Donovan's Brain Reviews
W.H. Donovan was one of the world's richest men whose vast fortune was only exceeded by his an enormous ego that has expanded well into the realm of megalomania. He felt he was so far above the common throng that he should be exempt from the fate common to all things on earth; death. The 1953 movie under examination here was based on the 1942: classic novel the same name by Curt Siodmak. Understandably, the book was able to give as complete a background to Mr. Donovan as was possible in the movie. As such the film gets right to the point of introducing the scientist in charge of becoming procedure. Dr. Patrick J. Corey (Lew Ayres) is first seen driving a car with his wife Janice an acute monkey that is part of his research. The actress playing Janice was Nancy Davis, a popular character actress of the day who would later marry another character actor, Ronald Reagan, going on to becoming the first lady of the United States. This initial scene in the car was typical of a lot of movies in the 50s almost directly used by such other classics as 'Reverse Flying Saucers', as a means to establish a happy family life for the groundbreaking scientist. The archetype of the scientist during the 50s was frequently that of the antagonists, the curious man who goes too far into exploring nature and whose hubris brings his creation out of control threatening mankind. Seeing such as this humanize this archetype allowing the audience to identify readily read them and better able to accept the plot point that it is not necessarily the researcher that creates the world's ills but the misuse of his discoveries.
As in the book the titular Mr. Donovan is involved in an airplane crash. His body all but completely destroyed they can make their way to the desert home of Dr. Corey. Although unable to save the man's life he is able to use advanced techniques he has been working on to keep his brain alive. The familiar convoluted organ is placed into a jar that contains the specially treated nutrient solution that is oxygenated and perfused with electrical current. Electroencephalographs indicate that there is still activity present in the severed brain. A lackey of Mr. Donovan offers substantial financial inducement for Dr. Corey to perform this untested and potentially amoral and illegal procedure. Despite grave doubts the sizable wad of cash is accepted. Dr. Corey is not so much swayed by personal monetary gain but by what the money could potentially do to advance his life-saving research. Most movies of this sort are at their heart morality plays with a sharply drawn line between good and evil. Dr. Corey may be straddling the line but his intentions lie is guided by his better angels. As it turns out it seems unbelievably coincidental that a wealthy man should have his plane crash so close to a scientist researching brains. Not only having his brain intact after such a devastating crash but a scientist has on hand a fully functioning operating room and research laboratory setup up to study the brain. Coincidences like this are unnaturally and implausible but this movie was intended either a midnight horror show or drive in. The teenagers attending either of these venues were not there to dissect intricacies plausibility of the plot points. Their main force was finding some contrivance to get there are around the shoulders of the date.
In a predictable fashion the main obstacle at this point to the research is establishing communication with Donovan's brain. The hoped-for interaction was not achieved but the brain was able to take over the body of Dr. Corey. In a way this makes this into a possession movie of sorts with the demonic personage is replaced by a narcissistic, megalomaniac one percenter. Among the great advancement in the technology available in this isolated home laboratory on the necessary pieces of equipment to cobble together a device to interpret brainwaves into audible sounds. It makes for a suitably eerie special effect and a contrivance to let the audience know when the brain is undergoing certain psychological changes. Eventually Corey under control of the Donovan brain breaks free of the laboratory and heads off for the city. Once there he quickly secures a hotel room. With his knowledge of account number and password is able to withdraw a sizable amount of money extensively to use the cash bribes to forward his Machiavellian schemes. He visits his lawyer and precedes to the blackmail him after assuring him that despite the different body the mind driving it is indubitably that of Donovan. One of his main goals is to exploit some of his connections in Washington DC. Meanwhile back in the lab the brain is beginning to grow out of control pulsating wildly causing in solution to bubble frantically.
Like many movies of this time period is classified as a cult classic and relegated to the list of flicks defined as popular despite a failure to attain a certain level of quality. There is no doubt that this movie is a cult classic, well appreciated by sci-fi fans everywhere but as far as its quality goes it is one of the better examples of 50 science-fiction. One of the dominant themes used in movies at that time why the Communist infiltration or the dangers of rapidly expanding technology and unrestrained scientific research. This movie obviously falls into the latter category. As mentioned previously it is a typical in that the scientist who developed the technology is not your stereo typical mad scientist but a concerned researcher looking to improve the lot of mankind. Replacing research moving forward at a breakneck pace, unregulated and dangerous, Dr. Corey was caught in moral a dilemma that is readily identifiable with many in the audience. Although he obviously has some financial means (after all he has quite a tricked out laboratory in his country home), the financial means available to Donovan would undoubtedly make the difference in the success of Corey's research. One of the most ancient themes and literature is used here; doing the wrong thing for the right reason with tragic results.
Although the acting undeniably tends towards the melodramatic it is significantly above the usual' B' flicks common in those venues. Lew Ayres had an illustrious career that ran from 1929 to the mid-90s. This journeyman actor was expert at finding human nuances to pull into the characters he portrayed. This performance is no different; Mr. Ayres imbues the character of Dr. Corey with an exceptional sense of humanity. He gave us a man who was conflicted, forced by circumstances not of his doing. He became a victim of the vagaries of fate, involved in this not from his own volition, but only because of his proximity to random events. Corey found himself in a moral quagmire; the money he could obtain by submitting to the demand of this amoral millionaire would fund his research, greatly accelerating the day that he could contribute to the health and well-being potentially of thousands of people. Instead not only did he find himself under the financial sway of this malicious man but he is forced to abdicate his very mind the controlling thoughts of his unnaturally living brain. The moral implications of this story are not surprising considering the creative force behind. The director, Felix E. Feist, was popular with many of the acclaimed dramatic television series of the day including an episode of the 'Our Limits'. Several of these television projects that directly followed this film was as director for episodes for the various theatrical dramas and showcases that help to find that error of television. The legacy left by this movie is long and varied providing the dramatic basis for such science-fiction television standards as 'Dr. Who', and 'Star Trek: the Original Series'. Is a certain nostalgic value this movie to those of us who remember those days long before streaming video and DVDs in the neighborhood movie theater was the source of entertainment. Younger viewers are advised to keep an open mind while watching this. It was movies like this that film, and others similar to it, not only directly influence the themes used in the modern incarnations of the genre to inspire the artists that have crafted your favorite movies and television shows.
Like many fans of fifty's sci-fi I had this film on several successively improved formats from VHS tape to DVD. Now thanks to Kino Lorber there is a freshly remastered high definition edition. There are some that have expressed the opinion that the enhanced standards for audio and video are wasted on black and white movies that are sixty or more years old. Nothing could be further from the truth as demonstrated here. In artistic terms it is a different medium much like an artist choosing between charcoals, pastels or oil. The directors of this time period knew how to express their vision through gradation of grey, stylistically placed shadows and other means of creating and sustaining the desired mood. As you watch this Blu-ray edition take note of the clarity, how you can now discern the variety of textures on the clothing or sets. The audio is now far more robust than before making for a better experience than most had during the movie's initial theatrical release.
Despite please not to do this, he does, soon he believes he can communicate with the brain, however his companions think he is making it up, but soon learn this is not the case. The doctor starts to take on the behaviors of the late man, and goes out to settle some scores, the problems that confront him,
Is a nosey reporter who starts blackmailing him, and the brain begins to take him over completely, until he plans to kill his wife and friends as they know too much.
It's a very enjoyable film, and keeps the viewer interested throughout.