Saturday, March 27, 2010

Donovan's Brain

"Donovan's Brain" (Felix E. Feist, 1953) Turgid and over-the-top '50's sci-fi pot-boiler (based on Curt Siodmak's 1942 sci-fi thriller) about a scientist, Dr. Patrick Cory (Lew Ayres) experimenting with trying to keep alive what Woody Allen called his "second favorite organ:" the human brain.

Volunteers are, naturally, hard to find.

After limited success with monkey-brains, opportunity falls from the sky with the conveniently nearby plane-crash that kills millionaire-industrialist H. W. Donovan--
but leaves his brain undamaged (these millionaire industrialists have pretty thick skulls). And before you can say, "The ganglia's all here!" Donovan's brain squats in one of those big aquariums that can hold all sorts of veiltails and comets (there must have been one in the waiting room!) Now, this film was made in the "Ameri-can" 50's, so there is no thought given to defeatist talk like "Just because we CAN, doesn't mean we SHOULD" Not when Cory's wife is played by Nancy Davis, the-soon-to-be Mrs. Ronald Reagan! "You get in there, Daddy, and pickle that brain!"*

Now, now. I'm letting my leftist agenda get in the way.
The future First Lady is the best thing in the movie (Mr. Ayres being a little bit...restrained for the material, as maybe he thought he was still playing Dr. Kildare or something) and her palm-outward-looks of horror at the intractability of her brainiac's single-minded purpose rise above the studio-prescribed requirements of the science-plagued ingenue.

because a brain in an aquarium is a lonely thing (despite being surrounded by bubbling water, flashing lights and the instrument that goes *ping!*), Cory devises a system for the brain to communicate (Davis could have told him that as it was a man's brain, he shouldn't make it a priority, but there's no stopping Cory). There being no cadavers lying around (but, boy, just you wait) and because Universal Pictures has the film-rights to "Frankenstein," he sets up a system so Donovan can electrically communicate via brain-waves, telepathically sending messages to the team. Sort of like using lawyers while he was alive. But requests to have his water changed just isn't enough for the industrialist. Suffering from unrequited lobe, once he gets Cory's ear, he soon wants the whole body, and Cory is helpless to resist Those Big Business Brain-Waves.

Usually when you combine an entrepreneurial spirit with a scientist, you get a snow-storm of government-grant proposals. But Cory...goes to the lawyers, instructing them to turn over Donovan's fortune to him, so he can...Mwah-hah-hah...expand his empire. Living in an aquarium does that to you.

Not very good, really. But, a bit ahead of its time when dealing with the possibility of altering brain-chemistry for purposes of rehabilitation. And Dr. Cory goes in with the best of intentions—to find a cure for alcoholism.

But the story screams like a B-actress for a re-make that can touch political, social and pharmcological fronts. What if Donovan was on xanax before the crash, and afterwards, the brain becomes stronger, but more hostile? What would an entrepreneur do given the power to control others? Well, control more, I'd think. He'd want to corner the market. What if the brain could be used as a power-source—a self-regulating power-source? And what might it do with that power? In an age of wireless gadgets and computers, and artificial limbs controlled by brain-impulses, what couldn't the brain do (besides the dishes)? Think of the movie you could make now...if you had a mind to.

* Actually, I can hear Nancy Reagan saying that...

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