A not quite so mad scientist as played by Eric Von Stroheim is fascinated with the possibility of keeping the human brain alive after death and when the opportunity arrives for him to do so, he takes it. Things go off the rails though when the brain which belonged to a banker named William H. Donovan starts to exert telepathic influence over those around it, specifically Dr. Patrick Cory as played by Richard Arlen, whom it uses to do in death what he could not in life. Factor in a love triangle between Cory, Stroheim’s character Professor Mueller and the lovely Vera Ralston and it becomes both fairly dramatic as well as a bit of a suspenseful chiller.
Adapted from the novel Donovan’s Brain as written by Curt Siodmak, it would fail to be truly faithful to the book, but it would retain some of the basic plotlines found within and add the aforementioned love triangle to perhaps ground the film a little more with the audiences of the time. In addition to this film, it would find itself on the big screen two more times, both pictures adapting parts of the novel to tell a story slightly different than the last. This movie would find Donovan settling some scores while Donovan’s Brain from 1953 would see him increasing his empire through Dr. Cory while finally in The Brain from 1962, it would see him trying to solve his own murder. With none of the movies being a direct adaptation, they do manage to entertain in their own right and here, it is helped by some surprisingly decent direction from George Sherman who had mainly done run-of-the-mill westerns for numerous years prior to this. With a little help from John Alton on photography and some better than average music from Walter Scharf and Marlin Skiles, the film would turn out to be better than predicted.
As for the horror within, it was there but more subtle than what the poster campaign hinted at. Keeping a brain alive which would then develop psychic powers and be able to overcome a man’s will is a scary thought. To lose one’s will to a foreign entity, to not be in control of one’s own body is frightening and thankfully, such things remain fiction and not fact. For his part, Arlen did a great job as the host of Donovan’s will, playing the Jekyll and Hyde character well and adding to the tension throughout. As it stands, while the horror might not be as prevalent as most would like, Republic’s The Lady and the Monster had some good moments and an intriguing storyline to carry it through.
3 out of 5