DONOVAN’S BRAIN (1953) Reviews and overview

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‘A dead man’s brain told him to kill kill kill..’

Donovan’s Brain is a 1953 American science fiction horror feature film directed by Felix E. Feist from a screenplay co-written with Hugh Brooke, based on the 1942 novel Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak (The Wolf Man; Son of Dracula; The Beast with Five Fingers).


The movie stars Lew Ayres (She WaitsDamien: Omen IISalem’s Lot), Nancy Reagan (then Nancy Davis), Gene Evans and Steve Brodie (The Giant Spider Invasion).


After an horrific plane crash, despised millionaire Tom Donovan (Michael Colgan) is declared dead. Doctor Patrick Cory (Ayres) has ideas beyond his station however when he decides to operate on the corpse and retrieve the brain for research purposes.

When Doctor Cory finds himself committing violent acts against his will he starts to believe that the brain of Tom Donovan, now stored in a tank, is controlling his actions…


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“This version (sticking closest to the novel), scripted and directed by a rather obscure film-maker who subsequently went into television, is modest but effective, distinguished by an excellent performance from Ayres…” Time Out


“This film is far better than you might initially expect. It actually encouraged weak imitators like The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. It has all the fun qualities of a 50’s Drive-In flick with elements of Film Noir sprinkled in. Lew Ayres is no Olivier, but gets the job done…” DVD Beaver


“Star Lew Ayres is able to use the inflections of his voice to signal when he’s evil-Cory and when he’s just mad-scientist Cory and there are nice touches like having Cory order Donovan’s favorite cigars and getting Donovan’s style of suit made for himself. That’s just the sort of stuff you would expect a disembodied brain controlling a new body to do!” Monster Hunter

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“This telepathic control is extremely well conveyed through impressive sound design, the one filmmaking technique that achieves a zenith of stylistic excellence in an otherwise unobtrusive cinematic endeavour. Like most science-fiction/horror pictures of the 1950’s Donovan’s Brain suffers from abysmal dialogue and the prevailing sexism of the day.” The Celluloid Highway


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Choice dialogue:

Doctor Frank Schratt: “Ah, you’re off your rocker, pal!”

Cast and characters:

  • Lew Ayres as Doctor Patrick Cory
  • Nancy Davis as Janice Cory
  • Gene Evans as Doctor Frank Schratt
  • Steve Brodie as Yocum, a freelance photographer

Film locations:

Dear Old Hollywood


The Brain (1962)

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