02 October 2012

October 2nd

Donovan's Brain (1953) directed by Felix E. Feist
I think the 1950s were probably the horror movie's weakest decade.  The '20s kicked things off with the classics of German Expressionism, Universal's monsters ruled the world in the '30s and '40s, Hammer and Hitchcock spooked the '60s, and then the rules were thrown out the window in the 1970s and anything became possible after that.  When I think of the conservative 1950s, however, all that comes to mind are goofy rubber-suited monsters and giant bugs.  Serious sci-fi flicks were relatively easy to find at this time -- think The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide -- but I can't think of anything of that caliber in the horror genre.

While not a great film, Donovan's Brain takes itself seriously and, despite featuring a giant, pulsating brain in an aquarium, manages to pull it off.  This success can be laid square on the shoulders of Lew Ayres.  He plays Dr. Corey, a not-that-mad scientist who, when he fails to save a man injured in a plane crash, decides to yank the corpse's still-sort-of-alive brain out for an experiment.  Turns out he's perfected a method of keeping a brain alive indefinitely.  There's one problem: this disembodied brain, formerly belonging to a not-so-nice millionaire, figures out it can take control of Corey's body remotely.  Donovan's brain proceeds to puppet the doctor around town, reacquiring his fortune, threatening public officials and disowning his children.

Ayres does an excellent job with the transitions from the serious-though-pleasant Corey to asshole-of-the-year Donovan.  You're never quite sure which personality is speaking until Ayres slowly lets the mystery slip through body language or vocal inflection.  It's a great performance.  The rest of the film isn't quite up to that standard, though I did get a kick out seeing the former first lady as Corey's wife.

Watched: stream on Netflix.

1 comment:

  1. The "disembodied brain" sub-genre of horror has always been an interesting one. "The Brain from Plant Arous," "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," this film. That's a horror trend definitely tied to scientific advances of the time, the same we got a small spat of face transplant films in the sixties and early seventies. And I'd be remiss not to mention 1988's "The Brain," about a giant alien brain with eyes and mouth eating people, which is as exactly as goofy/insane/brilliant as it sounds.