Clifton James, the respected character actor who rose to fame as the bumbling southern Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two James Bond films, has passed away at age 96. James, a decorated veteran of WWII, appeared in many prominent films and TV series. Among his feature films: "Cool Hand Luke", "The Bonfire of the Vanities", "The Untouchables", "Juggernaut", "The Last Detail", "Will Penny" and "Something Wild". The portly James often portrayed lawmen and judges. His most prominent role came in Roger Moore's 1973 debut film as James Bond, "Live and Let Die". The character of Pepper as a comical racist lawman named Sheriff J.W. Pepper undoubtedly made audiences laugh. But to die-hard Bond fans his presence represented the increasing amount of slapstick that characterized some of Moore's Bond films. The producers brought the character back in the 1974 007 film "The Man with the Golden Gun" in which he coincidentally meets Bond in Thailand and participates in a wild car chase. The plot device was deemed absurd and the level of over-the-top comedy alienated most fans, thus the character of Pepper was never to return. It's a fair assumption that the character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played by Jackie Gleason in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films, was directly inspired by James' portrayal of Sheriff Pepper. Regardless of how Bond fans feel about the presence of Pepper in the two 007 movies, there is widespread respect for James' skills as an actor. He resided in New York City and was also a veteran of the Broadway stage. Click here for more.
In the mid 1960s Amicus Productions emerged as a Hammer Films wanna-be. The studio aped the Hammer horror films and even occasionally encroached on Hammer by "stealing" their two biggest stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The first Amicus hit was "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors", released in 1965 and top-lining Lee and Cushing. The format of various horror tales linked by an anthology format proved to be so successful that Amicus would repeat the formula over the next decade in films such as "Tales from the Crypt", "Vault of Horror" and "The House That Dripped Blood". The studio cranked out plenty of other horror flicks and by the mid-to-late 1970s Amicus was producing better fare than Hammer, which had made the mistake of increasingly concentrating on blood and gore and tits and ass to the detriment of the overall productions. Occasionally-indeed, very rarely- Amicus would branch out from the horror genre and produce other fare. (i.e. the Bond-inspired "Danger Route" and the social drama "Thank You All Very Much") but the studio was out of its element when it came to producing non-horror flicks. A particularly inspired offbeat entry in the Amicus canon was the 1970 production "The Mind of Mr. Soames", based on a novel by Charles Eric Maine. The intriguing premise finds John Soames (Terence Stamp) a 30 year-old man who has been in a coma since birth. He has been studiously tended to by the staff at a medical institution in the British countryside where a round-the-clock team sees to it that he is properly nourished and that his limbs are exercised to prevent atrophy. Soames apparently is an orphan with no living relatives so he is in complete custody of the medical community, which realizes he represents a potentially important opportunity for scientific study- if he can be awakened. That possibility comes to pass when an American, Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) arrives at the clinic possessing what he feels is a successful method of performing an operation that will bring Soames "to life". The operation is surprisingly simple and bares fruit when, hours later, Soames begins to open his eyes and make sounds.The staff realize this is a medical first: Soames will come into the world as a grown man but with the mind and instincts of a baby.
Soames' primary care in the post-operation period is left to Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport), who has constructed a rigid schedule to advance Soames' intellect and maturity as quickly as possible. Initially, Maitland's plans pay off and Soames responds favorably to the new world he is discovering. However, over time, as his intellect reaches that of a small child, he begins to harbor resentment towards Maitland for his "all stick and no carrot" approach to learning. Dr. Bergen tries to impress on Maitland the importance of allowing Soames to have some levity in his life and the opportunity to learn at his own pace. Ultimately, Bergen allows Soames outside to enjoy the fresh air and observe nature first hand on the clinic's lush grounds. Soames is ecstatic but his joy is short-lived when an outraged Dr. Maitland has him forcibly taken back into the institute. Soames ultimately rebels and makes a violent escape into a world he is ill-equipped to understand. He has the maturity and knowledge of a five or six year old boy but knows that he prefers freedom to incarceration. As a massive manhunt for Soames goes into overdrive, the film traces his abilities to elude his pursuers as he manages to travel considerable distance with the help of well-intentioned strangers who don't realize who he is. Soames is ultimately struck by a car driven by a couple on a remote country road. Because the lout of a husband was drunk at the time, they choose to nurse him back to health in their own home. The wife soon realizes who he is and takes pity on him- but when Soames hear's approaching police cars he bolts, thus setting in motion a suspenseful and emotionally wrenching climax.
"The Mind of Mr. Soames" is unlike any other Amicus feature. It isn't a horror film nor a science fiction story and the plot device of a man having been in a coma for his entire life is presented as a totally viable medical possibility. Although there are moments of tension and suspense, this is basically a mature, psychological drama thanks to the intelligent screenplay John Hale and Edward Simpson and the equally impressive, low-key direction of Alan Cooke, who refrains from overplaying the more sensational aspects of the story. Stamp is outstanding in what may have been the most challenging role of his career and he receives excellent support from Robert Vaughn (sporting the beard he grew for his next film, the remake of "Julius Caesar") and Nigel Davenport. Refreshingly, there are no villains in the film. Both doctors have vastly different theories and approaches to treating Soames but they both want what is best for him. The only unsympathetic character is a hipster TV producer and host played by Christian Roberts who seeks to exploit the situation by filming and telecasting Soames' progress as though it were a daily soap opera.
Christian Roberts, Vickery Turner and Robert Vaughn.
Amicus had a potential winner with this movie but it punted when it came to the advertising campaign by implying it was a horror film. "The mind of a baby, the strength of a madman!" shouted the trailers and the print ads screamed "CAN THIS BABY KILL?" alongside an absurd image of Stamp locked inside an infant's crib. In fact, Soames does pose a danger to others and himself simply because he doesn't realize the implications of his own strength- but he is presented sympathetically in much the same way as the monster in the original "Frankenstein". Perhaps because of the botched marketing campaign, the film came and went quickly. In some major U.S. cities it was relegated to a few art houses before it disappeared. In fact the art house circuit was where it belonged but the ad campaign isolated upper crust viewers who favored films by Bergman and Fellini but balked when the saw the over-the-top elements of the ads.
Sony has released the film as a region-free made-to-order DVD and it boasts a very fine transfer but sadly no bonus extras. Still the company deserves credit for making this little-seen gem finally available on home video where its many attributes can finally be enjoyed by a wider audience.
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