Those who read here often know of my fondness for these older gems. Yes, I may not grade this Brain as highly as others do -- nor do I perhaps refer to it as reverentially as some -- but I'd never argue against seeing it. As 1950's flicks go, there's a lot in here to laugh at, and perhaps there's even as much to give a bit of respect to: many of the tropes established for SciFi shlock were on full display here, and -- think what you may about the finished product -- director Nathan Juran put everything and everyone through the proper pacing, delivering a 70-minute opus (of a sort) that holds up quite well ... or well enough to finally get a Special Edition release ... that's for certain!
After getting a chance to take in another viewing of the Brain and its special features, I thought it appropriate to repost my review from only a few months back wherein it was part-and-parcel of the Drive-In Retro Classics series (Science Fiction Triple Feature). Re-reading it now, perhaps I was a bit harsh on all involved. Don't get me wrong -- I stand by what I said: it's just that the Special Edition experience was a bit warmer and definitely provided a lot more meat to digest in the process, helping me to more greatly understand why so many consider the picture as memorable as they do. And I will post some thoughts on those special features below ... but, in the meantime, here you go ... buckle up, friends ...
From the product packaging:
“An alien life-form arrives on Earth and crash lands in the California desert and takes refuge on Mystery Mountain. Renowned nuclear scientist Steve March, who works nearby, notices a strange proliferation of radiation coming from the mountains and decides to investigate. Little does he know the creature is a terrifying life-form from planet Arous determined to take over the Earth using subversive mind-control and has deliberately chosen Steve as its host!”
Occasionally, I stumble across a film that – upon viewing – honestly leaves me with very little to say about it. Of course, I give it the ol’ sailor’s try – I mull it over, try to put the story into some context – and still, in the end, I’m left with very little substance on the topic. It’s rare, yes, but it does happen … and that’s the case with The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) from Marquette Productions, Ltd. A quick review of their IMDB.com profile shows that they only produced a scant three films – all in 1957 – and not a one of them truly made any lasting impact … well, except for inventing the old SciFi trope of giant floating space brains, that is, which I’m guessing might be directly traced back to this very picture.
So if that’s one’s heritage, is it a bad thing? I don't think so ...
Because I always assume these older pictures were intended by storytellers to be taken seriously, I find it difficult to reconcile some of this Brain’s thinking.
For example, Steve March (played with some surprising though campy conviction by John Agar) is introduced as one of the country’s premiere nuclear scientists, and yet the first thing he wants to do when he detects incredible waves of radiation coming from a nearby mountain is to run out there – with absolutely zero safety gear! – to investigate? Not only that, but he wants to drag his best buddy Dan Murphy (Robert Fuller) along for the ride? Erm ... have these two never heard about exposure? If that doesn’t give you pause, then how about once they begin receiving radiation readings higher than ever before on their Geiger counter, their first impulse is to run toward it?
Run toward that dangerous, deadly radiation?
This affair was all set in the elusive Mystery Mountains – apparently near White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico – but as the film unspools we find that everyone and their mother’s uncle seems to know Mystery Mountains peaks and valleys intimately as no one has any trouble noticing the newly-formed cavern that – gasp! – wasn’t there last summer. It would seem that this distant and hard-to-find place may not have been as distant nor as hard-to-find as written.
Still, because the flick was produced in a different time and a different era, I rarely raise any quibbles with the portrayed social norms that might be a tad out-of-step with contemporary audiences. Certainly, we’ve evolved as a species, but men and women treated one another differently and behaved to different standards in the 1950’s; and these throwbacks are clearly a bit clunky seven (or so) decades later. But Gor (the villainous alien brain) behaves in an uncharacteristically amorous way (think "severely horny") when finally given access to some ‘sins of the flesh.' While inhabiting March’s body, Gor gets awfully close to violating those prime and proper Hollywood standards of the day. (He's a leech! He damn near tears the lady's dress off!)
Suffice it to say, Sally (Joyce Meadows) needed the luxury of a ‘safe space’ if ever a woman did!
Nathan Juran directed this curious space-aged potboiler, and it’s a name I’ve definitely heard before. A quick read of his IMDB.com profile shows that he definitely had a track record in genre, though this was one of his earlier pictures. The same year he brought the fondly remembered 20,000 Million Miles To Earth to the silver screen, he also directed this … so I’m guessing that other property occupied the lion’s share of the man’s attentive prowess. He’d go one to direct episodes of World Of Giants, Men Into Space, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, The Time Tunnel, Lost In Space, and Land Of The Giants, a solid track record with SciFi and Fantasy’s a bit campier delights.
Otherwise … I’m still left with not much to make of the obviously dated effort. It’s hard to take much of it seriously, but I’d be a fool if I failed to point out that Agar’s work here is surprisingly good. He vacillates between good and evil with relative ease; and his handling of the mild-mannered scientist to the sex-crazed alien-infected potential overlord seethes enough menace to give just the right edge of a fellow in conflict. Heck, he even ends up saving the day – well, with more than a little help from his gal pal – even when Vol (the good guy floating alien space brain) promised he’d do the deed when the time came.
Score one for the Earthling, peeps.
As for the special features?
The collection from The Film Detective is quite good.
- First up, there's a roughly 11-minute introduction to the film -- as well as a few behind-the-scene tidbits -- from star Joyce Meadows. For the uninformed, this lovely lady plays 'Sally Fallon' in the picture, and she's remarkably wry and witty despite her age.
- Second, there's a full commentary track that offers observations by historians Tom Weaver, David Schecter, Larry Blamire, and actress Joyce Meadows. In fairness, it isn't always lively -- for example, there's a rather protracted examination of the film's music cues. (Yes, it's nice, but it's also a bit dry.) Some of the nuggets are reproductions of recorded interviews with the cast and crew, and all of it definitely shows that the historians have gone to great lengths to preserve stories about making the flick as well as a few surprises about how revered it remains amongst some audiences today. It's a great experience.
- Lastly, the disc offers up a pair of short (10 minutes each) documentaries on director Nathan Juran's life and body of work. It's curious to have not one but two of them -- both cover similar factoids and summaries -- and I'm not entirely certain why anyone involved felt both were necessary. Again, don't get me wrong -- I watched them both, and they're both of value -- it's just that they're so closely related I only bring it up as a question.
- But just when you thought that was all there was, the folks at The Film Detective did you one better: the packaging includes a small collector's booklet with an essay (also on the life and career of Juran) penned by historian Tom Weaver. After reading it, I'm not convinced I learned any new information -- not beyond what's covered on the commentary and both documentaries -- but it's a quick read that is nice to have in summation.
A fabulous, fabulous collection ... which makes this purchase 'Highly Recommended' for genre fans and junkies of 1950's era Science Fiction.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at The Film Detective provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.