Donovan's Brain

Year of Release: 1953
Running Time: 84 Minutes
DVD Released By: MGM Home Entertainment
Directed By: Felix E. Feist
Writing Credits: Curt Siodmak (novel), Hugh Brooke (adaptation), Felix E. Feist (screenplay)
Filming Locations: Unknown

Starring: Lew Ayres (Dr. Patrick J. Cory), Gene Evans (Dr. Frank Schratt), Nancy Davis (Janice Cory), Steve Brodie (Herbie Yocum), Tom Powers (Donovan's Washington Advisor), Lisa Howard (Chloe Donovan), James Anderson (Chief Tuttle), Victor Sutherland (Nathaniel Fuller), Michael Colgan (Tom Donovan), Peter Adams (Mr. Webster), Harlan Warde (Treasury Agent Brooke), Shimen Ruskin (Tailor)


Tagline 1: A dead man's brain in a hidden laboratory told him to KILL...KILL...KILL...


Tagline 2:
This brain has some ideas of its own!


Alternate Titles:

I was unable to locate any alternate titles for this film.

Interesting Bits of Trivia:
Nancy Davis is probably better recognized by her married name, Nancy Reagan; wife of the late president Ronald Reagan. This film is based on a novel by Curt Siodmak, and has had several incarnations, including a two part radio play by Orson Welles, and three films, the first of which was titled, The Lady and the Monster, followed thereafter by Donovan's Brain, and then finally another film simply called The Brain. This film was kind of a one off for actor Lew Ayres, as he didn't really ever get into these types of films. During the first part of his career, which began in 1929 with an uncredited bit part in The Sophomore, he worked mostly in films. The 1950's were a transitional period for him however. Around the mid 50's, he began focusing less on movies and more on working in television, and by the end of the 50's, he fully transitioned into a television performer, and remained so throughout the rest of his working life, appearing in mostly single episode stints in a huge number of the biggest name television shows of the 60's, 70's and 80's. His final television appearance was in 1994's, Hart to Hart: Crimes of the Heart. Lew Ayres died on December 30, 1996 from complications from a coma. Earl Snyder was the sound mixer on this film. I only mention it because sound mixers are highly underrated and never mentioned, so I thought I'd give a little shout out to Earl, who I'm sure has long since passed away by now, but still deserves some recognition. Earl did sound on a wide variety of projects over his 31 year career, including such greats as The Crawling Hand, The Giant Gila Monster, The Killer Shrews, Target Earth and The Amazing Transparent Man.




Cast of Characters

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: You know, sometimes you go into things with the best intentions and end up totally hosed. That's what happened to good ol' Pat here. All he wanted to do was to take a brain out of a body that just died, put it in a tank and keep it alive so he could study it and learn all about how it works so he could help mankind with his discoveries. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong brain. As it grew and got stronger, it took over his body and turned him into the total schmuck that it used to be when it had it's own body. Oh well, at least the schmuck was rich, and Dr. Pat scored some new suits, a nice hotel room and some two-dollar cigars out of the deal. If you're getting the impression I'm trying to find anything interesting to say about him, you're right. He was pretty boring. In fact, they were all pretty boring, so you can expect more of that to come. At least the screenshot section is funny.

Dr. Frank Schratt: This guy I'm sure you won't recognize from the picture because he was way young here, but this is Gene Evans. He appeared in tons of other things including Bonanza, Gunsmoke and Operation Petticoat. For fans of old television shows, as soon as you hear his voice and the way he talks, you'll know who he is. He may be young here, but he apparently always kinda talked the same and had the same sounding voice. Anyway, in this film he plays Dr. Cory's alcoholic but totally loyal assistant Frank. I wonder why they made him an alcoholic though since he was only that way at the beginning of the film and we never see him drunk at all after that. He's also a lousy shot. He took two shots at the brain at point blank range and missed both times. I hope he didn't get in any gun fights on Bonanza or Gunsmoke. He wouldn't have lasted too long shootin' like that.

Janice Cory: This lady here is the wife of a future president. She was still credited as Nancy Davis when this movie was made, although she married Ronald Reagan on March 4, 1952 and this movie didn't come out until September 30, 1953. So I guess she kept her maiden name in her movie credits for a while after she was married. In this film, which is what I really should be talking about, she plays Janice, the loyal and loving wife of Dr. Cory and also his nurse at his little research laboratory. That's about the only interesting thing I have to say about her, so I'll move on.

Herbie Yocum: This guy is some nosy freelance reporter who discovers what Dr. Cory did and starts to blackmail him at a couple grand a pop just to keep his story under wraps...only it's not Cory he's blackmailing...it's Donovan, and Donovan don't take kindly to being blackmailed. To that end, he lures the guy out to the house to take some more pictures of the brain. Once there however, the brain takes over his body and sends him racing away in his car, which conveniently rolls down a hill in a fiery crash all because the brain kept making him fall asleep at the wheel. Serves him right anyway. He was an annoying schmuck.
Nathaniel Fuller: This guy really only had a minor part in this film, as did many other people that I didn't list here, but this guy had the most major of the minor parts, so I decided to list him. He was Donovan's lawyer. Basically he helped Donovan hide countless amounts of money under false accounts and what not so he wouldn't have to pay any taxes on the money. Like everyone else, he couldn't stand Donovan, but now he's got Donovan back in the form of Dr. Corey telling him what to do and making him pull all the money and resources back together so he can build a permanent and fully protected storage facility that will house and protect Donovan's brain forever. Again though, nothing special to say about him. Yet another boring character in a movie full of boring characters. The only character that was actually interesting in this whole movie was Donovan. What a pissy jerk he was. Too bad the only shot I could get you of him is his brain in a tank. You can see that one below in the screenshots.



Screen Shots

"Jeez, I sure wish she'd stop staring at me like that. She's giving me the creeps. Maybe if I keep looking straight ahead and ignore her she'll get tired of staring at me and look somewhere else. Ok, looking straight ahead...ignoring her...still getting stared at. Jesus, why the hell is she staring at me???"

"Pat..."

"WHAT?!?!"

"Well there's no reason to shout! I was just going to tell you that...well..."

"What??? What is it?!?!"

"Well, uh...I don't know if you realized this, but when I look through your ear, I can see all the way through your head and out the other side."

"Oh yeah? What about it?

"Well...I wish you'd roll up the window. The wind coming through your ears is making a whistling sound and it's really driving me nuts. Not to mention that the breeze is making your ear hairs wiggle around like a bunch of little tentacles trying to reach out and grab me."

"Jeez Pat, I sure wish you wouldn't do
that blurry hand thing at me when I'm all
hung over like this. It really freaks me out."

"Oh god, I think it just peed on me."

"You know doc, you really shouldn't hold your money out in the open like that when you got your eyes closed. Someone might just snatch it."

*SNATCH!*

"Booyah! Money for me! Oh, and doc...don't even think about trying to take it back. See this finger? You make one move and I'm gonna rub it across your upper lip. And believe me doc, if you knew where this finger's been, you wouldn't move a muscle."

"I sure wish Pat would stop inviting all of those stinky old zombies over for dinner all the time. I'm sick of cooking these stupid things. And it's not like they're good conversationalists or anything. All they ever do is ask for seconds and thirds on the brains and totally ignore all of my side dishes. I'll tell you something else too. I'm not letting them anywhere near our bathroom. You know, after the last time they were here, we had to get a new toilet. Talk about rude!"

"Oh my god! Janice wake up!
The Viagra's working!!!"

I wonder if it makes little bubbles in the
tank whenever it has a brain fart?




Best Quotes

"If you didn't have a beard, I'd kiss you for that."

 

- Pat talking to Frank after Frank gave him an idea for a way to monitor the brain's activity audibly. - (Reviewer's Note: I'm sure Frank was sitting there like, "Hey! This ain't that kinda party!")




Video Clip
When prompted, enter bmovie for the username and central for the password.

Donovan's Brain
It's the end of the line for old Donovan's Brain. Oh well, it was getting too big for the tank anyway. Maybe next time Pat should think about getting a pet turtle or something instead.


Summary and Conclusion

Dr. Pat Corey is a research scientist who's ultimate goal is to keep a brain alive after the death of its body so he can study it and unlock the secrets of how the brain works for the betterment of all man kind. When a plane crashes nearby, a millionaire named Donovan is brought to his house / laboratory for emergency surgery to try to save him. His legs are gone and his chest cavity is crushed, and after making a valiant attempt, Dr. Cory and Dr. Schratt finally give up when Donovan dies and they're unable to revive him.
Shortly after his death however, they realize they have a fresh human brain to use in their experiments, which up to now have consisted only of keeping monkey brains alive in a tank. They discuss it and ultimately decide to give it a try with the only fresh human brain they're ever likely to have at their disposal. Unfortunately for them, the procedure worked and Donovan's brain not only survived in the tank, but thrived and grew.

Dr. Corey becomes obsessed with observing it, losing tons of sleep and watching it to the exclusion of almost everything else in his life. Eventually he decides to try to communicate with it using ESP. He does, and that was the biggest mistake he could have possibly made. The brain takes over his body, and starts leading him on a quest to recover all of Donovan's hidden money in order to build the brain a facility to house it, protect it and keep it alive.


In life, Donovan was a notorious tax cheat and very much despised by everyone who knew him because of his arrogance and because of the way he treated everyone around him. Dr. Corey starts taking on these traits as the brain gains more and more control over him, and eventually his wife Janice and Dr. Schratt figure out what's going on. Their biggest mistake was to not destroy the brain as soon as they figured it out. Dr. Corey / Donovan forced them to keep it alive and to just observe it while Donovan did his dirty work. Anyone who got in the way was murdered or would eventually meet that end if Donovan had anything to say about it.


So that in a nutshell was what this movie was about. Now don't get me wrong here, I know I said the movie was full of boring characters, but it's actually a decent movie. Not without its problems, but a decent movie all the same.


I think what disappointed me the most about this movie is that I expected a more sinister feel and definitely more murders. The only one who was actually killed in this film was Herbie Yocum, and he killed himself when Donovan controlled his mind and made him drive off a cliff. So basically there was very little action in this film as far as the killing goes, which is what I thought I would be getting. I mean, one of the taglines says it told him to kill, kill, kill. Ok, so where's all the killing? He did attempt to kill Janice and Frank, but neither of them ended up dead. I think it would have done this movie a world of good if the body count had been higher. It certainly would have made it more interesting. In general however, despite the lack of killing, this story was entertaining on a different level. The gradual and ever strengthening hold that Donovan has over Dr. Corey is an interesting transformation to watch and despite the boringness of the majority of the characters in this film, good quality acting on the part of everyone involved in this production managed to keep it on its feet. If the quality of the acting hadn't have been there, this movie would likely have died a slow, painful death.


Another thing I liked about this film is the set design in the lab. They did a great job making it look really nifty with all kinds of interesting scientific gear, and the brain in the tank was really well done. It throbbed and glowed and managed to be really ominous and somewhat realistic looking. Again, if it had looked cheap or hokey, it would have killed the entire film. Fortunately, they had quality people working on this production, and that's what saved it and made it worth watching.
The DVD of this film is pretty nice, but also pretty typical of MGM's Midnite Movie releases. It has the film and the trailer and subtitles, but I do have two problems with the release. First, it says the DVD is in standard, full frame format and that it was modified to fit your screen. I despise this practice, and if that's truly what MGM did, they should be ashamed. I'm saying if because many of these old classics actually were shot in that aspect ratio, so I don't know if this one was and they just used a standard logo in the label and it really wasn't modified at all, or if it was shot in a widescreen aspect ratio originally and MGM cut the sides off. Again, if that's what they did, they should be ashamed. Movies should never be modified in any way. If it was shot in widescreen, then that's what should be on the disc.


The other thing I take issue with is the subtitles. My wife is a little hard of hearing, plus English isn't her first language. Even though she speaks English better than most Americans, the subtitles in movies help her to catch and understand everything better, and as such I've gotten used to having them on when we watch films together. I've even grown to like them myself because I can catch things in the subtitles that I may not have been able to hear on the audio track. Unfortunately, and this isn't just MGM that does this because I've seen lots of companies do it, they put subtitles on the disc, but only French and Spanish. So what are all the deaf and hard of hearing English speaking people supposed to do? Read lips? English subs should be a given on every disc, irregardless of any other languages they choose to include. You'd think MGM would actually want to reach that extra bit of audience, but I guess in this case they didn't care enough to bother. Fortunately, this practice seems to only go on a per release basis, as other releases of theirs do have English subs. I just wish they'd make it a policy to make sure all of their releases do. By the way, that's not just for MGM. I wish every company that includes subs on their releases would make it a policy to insure that English is the primary sub language that goes on the disc before anything else.


As for the quality of the transfer, it's pretty nice. It's a bit grainy, but you're likely not to notice it all that much. The sound is clean and quite nice sounding without any of the muddiness that can sometimes plague old, classic films.


So what's the conclusion? Well, even though it didn't meet up with my expectations going into it, this did turn out to be quite a good film. I think there was a lot of wasted potential with the lack of killing, but this film was based on a novel, so I guess we really can't blame the filmmakers for that. I don't know how closely they kept the script to what went on in the novel though, so maybe we can. In any case, it's a good old classic and once you see it, I don't think you'll be disappointed. I kind of struggled a bit with the rating, because in some ways it deserves a bit less, and in some ways it deserves a bit more. In the end I finally just decided to just average it out and give it...

 

B-Movie Central's Rating: 3 Bees

 

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