Brainswapping

Bryan Powley relaxes between takes

THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND turns out to be really good — thanks to Joe Dante for bigging it up at Trailers From Hell. He points out that this little (61 minute) British sci-fi shocker is the role model for all of Boris Karloff’s later Columbia mad scientist flicks, and better than all of them (and I like those films, as I suspect does Joe).

Director is Robert Stevenson, far from his Disney doldrums — his late British films are huge fun, those I’ve seen — NON-STOP NEW YORK and KING SOLOMON’S MINES. Does this mean I have to watch his Jack Hulbert comedies? I suppose it does.

Karloff essays one of his usual turn-on-a-dime plunges into insanity from kindliness, but he’s never THAT kindly — the seeds are sewn in the first act. Anna Lee is smiley again, perhaps a little TOO smiley, and John Loder is a fast-talking newspaperman. But the film’s real treat comes from Donald Calthrop as the disabled assistant/co-conspirator, and the great Frank Cellier, the newspaper tycoon who funds Boris’ experiments in mind transference.

Karloff’s Dr. Laurience has found a way to extract the information — memories and personality — from one brain and transfer them to another. He’s proven this with a placid and an irate chimp, played, I think, by the same ape — the IMDb lists one Bryan Powley as “undetermined role (uncredited)” so I’m going to call the chimp Brian Powley from here on in. Cellier at first backs Karloff, but withdraws support after Karloff, a genius as a brain scientist but a lousy salesman, gives an unsuccessful presentation to the media. So Karloff transplants Calthrop’s mind into Cellier’s body, so his underling can keep the funds flowing in Cellier’s guise.

And, it turns out, Cellier can do a terrific impression of Calthrop’s wheedling delivery. While it’s weird that Karloff doesn’t get to transplant his own mind at this point, our reward is more Cellier and more Karloff. We get less Calthrop but we get enough of him.

It’s also weird that no human character changes bodies with Bryan Powley the chimp of a thousand faces, since he appears in the movie’s most famous still. I’m sure HE could have put on a very convincing and accurate Donald Calthrop act as well.

Boris DOES get to try his invention on himself in the third act, and John Loder, who one never particularly admires, pulls off a striking (and cruel) imitation of Karloff’s stance, which is an assumed old-man gait at this point, but uncannily like the bow-legged hobble Karloff will acquire for real by the 1960s, so I’m assuming he was already suffering it a bit here.

The clever script is by John L. Balderston, a regular writer on Universal’s horror cycle (DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, BRIDE OF) and Sidney Gilliat, a regular writer on just about every entertaining British film of the period, and one L. Du Garde Peach, who certainly has a good name.

There are very few British horror films from the thirties — THE GHOUL and MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE — they’re all of interest. This one is perhaps trying to have plausible deniability since the BBFC really didn’t like the “H” Certificate films… so it’s funny and fantastical too. Worth your time.

Costumes by Molyneux

THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND stars ????; Ianto; Bronwyn; Bob Cratchit; Wright; Mr. Todhunter; Dr. Grimesby Rylott; Herbert Ponting F.R.P.S.; Joshua Trimble; and Dr. Gribble.

PS The fact that Bryan Powley’s other IMDb roles include Dr. Gribble, Cmmdr Mannering, Capt. Hardy, single gentleman, Col. Burgoyne of the French Secret Service and Sir Isaac Newton may be thought to argue strongly against his being a chimpanzee. But by careful study of his features I’m convinced he is one, albeit a particularly versatile one.

8 Responses to “Brainswapping”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Don’t forget The Man With Two Brains !

  2. bensondonald Says:

    If you haven’t seen “Mad Monster Party”, check it out. A stop-motion movie by the folks who made “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” and a dozen or so variations, it has Karloff voicing a caricature of himself and presiding over public domain versions of Universal monsters and others. Not a great film, but a festive relic of 1960s juvenile monster mania. Boris even gets a cheerful song.

  3. It’s lovely to look upon! I must look upon it soon.

  4. Andre Ferreira Says:

    Do you have any particular favourites among British 30’s horror? I’ve only seen The Face at the Window, which was pretty interesting, and The Passing of the Third Floor on your recommendation (not horror, but some great fark fantasy moments). Would The Wandering Jew count too?

  5. The Wandering Jew is kind of fantasy, but sadly a bit of a snooze despite some good casting.

    The Man Who Could Work Miracles is certainly fantasy, and more fun than Things to Come imho. The Ghost Goes West too. But none is really outstanding save the Karloffs and Third Floor Back.

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    Thanks for the KING SOLOMON’S MINES reference, Edinburgh D.C. Just finished watching it. Paul Robeson’s film. apart from star billing, erasing the Bosambo humiliation in SANDERS OF THE RIVER, we have two great songs, and Anna Lee giving Maureen 0’Hara a run for her money. Winder if John Ford saw this and cast her in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY thinking her to be a feisty coleen?

  7. Isn’t there some story about her, or somebody, pretending to be Irish so Ford would cast ’em?

    I think Roland Young’s presence in KSM is decisive — it HAS to be a spoof.

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, I think Anna’s masquerade as a daughter of Erin is in most Ford biographies. when she confessed Ford took it with characteristic understanding and cast her in most of his films. Yes, Young has to be a spoof unless he is meant to counterpoint John Loder’s “stout fellow” persona. Wonder if his killing Twala was due to Robeson’s insistence that he would not kill a fellow black on screen? I think his character engages in combat with Twala in the book.

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