Based on Curt Siodmak’s novel Donovan's Brain, the 1962 British-German co-production The Brain is a intriguing hybrid, mixing science fiction and a dash of horror with the popular German Edgar Wallace krimi or mystery films.
An aircraft carrying a fabulously wealthy and powerful financier, Max Holt, crashes near an isolated farmhouse. His body is smashed beyond hope of recovery, but when found he is still clinging tenaciously to life. As it happens the farmhouse is being used as a laboratory by two scientists, Dr Peter Corrie (Peter van Eyck) and Dr. Frank Shears (Bernard Lee). They have been conducting experiments on the brain, and have managed to keep the brains of animals alive outside the body, in a tank of chemical nutrients, for considerable lengths of time. The fact that Max Holt’s body has been hopelessly shattered but his brain is still intact and functioning proves too much of a temptation and the two scientists remove the brain and attempt, successfully, to keep it alive.
It turn out that Max Holt’s brain is rather too much alive, and he begins to exert a strange influence over Dr Corrie. Dr Corrie finds himself with many of Holt’s memories, experiencing his thoughts, and to some extent under his control. And he also finds himself caught up in the unravelling of a mystery - was Holt the victim of an accident, or was he murdered?
The basic idea is one that you would expect to be exploited as a vehicle for a science fiction horror movie, but (like the German krimis) it plays out as much more of a murder mystery. And it’s a reasonably effective mystery film.
Peter van Eyck and Bernard Lee make an interesting pair of mad scientists, interesting because they don’t play their parts quite as you’d expect, and they end up fulfilling both the hero and mad scientist roles. Anne Heywood is nicely sinister and enigmatic as the dead (well, mostly dead) businessman’s daughter, while Cecil Parker is fun as a somewhat dubiously honest lawyer.
With Freddie Francis directing the movie is well-paced and quite stylish, and is not at all the kind of low-budget Z-grade shocker that the title and the premise would suggest. It’s actually a rather decent, slightly unconventional and very entertaining little movie, much better than I’d anticipated, and definitely worth a look.