Catch My Soul (Patrick McGoohan, 1973)

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The early 1970s were awash in rock musicals of every stripe, offering audiences an amazing Technicolor dreamcoat of themes and tunes. Quite a few of them had manifestly religious underpinnings – like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and GODSPELL (both filmed in 1973) – taking their cues from the more mystically inclined aspects of the counterculture, while repudiating or simply omitting its less salutary aspects (you know, all those drugs and orgies). CATCH MY SOUL goes them one better by grafting religious offshoots onto the sturdy stalk of Shakespearean tragedy. Billed as “ The Rock-Othello,” CATCH MY SOUL sets the Bard’s tale of monstrous jealousy and malevolent manipulation against the backdrop of a New Mexico commune in 1967.

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Charismatic preacher Othello (Richie Havens, WOODSTOCK) comes to convert the communards, among them the fair Desdemona (Season Hubley, HARDCORE), whom he soon woos and weds. Othello’s selection of Michael Cassio (Tony Joe White) as his deacon and right-hand man draws the ire of Iago (Lance LeGault, COMA), so he determines to bring about the downfall of all three, “catching their souls” in perdition. You see, this Iago is no mere Machiavelli; he’s the devil in the flesh. (Per the Blu-ray’s liner notes, producer/writer Jack Good made this devilish alteration after reading news items about the Manson family.)

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Miraculously, CATCH MY SOUL largely succeeds in its efforts at tragic transplantation, despite discordant acting styles, oscillations between hifalutin Shakespearean diction and countrified colloquialisms, and a certain thinness to some of its characterizations (especially when it comes to the relationship between Othello and Desdemona). The film is ably assisted by the contributions of two key figures. Director Patrick McGoohan had previously helmed only a handful of episodes for his surreal spy-fi TV series THE PRISONER (1967), but he shows a sure hand for camera placement and movement. Cinematographer Conrad Hall works wonders with his lighting, making use of nothing but a bonfire and a bank of headlights, for instance, to capture the raucous wedding party scene. Hall’s camera certainly wrings every ounce of atmosphere out of the mountainous Santa Fe surroundings, including the ominous Black Mesa that towers over Othello’s isolated church.

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As heterodox as the casting choices are, the performers mostly come off excellent well, even the nonprofessional actors. Lance Le Gault looms over the film, whether smirking diabolically into the camera or lunging across desert vistas to work his wiles. Susan Tyrrell (FAT CITY) imbues Emilia with a dose of her trademark off-kilter energy, especially in several sly, double-entendre-laden exchanges with Desdemona. Richie Havens gains in focus and intensity over the course of Othello’s conversion from benevolent backwoods preacher to pathologically jealous uxorcide. Despite his lack of experience, Tony Joe White manages to contribute some inspired down-home line readings. (Dig the way he laments “Reputation, reputation, reputation.”) Fresh-faced Season Hubley brings an air of untrammeled innocence to her doomed heroine. Musical duo Delaney & Bonnie also turn up for the wedding party scene.

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CATCH MY SOUL’s production history is as intriguing as the finished film. The brainchild of TV producer Jack Good (SHINDIG!, 33 1/3 REVOLUTIONS PER MONKEE), it began life as a stage play in Los Angeles with Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago and William Marshall (BLACULA) as Othello. Then the play went on to lengthy UK run with a rotating cast, one of which included Angharad Rees (HANDS OF THE RIPPER) as Desdemona. The songs and storyline were entirely reworked for the film, and the decision was made to shoot on location in Santa Fe, where both Jack Good and Patrick McGoohan happened to reside at the time. Interestingly, McGoohan had earlier played Iago in Basil Dearden’s ALL NIGHT LONG (1962), a version of Othello set in London’s jazz scene and featuring some stellar musical performances from legendary artists like Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth and Charles Mingus.

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Following a disastrous opening in New York that was only attended (according to executive producer Charles Fries) by a group of eight nuns sitting in the back row, distribution of CATCH MY SOUL was soon taken over by Bob Shaye at New Line Cinema. Shaye eventually released it a year later to the drive-in exploitation circuit christened with the new moniker SANTA FE SATAN (as the Blu-ray’s title card still reads). Needless to say, audiences hankering for heaping helpings of T&A weren’t quite prepared for the film’s heady mix of the tragic and apostolic.

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Etiquette Pictures’ 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray transfer looks terrific for a near-forgotten film that had the briefest of theatrical runs. Colors are bright, fine details in the frequent close-ups strong, and flesh tones convincing. Nighttime sequences play well. The image is surprisingly clean, with only a few instances of heavy grain and some slight speckling. The Master Audio mono track treats the dialogue decently, despite some inconsistencies in volume; on the other hand, the songs come across loud and clear, as does Paul Glass’ eerie choral and orchestral music (particularly in the increasingly tense finale). The English SDH subtitles contain some typos and a surprising number of inaccuracies when transliterating the Shakespearean dialogue.

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Etiquette provides some excellent contextual extras. “Drink the Wine, Eat the Bread” (20m 50s) has interviews with associate producer Huw Davies and executive producer Charles Fries (TALES FROM THE CRYPT). They discuss their enlistment in the project, tensions on the set between Good and McGoohan, share some hilarious anecdotes about the cast and crew’s intake of drugs and alcohol, and lament the pitfalls of the film’s distribution. In the choicest bit, Fries mentions showing an early draft of the script to a focus group. “They were concerned about the Shakespeare,” he confides.

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In “The Deacon Speaks” (11m 27s), swamp rocker Tony Joe White talks candidly about making the switch from songwriter to actor, getting along with other cast members, how the wedding party was as rollicking as it looks, and advises viewers to focus on the music. “True Soul” (8m 5s) features Naia Hall discussing her father’s early years, his introduction to the art of cinematography on a lark, and his working relations with directors. There’s also a still gallery with 34 publicity and promotional images (2m 48s), a TV spot (1m), and theatrical trailer (1m 54s). The 26-page booklet contains exhaustive liner notes from film historian Tom Meyer, as well as reproductions of the theatrical and film posters.

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About Budd Wilkins

Budd Wilkins is a writer, film critic and instructor. He is a Staff Critic for Slant Magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Nordic Issue of Acidemic Journal of Film and Media. He is currently writing a chapter for an anthology on international horror directors to be published by Intellect Press and distributed by University of Chicago Press. Mr. Wilkins was born and raised in Hollywood, Florida. He attended Penn State for several years before moving to North Carolina in 1994, where he earned his Bachelor's in Religious Studies and a Master's in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Film Studies from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His primary focus is film history, film literacy and criticism, with the goal of bringing obscure, foreign and films that are labeled "difficult" to the attention of film aficionados of all kinds. Other interests and focus of critique include comparative religion, black humor, 19th century European literature, horror and graphic novels. Mr Wilkins lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with his wife, Tina. Follow @buddwilkins on Twitter.
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