Forgotten Films: Donovan’s Brain (1953)
This is the 6th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
This week I am proud to report that the wrist is getting better. I can do many things without the use of the splint, except drive for any time. And I have a real film this week, unlike Eegah! from last week. DONOVAN’S BRAIN was made in 1962 by Alan Dowling Productions. It was based the novel by Curt Siodmak of the same name. I have read the book and enjoyed it.
The two primary stars of this film are about as different as you can imagine. Lew Ayres, the popular Dr. Kildare on the screen who was blacklisted because of his status as a conscientious objector during World War II. He completed training and served as a medical aide in the Pacific and as a chaplain’s aide, He stars in the film as Dr. Patrick Cory, a research scientist working on brain research in the desert. He is aided by his wife Janice (played by Nancy Davis (Reagan – she and Ronnie were married in 1952). They are abetted by Gene Evans as Dr. Frank Schratt, Steve Brodie as Herbie Yocum, a newspaper reporter, and the uncredited titular brain.
This is on one hand a mad scientist film so totally unlike the Frankenstein films of two decades earlier while on the other hand it is a “giant, telepathic brain” film.
You basic story is that Dr. Cory and his wife are scientists working on keeping brain functions alive after bodily death with some small success. They are assisted occasionally by the sometimes drunken Dr. Schratt. On a day when Schratt is drunk, Cory is called to a plane wreck where he is asked to try and save the life of one victim, a businessman named Donovan. Donovan dies as they are working on him and Cory, in a fit of scientific madness Cory takes the brain from Donovan’s body and puts it into a case of various interesting solutions. The brain seems to thrive in the chemical stew. Cory is obsessed by the brain functions and sets up audio equipment to amplify the alpha waves that the brain is emitting. And, because he is the mad scientist and tired form working 72 hours straight, the brain seems to make a telepathic connection with him. Soon Cory begins to act strangely, more like the ruthless businessman that Donovan was. He absently produces Donovan’s signature in his sleep and, voila, plans are hatched.
The brain finds in Cory a willing subject and soon Cory knows where Donovan has buried all his unreported income and all the sleazy blackmail data that were part of his life. In essence, a Jekyll to his Hyde. Cory begins to walk like Donovan and to try to take over Donovan’s life and kingdom. Janice and Frank are all for pulling the plug on the brain, but every time they attempt something they find themselves stopped by the ever increasing power.
The Feds are watching. Herbie Yocum, the sleazy newspaper reported, figures things out and begins to blackmail Cory/Donovan. Bad things happen there. Eventually everyone who knows the secret is going to have to die. Big bad brain is not going to let the stop his new plans. Since he can pretty well control anyone, the Corys and Shratt are all in danger.
The film is directed by Felix E. Feist (I keep wanting to do Faust, you Justice League fans know why). Feist did a lot of work in Hollywood both for the screen and for TV. He is also the adoptive father of fantasy novelist Raymond Feist.
What makes the film work is the fact that the story is good. Siodmak wrote a number of novels including HAUSER’S MEORY, another science fiction novel in 1968. Curt and his wife work on fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS so they could get an exclusive story. His brother Robert had a long and successful career in Hollywood as a writer and director.
So, if you are in the mood for a decent mad scientist story, you might check this out. Or, if you want an evil brain trying to dominate lesser humans, you might try this or The Brain From Planet Arous starring John Agar. One of the two is worth your time,
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.