I must confess that I’ve never read the book DONOVAN’S BRAIN by Curt Siodmak nor have I seen the 1953 movie adaptation. I want to do both and if NetFlix is up to the challenge I’ll at least get to knock the film out this weekend. I’ve known of the story for years due to a radio adaptation I listened to years ago – so many years ago that I was listening to a cassette tape! That adaptation was quite good but my take away from it was the repeated phrase ‘Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure’ that the dead but still lingering criminal utters as a clue to when he’s in control of events.
Until a few weeks ago I wasn’t even aware that there was another film adaptation of the tale and when it turned up I jumped at the chance to see it. That the fantastic cinematographer Freddie Francis directed it told me the movie would at least be visually interesting and that it was in black & white meant he was really in his element. From what I’ve read this is more noirish than the 1953 film and perhaps a bit more reserved in its style but I think it’s a fine movie and I doubt the earlier version could be better. I suspect DONOVAN’S BRAIN wasn’t originally set in London but moving the narrative there does no harm at all as far as I can tell. It’s the same story- a scientist takes advantage of an accident to extract a human brain from a plane crash casualty and keeps it alive for study. Over time the brain begins to be able to communicate with the scientist and his research team demanding action to discover who was responsible for the supposed accident. Eventually the brain is able to control the scientist forcing him to investigate the mystery but as he gets closer to the truth people start being killed in violent fashion.
This is a slick science fiction/mystery story that kept me absorbed for the full 83 minutes. The cast is packed with faces familiar to fans of British films of the late 50s and 60s and every performance is great. I should mention that very surprisingly there is a brief bit of nudity from the gorgeous Anne Heywood that caused me to choke on my tea. Very nice! THE BRAIN seems to have never been released on video and I suspect the version I have is from a TV broadcast. I consider this to be one of the best but most rarely discussed British SF films of the 1960s. It’s a cracking tale and petitions should be started to get it released to home video. Maybe in a Freddie Francis boxed set? There are worse ideas out there.