Science Fiction

Donovan’s Brain (1953)

Comments Off on Donovan’s Brain (1953) 28 October 2016

donovans-brain-coverStudio: Kino Lorber

Theatrical Release: September 30th, 1953

DVD Release: March 22nd, 2016

Rating: Not Rated

Directed by Felix E. Feist

Review by Craig Sorensen

Based on Curt Siodmak’s (screenwriter of classics The Wolfman & I Walked With A Zombie) novel, Donovan’s Brain is probably the best of the ‘living brain in a jar’ sub genre popular throughout the ‘50 & ‘60s (and probably its genesis as well).  Donovan’s Brain is technically the second version of Siodmak’s story, the first being The Lady and the Monster from 1944 and the third being The Brain from 1962.  I’m surprised that there hasn’t been (or isn’t currently) any more recent productions as the political subject matter is still fairly relevant.  And who doesn’t like psychic disembodied brains?


Lew Ayres (Dr. Kildare) stars as scientist Patrick Cory who is working on some top secret experiments involving brains (naturally) in his top secret lab with his buddy Dr. Frank Schratt (Gene Evans of The Steel Helmet & Shock Corridor), while his wife Janice (Nancy Reagan – Just Say No!) waits outside and does ‘50s wife stuff.  Recently they have had success keeping animal brains alive outside of their bodies and are ready to upgrade to human experiments.  If only they could find a willing donor.


Well, it just so happens that there is a plane crashes near their home and Patrick is called upon for his medical expertise.  They rush the body of the wealthy Walter Donovan to their lab.  They aren’t able to save his body but with some quick thinking they are able to keep the brain alive.  Of course, stealing brains is sort of looked down upon so they decide to keep the brain a secret.  Which would be fine if the brain didn’t develop psychic powers.



Lew Ayers gives a fine performance as both Cory and as Cory possessed by the libertarian super-villain Donovan.  With such a ridiculous concept it would be easy for the film to devolve into nothing but silly camp, like other living brain films like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (or my personal favorite The Curious Dr. Humpp).  The cast though is able to lend a certain respectability to the proceedings.  Gene Evans is always a welcome sight in any film (or television episode) and it’s nice to see Nancy Reagan in a film that flies in the face of quite a few of her future husband’s policies.  


Kino can usually be counted on for a good looking transfer and they don’t disappoint here.  Donovan’s Brain is presented in its original 1.37.1 aspect ratio in a nice looking 1080p transfer.  There’s a nice amount of detail and depth to the image.  Black levels and contrast in the black & white image are solid.  There is a bit of film damage here and there but nothing really very noticeable.  It certainly didn’t distract from my viewing.  The main audio option is a DTS-HD mono track.  Everything is nicely balanced and dialog is clear and without distortion.  Also available is a commentary track with Richard Harland Smith who offers lots of information and trivia about the making of the film.  The only other extra is the film’s Trailers From Hell segment featuring Joe Dante and a handful of trailers for other films offered by Kino.


Rating: ★★★★☆

- who has written 151 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

Craig hails from 'Parts Unknown'.

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