Donovan's Brain

Screening on Film
Directed by Felix E. Feist.
With Lew Ayres, Gene Evans, Nancy Davis.
US, 1953, 16mm, black & white, 83 min.
Print source: HFA

Adapted earlier by Republic as a low-budget von Stroheim vehicle, Curt Siodmak’s cult novel was transformed again with streamlined efficiency by Felix E. Feist into a classic of Fifties’ sci-fi and an offbeat climax of the long line of mad scientist fantasies that stretch across the Golden Age of the B-film. Veteran actor Lew Ayres gives dignity to his portrait of a scientist whose zeal for extending life leads him far down the dark path to perdition when he reanimates the powerful brain of a ruthless billionaire killed in a crash, only to be made victim to the pulsing organ’s uncanny powers of mind-body control. Ayres’ transformation into a hardened billionaire remains remarkably contemporary, with his strange lust for ludicrously expensive and ill-fitting suits predicting Paul Manafort, among other power-hungry tycoons. Almost subversively, the supporting actors also seem to be rendered wooden and possessed by unnamed forces, with Gene Evans entirely unconvincing as either an alcoholic or a scientist, and Nancy Davis locked into a stunned expression, giving equal affection to both the latest test monkey and her traumatized husband.

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