THE BRAIN (1962) – Freddie Francis directed this black & white film, which was the third movie adaptation of Curt Siodmak’s science fiction novel Donovan’s Brain. The characters’ names were changed and the sci fi elements were mixed with detective story elements this time around.
Max Holt, a callous, bloated rich pig of the George Soros/ Koch Family type, is one of the passengers on an airplane which crashes near the laboratory of Dr Peter Corrie (Peter van Eyck). That reclusive doctor and his colleague Dr Frank Shears (played by Bernard Lee himself) have been conducting experiments to see how long they can keep monkey brains alive once removing them from their host body.
Corrie and Shears discover that Max Holt is the only one of the airplane passengers still clinging to life, but just barely, and has no hope of survival. Corrie browbeats Shears into helping him get Holt’s body back to their lab, where they remove his brain to see how long they can keep it alive in one of their fish aquarium containers filled with life-preserving fluids and equipment.
The pair of unethical physicians turn over the rest of Holt’s body for burial while continuing to monitor the preserved brain of Max Holt. Instrument readings indicate there is still thought wave activity in the disembodied organ.
Soon, Max Holt’s brain proves capable of telepathically communicating with Dr Corrie and reveals that a planted bomb caused the plane crash, meaning Holt’s death was murder. It is here that the movie departs from the usual Donovan’s Brain storyline as Corrie becomes obsessed with proving that Max Holt was killed and identifying the murderer.
To that end, Corrie interacts with and interrogates the usual hangers-on and crooked associates typical of a ruthless tycoon’s social circles, including his favorite mistress. There are also Holt’s grown son and daughter to consider.
The son, Martin Holt, is played by Jeremy Spenser, the liveliest cast member in this dour, overly serious film. Martin is a talented young artist whose paintings resemble the monsters which used to adorn pulp magazine covers.
An intentionally (and hilariously) unflattering portrait of his father Max looking like a crazed George C Scott in mid-rant was a gift meant to insult his hated parent. Meeting spite with spite, rather than throw away the monstrous portrait, Max had it hung behind his office desk for everyone to see.
As Corrie’s investigation continues, he discovers what a vile figure Max Holt truly was, and that everyone the man interacted with had a motive for wanting him dead. Becoming more and more under the thrall of Holt’s malevolent brain, Dr Corrie learns that some of the murder suspects are after the final secret of Holt’s labs.
Max Holt’s brain gets destroyed before it can force our hero to commit murder himself. Corrie learns that Holt’s daughter Anna (Anne Heywood) planted the bomb which caused her father’s fatal plane crash. She did it because the greedy pig was withholding a vital drug which could cure cancer, intentionally letting people die while he maneuvered for the highest price he could get for the drug.
Anna saw her own mother die of cancer while her callous father Max watched it happen without using the drug to cure her in order to prevent its premature revelation. Anna wanted control of the family empire so she could offer up the drug free to the world, which she does before facing the music for her crime. (I can’t imagine she’d be sentenced to prison with all her money and with the public sympathy her motive will bring her.)
The mystery solved, Dr Corrie accepts a ride home with Martin Holt in his limo. As a very nice twist the macabre artist reveals to Corrie that he (Martin) learned of his sister Anna’s plan to murder their father much earlier.
Though he hated his father, Martin decided he could not go along with murder and sent his father Max a letter detailing Anna’s plan to plant a bomb on his private plane. Because of the bitter feelings between the son and the father, Max sent a spiteful telegram back to Martin acknowledging that Max had received his letter but burned it unopened and unread.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers mar this ironic but fitting revelation by implying that Martin might now be possessed by his dead father’s brain, which makes no sense following the brain’s destruction and the end of its telepathic abilities.
But hey, anything for one final twist, right, even if it doesn’t make any sense.
The Brain is pretty disappointing. It’s performed with too much British dignity by a cast whose talents prevent them from camping things up the way such material deserved.
The fact that this was a joint British/ West German production had me hoping for a Golden Turkey along the lines of The Man Without A Body or Womaneater but instead I got stuck with more yawns than laughs.
FOR MORE BAD MOVIES: https://glitternight.com/bad-movies/