot of it’s just Roley. He doesn’t care.

The film’s opening credits are over an action sequence. Peter Mark Richman’s bad guy escapes from Robert Vaughan and David McCallum. Richman escapes with Eleanor Parker’s help, something Vaughan and McCallum don’t notice. If Vaughan and McCallum are anything, they aren’t observant. They also don’t get much to do in World, supporting cast intrigue of mad scientist plotting and T.H.R.U.S.H. office sex dominates the first half of World.

Parker is cuckolding runaway U.N.C.L.E. agent Barry Sullivan with T.H.R.U.S.H. up-and-comer Richman. While everyone’s looking for Sullivan and the world’s greatest minds, Parker and Richman are hanging out at his office. They take turns lounging on the sofa after they have to close the blinds because they’re too rowdy. The best part is Parker’s wardrobe changes almost every scene during the sequence, implying it takes place over some time. Meaning she just spends her time hanging out with her global villain boytoy. It’s fun.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is doing his unit the seven thing (there are seven of these great minds). Sullivan’s kind of flimsy. He gets this second half subplot where he bickers a lot with his head of security, Leslie Nielsen. It should be better, given where writer Norman Hudis takes it in the end, but it’s not. Maybe it’s an issue related to the TV-to-movie conversion, since it’s not all Soley’s responsibility. Hudis’s script isn’t paced well in the first half.

Anyway, Albert Paulsen is better as the main mad scientist collaborator. He doesn’t get anything to do, but he finally gets to have a great moment where he and Sullivan slap each other’s hands in the finale. He’s also the way Hudis throws in the young lovers subplot. Inger Stratton is Paulsen’s daughter, Tony Bill is Dan O’Herlihy’s. O’Herlihy is one of the kidnapped scientists; Bill teams up with McCallum to get him back. Maybe the scene of Bill pointing a gun at McCallum and telling the secret agent he’s got a new partner played better on TV.

O’Herlihy is fine. Richman and Parker get to be kind of fun. Parker gets a little more to do because she’s grieving, confused wife–Vaughan and McCallum are investigating Sullivan’s disappearance; they, of course, miss all her suspicious behaviors. Stratton’s not good. Bill’s bad. Nielsen’s lacking. He has a handful of all right moments, but it doesn’t pay off. More because of Roley’s direction. He’s not just humorless, he’s anti-smile.

And he misses this amazing finish for Richman and Parker’s affair. Hudis seems to get it. Maybe not. TV two-parters aren’t features, after all.

The finale almost elevates World. It seems like it should, with opportunity after opportunity. It just never happens. It’s fortunate. A lot of the cast deserves better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sutton Roley; teleplay by Norman Hudis, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” developed by Sam Rolfe; director of photography, Robert B. Hauser; edited by Joseph Dervin and Harry V. Knapp; music by Richard Shores; produced by Anthony Spinner; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin), Barry Sullivan (Dr. Robert Kingsley), Eleanor Parker (Margitta Kingsley), Peter Mark Richman (Mr. Webb), Leslie Nielsen (Gen. Maximilian Harmon), Dan O’Herlihy (Prof. David Garrow), Tony Bill (Steven Garrow), Albert Paulsen (Dr. Kurt Erikson), Inger Stratton (Anna Erikson), and Leo G. Carroll (Alexander Waverly).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)

Superman III–deservedly–gets a lot of flak, but it’s actually the most faithful to the comics in a lot of ways. It plays out like a late sixties, early seventies Superman comic–“The Man Who Killed Superman,” turning out to be a bumbling, generally well-meaning guy like Richard Pryor, or “Superman Versus the Ultimate Computer.”

Superman III is also Superman versus the neo-cons (one has to wonder if, while the computer hijinks influenced Office Space, the oil plotting influenced Dick Cheney). The film’s villains are constantly weak, with Robert Vaughn (whose character has some great lines) and Annie Ross turning in dreadful performances.

But it didn’t have to be bad, which is what’s so upsetting about it. The stuff in Smallville with Clark Kent meeting up with his high school crush is often fantastic–it lets Christopher Reeve add a facet to the performance and Annette O’Toole’s great as the love interest. Even better is when she gets to Metropolis–it’s only one scene (she wasn’t back in IV) but the dynamic with her and Margot Kidder seems like it would have been outstanding.

Poor Marc McClure gets a lot of screen time at the beginning… then disappears. But the same goes for Reeve. Once Superman turns into evil Superman, he’s in the movie even less.

Pryor’s good. His dialogue’s weak, but his performance isn’t.

Lester’s direction is mostly good, though the slapstick fails–cinematographer Robert Paynter is a disaster.

But then, disaster is Superman III‘s keyword.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; screenplay by David Newman and Leslie Newman, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Superman / Clark Kent), Richard Pryor (Gus Gorman), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Annette O’Toole (Lana Lang), Annie Ross (Vera), Pamela Stephenson (Lorelei), Robert Vaughn (Ross Webster), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gavan O’Herlihy (Brad) and Nancy Roberts (Unemployment Clerk).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | SUPERMAN.

The Delta Force (1986, Menahem Golan)

The Delta Force is…

1) the only Chuck Norris movie my mom let me watch as a kid (I think it’s the only Chuck Norris movie I’ve ever seen).

2) “the most homoerotic movie I’ve ever seen,” according to my wife.

3) somewhat interesting for the first forty-five minutes.

The Delta Force stars four Academy Award winners (Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, George Kennedy and two-time winner Shelley Winters), one Silver Berlin Bear winner (Hanna Schygulla) and one Academy Award nominee (Robert Vaughan). The only two who give good performances are Marvin and Balsam. Kennedy, Winters and Vaughan aren’t bad. Schygulla, in one of her only (I think) English language performances, is bad. Well, maybe not bad… but not any good at all. She does get one of Delta Force‘s more interesting scenes, a German flight attendant (sorry, bursar) who gets to pick out all the Jews on the plane. She doesn’t want to–being German and all (in a scene with some dialogue lifted out of a certain “Fawlty Towers” episode–John Cleese and Connie Booth should have sued)–but does it anyway. The kicker? She makes a mistake, calling up a Russian (Yehuda Efroni), who isn’t Jewish. This mistake kicks off Delta Force‘s most interesting scene–the Arab terrorists (Robert Forster, who, like Marvin, is enough of a professional not to look embarrassed, and David Menachem) make the German flight attendant call all the Jews on the plane up to first class, which has been emptied. Now, the plane’s got 144 passengers (Forster is nice enough to remind everyone as the sequence begins) and guess how many of them help the Jews? Keep in mind there are two terrorists with a gun and a grenade apiece, the plane’s in flight. Okay, just guess. Guess how many of the American Christians help the Jews being led to their deaths?

Do you need a hint? Think about the 1930s.

That’s right… zero. Not a one. They even keep their mouths shut. The Russian complains he isn’t a Jew. After all is said and done, when it won’t make any difference, Catholic priest Kennedy at least gets up and sits with the Jews in first class. There’s no explanation to why he isn’t disgusted by the display he’s witnessed from his fellow gentiles.

In the first forty-five minutes of Delta Force, there are quite a few of these disquieting moments. Menachem gets a couple scenes where he’s incredibly sympathetic to his hostages and–conversely–a couple scenes where he’s incredibly brutal to other hostages. Forster’s portrayed as completely evil, but then he too gets a couple scenes of strange humanity. These aren’t subtle displays of contradictory behavior, they’re as neon as they can get, but they’re very interesting.

The second half of the film, with Chuck Norris and William Wallace’s romantic getaway to scenic Lebanon–the script’s so incredibly stupid in the second half, it’s never clear whether or not the Lebanese government and military are actually endorsing the terrorists or if there’s some faction of the military supporting it or whatever… it’s idiotic.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, the second half. There’s a couple interesting scenes when the film tries to make American audiences terrified of the Arabs. But it’s all so dumb–Norris rides around on a souped up motorcycle (he’s apparently insecure about something) and blows up the bad guys (who are some of the stupidest villains in movie history)–it’s almost impossible to remember the engaging first half. My wife couldn’t believe I’d watch the movie after having seen it before–the last time must have been when I was thirteen or so–and I told her the reason it seemed better in my memory (to be fair, the first half is fine) is because I used to see it on television, with commercials. It runs over two hours and to get it into a two hour slot, they would have had to cut more than a half hour… which probably came out of the lousy second half.

She didn’t believe me.

As jingoistic as Delta Force gets–the rescued hostages sing “America the Beautiful,” not the “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “This Land is Your Land,” certainly not in a Chuck Norris movie–it’s hard for the cartoon action scenes in the second half to erase the memory of the first half. The first half of the film is a metaphor for the Second World War. Of 138 people, only one would stand up with the Jews. Kennedy getting up there placates, but it’s really just like the thirties. The fine American Christians didn’t care what the Nazis were doing to the Jews.

It’s such a shocking scene, I wonder who wrote it.

As for the movie overall… my wife described Marvin’s performance perfectly. He keeps acting like he’s in a real movie and expecting his co-stars to respond in kind. When they don’t, there’s a flash of confusion on his face before he can reorient himself. Susan Strasberg isn’t in it enough. Bo Svenson is awful. Steve James is okay. Kim Delaney is lousy. Norris is, big shock, terrible. His love interest, Wallace, is terrible too.

It seems like Golan didn’t really know how to direct actors, so he just got solid professionals for the hostages–but then made big mistakes, like casting Natalie Roth as Strasberg’s kid. It’s Susan Strasberg acting opposite a kid who wouldn’t make it as a non-speaking extra in a commercial.

Golan’s direction’s lousy, but compared to action movies today, it’s fine. You can tell what’s going on.

Alan Silvestri’s score’s more appropriate for a sports movie (maybe a handicapped runner overcoming the odds and winning… the silver) but it’s okay.

The Delta Force probably plays better on TV with commercials.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Menahem Golan; written by James Bruner and Golan; director of photography, David Gurfinkel; edited by Alain Jakubowicz; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Luciano Spadoni; produced by Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Chuck Norris (Maj. Scott McCoy), Lee Marvin (Col. Nick Alexander), Martin Balsam (Ben Kaplan), Joey Bishop (Harry Goldman), Robert Forster (Abdul), Lainie Kazan (Sylvia Goldman), George Kennedy (Father O’Malley), Hanna Schygulla (Ingrid), Susan Strasberg (Debra Levine), Bo Svenson (Capt. Campbell), Robert Vaughn (Gen. Woodbridge), Shelley Winters (Edie Kaplan), William Wallace (Pete Peterson), Charles Grant (Tom Hale), Steve James (Bobby) and Kim Delaney (Sister Mary).


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