Donovan’s Brain (1953)

I don’t know where all the flying brains were in this movie. If you’ve got yourself an early 1950s movie about a killer brain, it either ought to fly around or have grown to gargantuan size, preferably both. The only thing the brain in this one does is sit in a bunch of dirty water in a fish aquarium!

Now you can’t just up and order yourself a human brain from or someplace (at least the last time I checked you couldn’t), so just how does Dr. Patrick Cory get his mad scientist hands on one?

It all starts innocently enough with some rather pointless animal research that involves him importing monkeys and scooping their itty-bitty brains out and putting them in liquid and hooking up some electrodes and checking out the trusty oscilloscope. (They always use these things in movies like this to check on stuff like alpha and beta waves – it’s really good for keeping the girlfriend or wife involved because it’s simple enough that even she can read the results to her man as he keeps poking parts of the brain and saying “how about now?” over and over.)

Yes, somehow this guy has gone and got himself a wife. This has always puzzled me about these mad scientists who are intent on playing God or unlocking the secrets of the universe or getting free cable or whatever. First of all, why would they bother with a wife, second, why would she bother with him, and third, why would she stay with him when it becomes apparent that he is more interested in stimulating a monkey brain than her?

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Dr. Cory doesn’t just have a wife to ignore though. He also has an alcoholic doctor buddy named Frank who for some reason insists on going on his drunken binges at Cory’s house. Mrs. Cory is pretty easy going because she doesn’t seem to mind that there’s a passed out boozer laying on her living room floor first thing in the morning. Of course she’s coming back from the monkey store with her husband, so she’s probably what you’d call “unconventional.”

Somehow, Dr. Cory along with his wimpy wife (future first lady Nancy Reagan) and his wasted pal Dr. Frank, manage to get this monkey brain up and running. It sits in a tank and emits some waves that the oscilloscope picks up which indicates that it is still functioning. Later they get a call that there’s been a plane crash and they want him to go and help scrape up some of the passengers from the desert floor. Being the great scientist he is, he whines about the inconvenience of it all until his wife guilts him into to it.

He brings one of the survivors back to his office and he and Frank operate on him and try and save him. The guy bites it and then Dr. Cory gets one of those flashes of inspiration that separates the mad scientists from the rest of us.

Out comes the surgical saw and the next thing we know, the family gold fish gets its ass flushed down the commode to make room for Dr. Cory’s new pet brain!

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So who’s brain was this? Usually in these body part movies, it’s someone like a serial killer, but this time the guy (Walter Donovan) turns out merely to be a rich jerk that does crappy stuff like refuse to donate to charity and avoids his tax burden by hiding his money in bogus bank accounts.

Dr. Cory is just like any of us when we get a new pet. We’ve got no time for our friends anymore and want to spend time only with our faithful companion, except in this case the faithful companion isn’t some cuddly dog or turtle, but is a stinky brain who is faithful in the sense that it’s trying to take over Dr. Cory’s mind to use him as its tool of evil!

I was never sure how we ever made the leap from just keeping this dumb brain alive in a dirty fish bowl to having this brain gain super powers that allowed it to control human beings, but then again, I was just trying to figure out what the point was of keeping the brain alive in the first place.

Slowly and surely this brain turns Cory into Donovan complete with Donovan’s limp, handwriting, and gruff manner. The brain then begins using its new found ability to continue to try and cheat the government out of the taxes that the brain owes it!

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As a result, the movie spends far too much time on scenes with Dr. Cory meeting with cronies of Donovan’s and flying around withdrawing all this money he had stashed away in different banks. There were moments where I almost forgot that there was a killer brain involved!

Obviously, this movie makes absolutely no sense, but the movie was passable because it never tried to do too much. Everything is contained in its own little world, so you can kind of swallow the whole “experiment gone wrong” scenario.

Star Lew Ayres is able to use the inflections of his voice to signal when he’s evil-Cory and when he’s just mad-scientist Cory and there are nice touches like having Cory order Donovan’s favorite cigars and getting Donovan’s style of suit made for himself. That’s just the sort of stuff you would expect a disembodied brain controlling a new body to do!

There’s really too many holes in the story to overlook (pretty lucky to have that thunderstorm when they did), but Ayres did a nice enough job so that my own brain didn’t end up feeling like it was floating around in filthy bilge water.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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