CAPSULE: CATCH MY SOUL (1974)

AKA Santa Fe Satan

DIRECTOR: Patrick McGoohan

FEATURING: Richie Havens, Lance LeGault, , Tony Joe White, Season Hubley, Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett

PLOT: An adaptation of “Othello,” set in the Santa Fe, NM area in the summer of 1967. Traveling preacher Othello (Richie Havens) comes across a remote commune in the desert and eventually settles there, becoming the defacto leader and falling in love with and marrying Desdemona. This does not sit well with Iago, who plans revenge on Othello, manipulating everyone around him, including his wife Emila.

Still from Catch My Soul (1974)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Catch My Soul is definitely of an artifact of its time, and the merging of Shakespeare and gospel makes for a unique interpretation, but it’s a pretty straightforward presentation of the basic story.

COMMENTS: Catch My Soul was an intriguing moment in the careers of everyone involved. It was the only feature film directed by Patrick McGoohan, who’d proved himself earlier directing episodes of “Danger Man,” “Secret Agent” and “The Prisoner”; it featured the acting debuts of singers Richie Havens and Tony Joe White, as well as performances from cult favorites Susan Tyrell and Lance LeGault; and on top of all of that, the cameraman was Conrad Hall of “The Outer Limits,” In Cold Blood and Cool Hand Luke, among others. It was based on an acclaimed stage show and with that pedigree, it should have been a memorable addition to the genre of rock musicals. Instead, Catch My Soul barely opened at all—practically ignored by the public at large and garnering scathing reviews, the film disappeared from theaters only to reappear a year later under the title Santa Fe Satan, and was as successful under that title as it was under the original. The film then pretty much disappeared from view, never released on VHS and barely mentioned at all. McGoohan disowned Soul shortly before release and barely talked about it, except for one mention in a mid-90’s interview. For a long time the only available evidence of the film’s existence was the soundtrack LP, the most praised element of the film, which could be still be found in used vinyl bins even well into the 2000s. It was long thought to be a lost film, until the recent unearthing of a 35mm print in North Carolina and the subsequent discoveries of a 16mm print and the camera negative found in the bowels of 20th Century Fox studios.

Now that Soul has been rediscovered and can be seen with some 40 years of perspective, it seems that the initial reviews were too harsh and mean spirited. Far from being a hippie-themed train wreck, the film is an interesting curiosity showing how Shakespeare’s work is constantly adapted to reflect contemporary times. It’s especially fitting that McGoohan was the one to direct this, since he starred earlier as an Iago-inspired character in another musically-oriented adaptation of Othello: All Night Long (1962), directed by Basil Dearden, set in the London jazz world with performances by Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus.

The closest cousins to the film would be the filmed versions of Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell, though its melding of Shakespeare with gospel-themes make it a more of a hybrid than either of those projects. Although it’s not quite a smooth meld, it does work very well within its own confines.

Transplanting the events location to a commune in the American Southwest in 1967 works very well visually with Conrad Hall’s gorgeous images. His camera takes full advantage of the landscape, reminiscent of his prior work on Cool Hand Luke and Electra Glide in Blue. The locale also fits with the gospel element. The desert is where temptation traditionally takes place, and Iago’s machinations take place outdoors; one memorable scene sees Othello literally in a freshly dug pit, wallowing in jealousy as Iago goads him on, with musical accompaniment.

The main revelation is, after all the bad press and generally poor reputation the film developed due to no one actually being able to see it for over 30 years, how good the film actually is. Havens is very good as Othello; believable as a man of God, but also very prideful… making Othello’s slide into temporary madness believable, as Iago works that character flaw very convincing. Tony Joe White also makes a good impression as Cassio, but the real surprise is Lance LeGault, reprising his role as Iago from the British stage show. Most who are familiar with him from his roles as military badasses on “Magnum P.I.” and “The A-Team” won’t believe their eyes or ears seeing him here. His Iago is truly devilish, clearly having fun narrating his plans and breaking the fourth wall with asides to the audience. He was definitely the inspiration for the retitling of the film to Santa Fe Satan. Susan Tyrell is relatively restrained, but also good as Emila, Iago’s wife. She gets a memorable moment belting out the song “Tickle His Fancy,” intercut with Iago’s spying on Othello and Desdemona. In the midst of all this, Season Hubley as Desdemona gets a bit lost since the role is a passive one. McGoohan’s direction is dynamic, taking full advantage of the New Mexico locations, and inventive in places, such as a transition where LeGault jumps from a night scene into the light of following morning. One wishes that he’d been able to continue his directing career with more features.

Still from Catch My Soul (1974)
It was a shock when Etiquette Pictures announced the release of this dual package Blu-Ray and DVD . Restored in 2K from the original 35mm negative (which has the Santa Fe Satan) title, it does justice to Conrad Hall’s work. Included are three featurettes, one about the making of the film with executive producer Charles Fries and associate producer Huw Davies; an interview with singer Tony Joe White; and a short tribute to Conrad Hall, featuring his daughter. Also included are a trailer and TV spot (with the original title) and a short gallery of promotional artwork and stills from the film. Most informative is the booklet essay by Tom Mayer, which goes into the history from stage to film.

If there’s one drawback, it’s the absence of most of the main people involved, whose perspectives some 40 years later would have been valuable to hear. McGoohan, Havens, LeGault, Hall, Delany Bramlett and Tyrell all passed before restoration efforts on the film began, and the man who started it all, writer Jack Good, is absent. But that’s just icing on the cake; that this ‘lost’ film has been found and is in circulation, to be discovered by audiences who may be more appreciative than in the past, is the important thing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s the hybrid plot and dialogue that keep one in what is genteelly called stitches… Forget the movie and get the soundtrack album.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

LINKS OF INTEREST:

The Unmutual.UK – Tom Mayer’s original 3 part article on the history of the film and the rediscovery

Episode 60 and a follow-up article : The Dreamtime Podcast – information about the original stage version which starred Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago

Wikipedia has a listing for the UK stage version, which was retooled from the original stage version. This is where the evangelical element was first introduced.

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