Based on a stage musical by Jack Good, which was a big hit in London, Catch My Soul is a strange melange. The original was set in Piccadilly, but the makers of the film inexplicably shifted the action to a hippie commune in the New Mexico desert. The plot follows Shakespeare’s Othello fairly closely, only this time around Othello is a pacifist type, played by Richie Havens. Iago is a hippie dropout. And the whole thing is basically bonkers and bizarre.
Unsurprisingly, apparently almost everyone involved in the film was either high or drunk. It was the only film Patrick McGoohan ever directed—he had himself played Iago in a previous off-kilter adaption of Othello set in the London jazz scene, All Night Long,in the 1960s. While McGoohan was directing, he would start drinking around 4:00, after which the shoot gradually shut down. Worse yet, at some point the spiritual aspects of the film started making sense to the producer, who converted to Catholicism and then took the film off of McGoohan and cut in some extra religious mumbo-jumbo. McGoohan’s efforts to take his name off the re-edited turkey were unsuccessful.
Richie Havens was an interesting choice for Othello. He of course manages the musical side well—the soundtrack was more popular than the film by far—and it was his willingness to take the role that got the film made in the first place. In this version, Othello is a hippie travelling preacher, who meets his Desdemona in the commune. Susan Tyrell, a weirdly charismatic actress who was always amazing, plays Emilia, and Desdemona is TV actress Season Hubley. Lance LeGault’s Iago is more of a devil than a love rival, with almost supernatural elements to his portrayal. And then there’s Delaney and Bonnie, and a cast of anonymous but genuine New Mexico hippies. Why anyone thought this setting and cast would be a good choice for a new Othello adaptation is anyone’s guess.
In its favour, it is beautifully filmed by Conrad Hall, much better known for Electra Glide in Blue and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was filmed mostly on an Indian burial ground in Northern New Mexico, giving it a almost post-apocalyptic look. The film fits its era well—but it came out at the same time as Jesus Christ Superstar, which probably was a factor in it bombing. After a disastrous and short initial theatrical release, during which it was billed as a religious picture and even screened to an audience of just nuns at one point, the rights were bought for next to nothing. It then ran on the drive-in circuit as Santa Fe Satan, a ridiculous title even for that niche.
It was released by Etiquette Pictures, a company whose last film was the Dennis Hopper quasi-documentary American Dreamer. The two would make a great double bill on Hollywood visions of the hippie scene. The film was practically lost for decades and even some historians weren’t even sure it was finished or released, but now that it’s available again it’s worth a look as a flawed, strange footnote to the 1970s counterculture. The Blu-Ray includes a fun making-of, Drink the Wine, Eat the Bread, that spills the secrets of how the film was made and all of the behind-the-screens partying. There are also some good interviews and promo materials.
Music, Drama |USA, 1974 | 15 | Etiquette Pictures | November 2015 (UK) | Dir.Patrick McGoohan | Richie Havens, Season Hubley, Tony Joe White, Lance Le Gault | Buy: Catch My Soul