Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Donovan's Brain (1953)

A solid science fiction film containing elements of horror in the tradition of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A refreshing departure from the typical 1950s era mutant monsters and alien invaders style of film.

Director: Felix E. Feist
Producer: by Allan Dowling, Tom Gries
Adapted from: Curt Siodmak’s 1942 novel
Adaptation: Hugh Brooke
Screenplay: Felix E. Feist
Music: Eddie Dunstedter
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Editing: Herbert L. Strock
Studio: Dowling Productions
Distributor: United Artists
Running time: 83 minutes


Lew Ayres: Dr. Patrick J. Cory
Gene Evans: Dr. Frank Schratt
Nancy Reagan: Janice Cory (as Nancy Davis)
Steve Brodie: Herbie Yocum
Tom Powers: Donovan's Washington Advisor
Lisa Howard: Chloe Donovan (as Lisa K. Howard)
James Anderson: Chief Tuttle (as Kyle James)
Victor Sutherland: Nathaniel Fuller
Michael Colgan: Tom Donovan
Peter Adams: Mr. Webster
Harlan Warde: Treasury Agent Brooke
Shmen Ruskin: Tailor
Don Brodie: Detective Who Follows Dr. Cory from Hotel
William Cottrell: Dr. Crane
John Hamilton: Mr. MacNish, Bank Manager
Sam Harris: Man leaving Fuller's Office
Paul Hoffman: Mr. Smith, Treasury Dept.
Stapleton Kent: W. J. Higgins
Faith Langley : Fuller's Receptionist
Mark Lowell : Allied Supply Clerk
Frank McClure: Man leaving Fuller's Office
Walter Merrill: Town House Desk Clerk
Charles Sullivan: Auto Passenger at Accident Scene
Max Wagner: Station Agent


Donovan's Brain 1950s Suspense Radio Play

Donovan’s Brain is the kind of film that under other circumstances could allow the viewer’s attention to wander. However, the good performances of Lew Ayers as the possessed Dr. Cory and Gene Evans as Dr. Frank Schratt add significantly to the film’s appeal.

Lew Ayers played both "minds" extraordinarily well with his seamless shifting from mild-mannered researcher Cory to the despicable Donovan. Without any overt fanfare or unnecessary special effects, we know when Donovan’s brain takes control simply by the controlled and subtle nuances of Lew Ayres’ performance such as a mere in change of posture or a hardening of his expression.

Another example of the film’s subtle communication with the audience is the scene with Herbie Yocum when he confronts Cory/Donovan for a blackmail payment. Notice that he is wearing a shabby and worn out suit. When he later returns for another blackmail payment, he is seen wearing a pretty sharp and expensive-looking suit. No need for any lengthy explanations!

Donovan’s Brain is still a very relevant film as it reminds people of any era that there is a cost to any aspect of human progress. The question is; is it a cost we would wish to bear even if we go into it with our eyes open?


  • Donovan’s Brain is a film about Dr. Patrick Cory, a middle-aged physician who experiments at keeping a brain alive. 
  • A millionaire by the name of W.H. Donovan crashes his private plane in the desert near the home of Dr. Cory. 
  • Dr. Cory is unable to save Donovan's life, but removes his brain in the slim hope that it might survive. He places Donovan’s Brain in an electrically charged, oxygenated saline solution within a glass tank. 
  • The brainwaves suggest that thought and life continue and Cory makes several unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the brain. 
  • Finally, one night Cory receives unconscious commands and he writes down an instruction containing people’s names in Donovan's handwriting. 
  • Cory successfully establishes telepathic contact with Donovan's brain, much to the concern of Cory's alcoholic assistant, Dr. Schratt. 
  • Gradually, the malignant intelligence of Donovan takes over Cory's personality and uses Cory to do his bidding such as signing checks in Donovan's name, and continuing the reprehensible millionaire magnate's illicit financial activities. 
  • Cory becomes increasingly mentally and physically like Donovan himself, even down to his limping.

How far will Donovan's criminality extend?

Will Donovan assume complete control over Cory’s mind and body?

Can Cory find a way to resist the brain's power? 

Can Cory do anything to destroy the brain?

Witness the unfolding terror of humanity’s struggle against the self-destructive and unforeseen consequences of its own genius!

Donovan’s Brain:

A What If? Alternate Reality

For the whole world, everything changed in the latter part of the 21st. Century.The year now is 2153 and unimaginable advances have been made in the fields of science, technology and communications. One advance in particular that is the subject of this narrative concerns the preservation of human consciousness after physical death. People now have the option to continue their existence over and over as many times as they wish within their own unique virtual world. Virtual immortality! It is where we find ourselves now at the Cory Human Consciousness Afterlife Exhibition Building, standing immersed within an exhibit dedicated to the history and development of this once controversial technology.

Exhibit Guide: Welcome everyone to our interactive exhibit which we are sure you’ll find to be both informative but also entertaining. Please be patient as you download the virtual component of this exhibit into your NCSDs (Nano cerebral storage devices). Once this is done, you can transition instantly between the real-time and virtual parts of the exhibit.

As you are aware, in the middle of the 20th century when the United States of America began its 90 year long period as a world super-power, the first steps toward the preservation of human consciousness were being taken.

You should now be able to see reconjec-images (reconstructed and manipulated) based on actual photographs of Dr. Patrick J. Cory, his wife Janice Cory and a map showing Green Valley, AZ, USA. Images and graphics will appear to you throughout the presentation. Of course, a lot of what you will see will be based on conjecture and interpretation for your viewing benefit and understanding. 

It was with the little monkey that the Cory’s brought home with them that they hoped to extract its brain and keep it alive, since four previous attempts on older subjects resulted in failure. With the assistance of Dr. Frank Schratt, they placed the monkey brain in a large tank and hooked it up to support equipment. At first there was no activity so they increased the voltage and a strong alpha wave appeared and remained steady. 

We are fortunate to have here the very notes Cory’s wife took as her husband dictated the details of the procedure. Not only that, but we have another primary source in the form of Dr. Cory’s very own diary to help us understand this very important period of time in human history. Please feel free to browse the physical exhibits during this presentation.

As fate would have it, Dr. Cory was at that point called away to help out at an airplane crash. One body was carried away from the smoking wreckage on a stretcher and conveyed to Cory's house which had its own lab with a fully equipped operating room.

As you can see from Cory’s diary he was told that Warren H. Donovan was supposed to have been worth a hundred million dollars and that the sky would be the limit on his fee.

Question Upload From Exhibit Visitor: Did the prospect of making money influence Cory at any stage of his research?

Exhibit Guide: I’ll answer this and further questions orally if that’s OK with everyone. You’ll still be able to access any question from your fellow visitors.

Cory lived in a time when making personal wealth almost defined who a person was. Donovan was one of the worst examples of this. Initially, Cory just wanted to save a human life, no matter who he was. I suppose Cory’s motivation later was to see if keeping a human brain alive could be done and how that could add to the sum of our scientific knowledge. It was the pioneering experiment and the discovery that mattered above all else. As it turned out, and unforeseen by Cory, more than just keeping the human brain alive was the result of Cory’s experimentation.

As a result of the accident, Donovan had lost both legs and his chest was crushed. While Cory and Schratt operated, his pulse stopped. Incidentally, what we know about Dr. Frank Schratt is that he was a practicing physician, but he was also an alcoholic.

Amazingly, alpha waves were found to be present on the recently deceased Mr. Donovan. Cory decided to try and talk Frank Schratt into helping him remove Donovan's brain. Frank and Janice were horrified at such a prospect as it was against the law, and he could’ve lost his medical license. Janice had told Cory more than once, that he was carrying things too far. However, Cory got his way by explaining that, [from diary] "If this brain lives, maybe we can discover how it thinks.” With such research, it would, according to Cory, hold out the possibility of a cure “for Frank and every other alcoholic.”

Question Upload: If his wife raised objections and the procedure would’ve had such drastic personal and legal ramifications, then why did he proceed with it?

Exhibit Guide: As with the early development of genetic engineering and human cloning, there were laws preventing scientific pursuits such as that undertaken by Cory. Objections were raised by ethics committees and religious denominations as to the moral implications of such research. Public opinion was strongly against it-for a while at least. Signs and banners, as well as various forms of social media of the time containing messages such as, “What about the human soul?” “Unnatural & Unholy” and “We are not God!” greeted the first proposals for preserving human consciousness. Remember, Cory was attempting and succeeded in preserving a human brain. Even his friend Frank suggested to Cory that he was really “looking for the soul” and that he was “trying to play God.” Interestingly enough, there’s an entry in Cory’s diary in which he states, “I couldn’t have gotten this far without God’s help.”

Advances in technology have progressed since those times, thereby negating the need for hanging on to that portion of our biology, since we now understand most of the workings of the human brain and we can now extract, preserve and transfer its consciousness. Once the technology advances and a few independent or even rogue researchers, organisations and governments undertake once previously taboo forms of research, the door is inevitably opened up a bit wider. The once unacceptable soon becomes the accepted and established way of doing things. Questions of morality become just that little bit more blurred.

Questions of ethics and morality were evident when Cory assured Donovan's son and daughter, Chloe and Tom that everything possible was done for their father, except for the fact that he had taken his brain. Cory had to add this deception to his moral, ethical and professional misconduct. Yes indeed, there are consequences, foreseen and unforeseen, in most human undertakings.

A certain individual by the name of Herbie Yocum, a freelance photographer who was following Donovan's death, had already visited the morgue and noticed that Donovan had stitches in his head, even though the plane crash injuries did not involve his head. Cory eventually agreed to Yocum's request to take his pictures of the operating table. While doing this, he covertly took a picture of the tank with Donovan's brain. In those days representatives of the media called journalists actually did investigative work in person out in the field. Unfortunately over time the mass media degenerated to being purveyors of propaganda and editorial mouth-pieces of their influential owners. The real work of informing the public was done by individual and organisational whistle-blowers. These days we rely more on remote tech surveillance and citizen reporters who operate on an almost freelance basis like Yocum.

I also refer you all to the link to the draft copy of Yocum’s article, DEAD MAN’S LIVING BRAIN!” This would have appeared in what was called a newspaper which was actually made out of paper. A far cry from the plethora of sources of news and information which we can access 


Over time Donovan’s brain started to respond to outside stimuli, grow in size and absorb nutrients. Cory eventually wanted to try telepathy to communicate with the brain.

The record shows that W.H. Donovan was a very cruel and unscrupulous individual who was even hated by his own children. No wonder Cory’s wife and Frank objected to Cory’s plan to establish telepathic communication. Not only that, but he was also a tax cheat and the IRS had an ongoing case against him.

You may wish to conduct a THEMIS search for the term “taxes” and the abbreviation, “IRS.”

Today, such a person as Donovan would not be permitted to have his consciousness preserved. Repeat criminals, murderers, sex offenders, paedophiles, those convicted of violent crimes, fraud and so on, have been over the years, automatically excluded from the consciousness preservation program. Fortunately, such crimes are far and few between these days.

As you are aware, all possible forms of communication between the real and virtual human consciousness worlds is strictly prohibited and safeguards have been put in place to prevent this from ever occurring. With Cory’s attempt to actively communicate with Donovan’s brain, he awoke one morning to find a slip of paper with "get to N. Fuller, WH Donovan" written on it. He soon discovered from a magazine article that the writing on the paper and Donovan's handwriting and signature matched.

Question Upload: Didn’t that raise the question in Cory’s mind as to who was really in control? I ask this because I notice that there’s an entry in Cory’s diary referring to Frank’s comment to him, “Do you control it, or does it control you?

Exhibit Guide: Definitely a question human-kind has had to grapple with from the time we fashioned our first piece of technology. Every new advance, invention and idea eventually becomes a double-edged sword for us. For Cory, his ideas held out the hope for increasing our understanding of the human brain and thereby improve the human condition. Little did he know that he would be drawn in too far with his experiment by being possessed by Donovan, who used him to access Donavan’s account to withdraw cash; to virtually walk, talk, dress and act like Donavan; to make Donovan’s tax problem disappear with the aid of a payment of $250,000 so that arrangements would continue as usual involving the Attorney General; to use the power of blackmail, only to be blackmailed himself by Yocum, and to eventually resort to murder by arranging for Yocum to be eliminated, not to mention being forced to almost kill his friend Frank!

Somewhere deep inside Cory there was a human need to resist and regain control which surfaced when he recorded a message to his wife informing her that he was finding it harder to resist Donovan's influence, and that he might not return to be himself again. On the recording he told her of his plan to use a lightning rod on the house. Later on, after he was followed, he deliberately exited the cab he was in and was hit by a truck. When he woke up in hospital he was briefly himself again and told Janice that he was afraid until Donovan again took over.

With the help of a plan cooked up between Cory’s wife and Frank Schratt, along with Cory’s idea involving a bolt of lightning striking the house and blowing out the equipment supporting the brain, the brain and all that was W.H. Donovan was destroyed.

Although Cory faced disciplinary procedures and a loss of his medical licence, over subsequent years the results of his work were taken up by the Centre for Consciousness Studies which helped to refine work being conducted in the area of human consciousness. The result is that each of us today has the opportunity to, in manner of speaking, cheat death and explore our full potential unhindered by the limitations of our biology.

Thank you everyone for attending our exhibit which will be open until 16.30 today. Many of the exhibit’s features can be accessed anywhere any time via your preferred 

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

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