Donovan's Brain


1h 23m 1953
Donovan's Brain

Brief Synopsis

A scientist keeps an unscrupulous tycoon's brain alive and falls under its influence.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Fantasy
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Sep 30, 1953
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 28 Sep 1953
Production Company
Dowling Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak (New York, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,496ft (8 reels)

Synopsis

Physician and scientist Patrick J. Cory and his wife Janice bring home a monkey for use in Patrick's brain experiments. Inside their home laboratory, Pat and his partner, alcoholic surgeon Frank Schratt, achieve their first success in keeping the monkey's brain alive outside of its dead body. Jan, a nurse, monitors the brain after sheriff's rangers call the doctors to the site of a small plane crash. Frank and Pat transport the victim, renowned multi-millionaire Walter H. Donovan, to the house for emergency care. After Donovan dies despite their best efforts, Pat is inspired by the idea of removing Donovan's brain for his experiment. Ignoring Jan and Frank's protests against the illegal procedure, Pat removes the brain, places it in a liquid solution and connects it to an oscillograph to monitor brain wave activity. Donovan's body is remanded to a local hospital and although Pat and Frank are relieved when no autopsy is ordered, Pat is forced to defend Frank against accusations by administrators that he is not fit to perform surgery because of his drinking. Pat later reluctantly allows news photographer Herbie Yocum to photograph the laboratory where Donovan died. Pat soon becomes obsessed with Donovan's brain, and while Frank is away, Jan helps him monitor the brain's activity. After a week, Pat notices that the brain absorbs nourishment and is growing in size. When Jan expresses concern that Pat's obsession with the experiment is causing their relationship to suffer, Pat affectionately reassures her of his love. Pat then hooks up the oscillograph to a sound monitor so he can hear the brain waves. Frank, dismissed from his hospital job, returns to the lab and moves in with the couple. Frank's humorous comment that Pat will need a crystal ball to communicate with the brain inspires Pat to consider telepathy. The trio researches Donovan's life and learn that he had been a ruthless financier who was under investigation for tax fraud by the Treasury Dept. That night, Pat focuses all his attention on the brain. Around four o'clock in the morning, he goes into a trance and scribbles a note in Donovan's handwriting. Afterward, Pat realizes he has succeeded in making contact with Donovan. In time, Pat appears to be talking, walking and moving like Donovan, and Frank and Jan express their concern that he has lost control of the experiment. Pat refuses to relent, however, and, still under Donovan's influence, charters a plane to the city, where he stays in Donovan's favorite hotel. Herbie encounters Pat in the lobby and becomes suspicious when Pat goes to a bank and cashes a $27,000 check. The bank manager, who recognizes that the account's signatory is connected to Donovan, alerts the Treasury Dept. Pat orders a vast amount of scientific equipment for the laboratory, orders several suits made to Donovan's specifications and meets with Donovan's stunned attorney, Nathaniel Fuller, demanding that Fuller contact Donovan's secret Washington, D.C. cohort. When Fuller refuses because he cannot comprehend Pat's affiliation with Donovan, Pat threatens to incriminate Fuller in Donovan's tax fraud investigation if he refuses to cooperate. Later that day, Treasury agents Brooke and Smith question Pat, but he steadfastly refuses to provide any information. Herbie then blackmails Pat by threatening to publish an article titled "Dead Man's Living Brain," complete with photographs of the laboratory. Donovan's grip on Pat barely wavers when he returns home exhausted, and he immediately sets up the delivered failsafe equipment that is designed to keep the brain alive. Frank fears that Pat will soon lose his own personality completely and attempts to shut off the power to the brain while Jan and Pat are asleep. Donovan's brain awakens Pat, however, and he attempts to strangle Frank. Jan intervenes in time to save Frank's life, but Pat still refuses to end the experiment. Back in the city, Pat meets with Fuller and his Washington connection, who states that since Donovan's death, he has agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation. Pat demands his loyalty and vows to continue to pay the man off as Donovan had arranged. After they leave, Pat suffers extreme physical pain and his own personality takes over. Because he cannot reach Jan by telephone, he makes a tape recording of instructions for her, referring to the lightning rod on their house as a method to stop the machinery. He then leaves the hotel but, seeing that he is being followed and unable to otherwise rid himself of Donovan's influence, Pat purposely steps in front of an oncoming truck. Pat suffers only a mild injury and has a few moments as himself before Donovan's brain takes over again. Donovan's son and daughter later confront Pat and after admitting that they loathed their vicious father, ask Pat to stop his activities on their dead father's behalf. Pat is unmoved and reveals that he has arranged for them to be disinherited. When Herbie demands more money, Pat suggests that he drive to the house to take more photos, then calls Frank to tell him to leave Herbie alone in the laboratory. There, the brain puts Herbie in a trance that results in a fatal car crash. Pat checks out of the hospital and initiates a frenzy of activity during which he cashes numerous checks, pays off Fuller and secretly arranges for a special vault to house Donovan's "remains." Pat is completely consumed by Donovan's thought processes and now becomes suspicious of Frank and Jan, who are planning to disconnect the brain from the equipment. When Pat arrives at the house, Jan takes him for a stroll in spite of an impending thunderstorm. When Jan tells him the experiment is over and delays their return to the house, he starts to strangle her. At that moment, Frank shoots the brain and Pat appears to be released from its influence. The brain is still engaged, however, and forces Frank to turn the gun on himself. Pat and Jan run to the house where Pat, still under the influence, insists that Jan stare at the brain. At that moment, lightning strikes the rod, which is hooked into the power supply, causing power to go out and engulfing the brain in flames. Some time later, Brooke arrives to pick up Pat and Frank, who was injured but not killed. Now that Pat's personality has been restored, he is eager to take responsibility for his actions, and he and Frank are cooperating with the government to help mitigate the charges against them.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Fantasy
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Sep 30, 1953
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 28 Sep 1953
Production Company
Dowling Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak (New York, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,496ft (8 reels)

Articles

Donovan's Brain


The tag line from the movie poster for Donovan's Brain (1953) succinctly sums up the plot: "A dead man's brain told him to kill! kill! kill! kill!" And who wouldn't want to see that? We're not talking about just any dead man's brain here but a brilliant mass of gray matter that once governed the thoughts and actions of Tom Donovan, a powerful and ruthless millionaire. When Donovan dies shortly after surviving a plane crash, scientist Dr. Cory (Lew Ayres) manages to revive the dead man's brain and keep it alive in a tank. Why? Because the brain has a genius for cheating the IRS and playing the stock market. It also has the power to telepathically control and possess the well-intentioned scientist who shares laboratory space with it. So, in the course of the film, Dr. Cory becomes a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type personality who begins to view his assistant, Dr. Schratt (Gene Evans), and even his wife, Janice (Nancy Davis), as annoying obstacles in his path to world domination.

Previously filmed in 1944 as The Lady and the Monster, with Erich von Stroheim as the scientist, Donovan's Brain is much more faithful to the original novel by Curt Siodmak, whose brother Robert Siodmak had directed a string of great film noirs at Universal (The Killers, 1946; The Dark Mirror, 1946; Criss Cross, 1949). Curt, unfortunately, didn't share his brother's prestigious rank in the industry. Instead, he toiled on low-grade programmers like Bride of the Gorilla (1951) and Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956). But he almost directed Donovan's Brain, a situation that quickly soured. According to film editor Herbert L. Stock in Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers by Tom Weaver, "it seems that in discussions of how things were going to be done, Curt became the stiff, Germanic, immobile person, and would not listen. [Tom] Gries and the producer, Allan Dowling, became very upset; I pleaded with them to keep Curt on, that I would guide him through, but behind my back they bumped him. And it was too bad, because Curt did feel very badly hurt." So, Felix Feist was brought in as Siodmak's replacement and filming proceeded smoothly.

For his part, Siodmak was proud of the fact that he had never seen any of the film versions of his novel, remarking to Tom Weaver in the aforementioned book, "...in this one [Donovan's Brain] God destroys the brain with a lightning bolt! So I didn't see it. Then they did it again in England. The title was The Brain, with Peter Van Eyck. In that one, he invented a cancer cure. Why a cancer cure?....I never wrote any of those Donovan's Brain scripts -- they wouldn't let me. I had a contract to direct the Allan Dowling version, but they paid me off. There was a guy over there, Tom Gries, that didn't like me. He had these advertisements made for the film saying, 'Based on the famous book.' Period. He didn't want to mention my name!"

Despite Siodmak's negative attitude toward Donovan's Brain, the film is a superior B-movie thriller that features one of the greatest laboratory props of all time -- a big, rubbery-looking human brain, suspended in a tank of liquid. And whenever the title monstrosity is plotting something evil, it glows from within like some phosphorescent sea creature from the ocean's depths. Of course, one prop brain can't carry a whole movie and the film is greatly aided by Lew Ayres' performance as the half-mad scientist. This was the last starring role for the actor, whose film career was adversely affected by his political beliefs during WWII (he was a conscientious objector). Ayres returned to the screen in smaller character roles in the sixties but his co-star in Donovan's Brain, future First Lady Nancy Davis and wife of Ronald Reagan, was at the end of her movie career (she would only make two more films before retiring from the screen). Her strongest memory of making Donovan's Brain was leaving home at four-thirty a.m. one morning for makeup and wardrobe tests at the studio. On her way there, she was stopped by two Beverly Hills cops who checked her identification before releasing her. Later, her husband pointed out that she had probably been stopped because "a young lady in a nice-looking convertible wheeling through town at that hour" was most likely a professional hooker. They certainly weren't expecting a hardworking actress on her way to film Donovan's Brain.

Producer: Tom Gries
Director: Felix Feist
Screenplay: Hugh Brooke, Felix E. Feist, based on a novel by Curt Siodmak
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Film Editing: Herbert L. Strock
Art Direction: Boris Leven
Music: Eddie Dunstedter
Principal Cast: Lew Ayres (Dr. Patrick Cory), Gene Evans (Dr. Frank Schratt), Nancy Davis (Janice Cory), Steve Brodie (Herbie Yocum), Lisa Howard (Chloe Donovan), Tom Powers (Advisor).
BW-84m.

by Jeff Stafford
Donovan's Brain

Donovan's Brain

The tag line from the movie poster for Donovan's Brain (1953) succinctly sums up the plot: "A dead man's brain told him to kill! kill! kill! kill!" And who wouldn't want to see that? We're not talking about just any dead man's brain here but a brilliant mass of gray matter that once governed the thoughts and actions of Tom Donovan, a powerful and ruthless millionaire. When Donovan dies shortly after surviving a plane crash, scientist Dr. Cory (Lew Ayres) manages to revive the dead man's brain and keep it alive in a tank. Why? Because the brain has a genius for cheating the IRS and playing the stock market. It also has the power to telepathically control and possess the well-intentioned scientist who shares laboratory space with it. So, in the course of the film, Dr. Cory becomes a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type personality who begins to view his assistant, Dr. Schratt (Gene Evans), and even his wife, Janice (Nancy Davis), as annoying obstacles in his path to world domination. Previously filmed in 1944 as The Lady and the Monster, with Erich von Stroheim as the scientist, Donovan's Brain is much more faithful to the original novel by Curt Siodmak, whose brother Robert Siodmak had directed a string of great film noirs at Universal (The Killers, 1946; The Dark Mirror, 1946; Criss Cross, 1949). Curt, unfortunately, didn't share his brother's prestigious rank in the industry. Instead, he toiled on low-grade programmers like Bride of the Gorilla (1951) and Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956). But he almost directed Donovan's Brain, a situation that quickly soured. According to film editor Herbert L. Stock in Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers by Tom Weaver, "it seems that in discussions of how things were going to be done, Curt became the stiff, Germanic, immobile person, and would not listen. [Tom] Gries and the producer, Allan Dowling, became very upset; I pleaded with them to keep Curt on, that I would guide him through, but behind my back they bumped him. And it was too bad, because Curt did feel very badly hurt." So, Felix Feist was brought in as Siodmak's replacement and filming proceeded smoothly. For his part, Siodmak was proud of the fact that he had never seen any of the film versions of his novel, remarking to Tom Weaver in the aforementioned book, "...in this one [Donovan's Brain] God destroys the brain with a lightning bolt! So I didn't see it. Then they did it again in England. The title was The Brain, with Peter Van Eyck. In that one, he invented a cancer cure. Why a cancer cure?....I never wrote any of those Donovan's Brain scripts -- they wouldn't let me. I had a contract to direct the Allan Dowling version, but they paid me off. There was a guy over there, Tom Gries, that didn't like me. He had these advertisements made for the film saying, 'Based on the famous book.' Period. He didn't want to mention my name!" Despite Siodmak's negative attitude toward Donovan's Brain, the film is a superior B-movie thriller that features one of the greatest laboratory props of all time -- a big, rubbery-looking human brain, suspended in a tank of liquid. And whenever the title monstrosity is plotting something evil, it glows from within like some phosphorescent sea creature from the ocean's depths. Of course, one prop brain can't carry a whole movie and the film is greatly aided by Lew Ayres' performance as the half-mad scientist. This was the last starring role for the actor, whose film career was adversely affected by his political beliefs during WWII (he was a conscientious objector). Ayres returned to the screen in smaller character roles in the sixties but his co-star in Donovan's Brain, future First Lady Nancy Davis and wife of Ronald Reagan, was at the end of her movie career (she would only make two more films before retiring from the screen). Her strongest memory of making Donovan's Brain was leaving home at four-thirty a.m. one morning for makeup and wardrobe tests at the studio. On her way there, she was stopped by two Beverly Hills cops who checked her identification before releasing her. Later, her husband pointed out that she had probably been stopped because "a young lady in a nice-looking convertible wheeling through town at that hour" was most likely a professional hooker. They certainly weren't expecting a hardworking actress on her way to film Donovan's Brain. Producer: Tom Gries Director: Felix Feist Screenplay: Hugh Brooke, Felix E. Feist, based on a novel by Curt Siodmak Cinematography: Joseph Biroc Film Editing: Herbert L. Strock Art Direction: Boris Leven Music: Eddie Dunstedter Principal Cast: Lew Ayres (Dr. Patrick Cory), Gene Evans (Dr. Frank Schratt), Nancy Davis (Janice Cory), Steve Brodie (Herbie Yocum), Lisa Howard (Chloe Donovan), Tom Powers (Advisor). BW-84m. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Donovan's Brain was the first feature produced by Allan Dowling Productions. According to a Daily Variety news item, the production company was initially named Dowling Productions but was changed after the film's release to avoid confusion with producer-actor Eddie Dowling and film producer Pat Dowling. A modern source notes that writer and director Curt Siodmak was initially slated to direct the film based on his own novel, but was replaced by Felix Feist shortly before filming began.
Other films based on Siodmak's best-selling novel include the 1944 Republic Pictures film The Lady and the Monster, which was directed by George Sherman and starred Richard Arlen (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50); a 1955 CBS televison film, entitled Donovan's Brain and starring Wendell Cory; and a 1962 British film entitled Vengeance, which was directed by Freddie Francis and starred Peter Van Eyck and Anne Heywood. In May 1944, Orson Welles starred in the two-part CBS Suspense radio presentation of Donovan's Brain, which, according to a September 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, was based on the screenplay of the Republic film.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 1953

Film did not receive a wide release until early 1954.

Released in United States Fall October 1953