Brains. They have a place in the horror genre, and I'm not just talking about zombie catering. Not only are they a savory source of protein (so says Tar Man), they also serve as the basis for several sci-fi pictures. The Brain, Fiend Without a Face, The Brain From Planet Arous, Head of the Family...for whatever reason, there are a slew of genre nuggets that center around gray matter. Last night, I took in Donovan's Brain, a film that will disappoint those looking for the unintentional laughs and shopworn special effects of most brain-themed b-movies.
Donovan's Brain is surprisingly character-driven. The plot follows Dr. Cory, a scientist who is asked to save a survivor from a plane crash. There isn't much that he can do, so the unlucky passenger dies on the operating table. Cory sees this tragedy as an opportunity to continue his experiments on the vestal abilities of disembodied brains. Can he keep this man's brain alive in a tank? Of course! Does this brain belong to a ruthless mobster? D'uh! Does Cory form a telepathic link to the brain? Does the brain control the thoughts of our mad doctor and force him to break the law? Yes and yes! Would this be a good spot to insert a paragraph break? Absolutely!
The cast is strong. Lew Ayres embraces the knavish duality of his character. His facial expressions turn on a dime as he switches from the well-meaning Dr. Cory to the scheming Donovan. This is essentially a modern retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A young Nancy Davis plays the concerned wifey-poo. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Nancy Davis would later become Nancy Reagan. I wonder if scenes from Donovan's Brain were ever used in a smear campaign against her husband. "My opponent will brainwash you!"
Like I said earlier, you won't be able to enjoy this film on a z-grade level. Well, you can, but Donovan's Brain isn't nearly as campy as The Brain From Planet Arous. It's just as entertaining, though. The pacing is crisp, the storyline is intriguing, and the titular vital organ looks cool pulsating in milky fluid. Hmm, that sounded erotic. Anyway, give this golden oldie a shot. I would give it four Z'Dar's, but there are a few instances of "b-movie logic" that really pissed me off. I know that it's called science fiction, but couldn't they at least try to make the script believable? I mean, aside from the telepathy and stuff?
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 7:02 PM