Archive for The Man With Two Brains

“You don’t explore on people.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 17, 2009 by dcairns

Well, folks were telling me THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE was a monsterpiece, and now we can see they were right. (Too bad this is the cut version though.)

With lines like the above-quoted, and “Very well, the corpse is yours,” and “The line between scientific genius and obsessive fanatacism is a thin one — I want you on the right side of it!” — all in the opening scene alone, the film has an Ed Wood feeling for demented speechifying that anticipates the current comedy work of Larry Blamire and more than justifies the credit for “Additional dialogue by Doris Brent.” (Doris also plays the terrifying whispery nurse in scene one.)

(Did I imagine it or does THE SOUND OF MUSIC feature an all-time classic grudging credit, something like, “With partial use of ideas by -“? It’s been a long time since I looked at it, so I can’t be sure I’m not making it up.)

THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T, as I’m now calling it (for short), is one of those B-films where there’s a perfect balance of defects — lack of funds, lack of talent, lack of experience, lack of good sense — so that a kind of cockamamie artistic harmony is engendered, and everything seems VERY GOOD INDEED. The car crash is a perfectly fine no-budget smash-up, but what lifts it into the paranormally brilliant  is the way the arrogant doc then gets lingered over by the rubbernecking camera as he apparently suffers a painful attack of trapped wind, and by the time he gets through with that the stock music has run out of cacophonous melodrama and segued into a cavorting faun theme, which plays, with a sort of helpless shrug, as the heroine is incinerated in the wrecked vehicle. Just beautiful.

Moments later and our man is climbing a narrow flight of exterior stairs with his fiancee’s severed head wrapped in his jacket, and he takes a very long time to do it (be fair, he’s tired). It’s like the horror movie version of Laurel & Hardy’s THE MUSIC BOX. If he had dropped the head when he got to the top, and it rolled all the way back down, I believe I would have died a happy man.

I don’t intend in any way to be disparaging about TBTWD, because it can’t be easy to make a compulsively watchable film on a micro-budget without access to top-tier talent and without a lot of practice. The IMDb notes of writer-director Joseph Green, “Owned a small (he answered the phone himself) distribution company which distributed an eclectic mix of minor foreign films (such as Chabrol’s Une Partie de Plaisir) and kung fu/exploitation pictures.” So I picture him as a guy who was in it for the love. He only made one other picture — twenty four years after this one. That makes me sad.

What makes me happy? The line “How can you make of her an experiment of horror?” The gibbering THING IN THE CLOSET (you know you’re in zero-budget land when they can’t even afford an attic or cellar to imprison their failed experiments). When our obsessive fanatic scientific genius goes trolling for bodies we’re obviously looking at the inspiration for THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, only we’re looking at it for far longer than expected.

“You’re a freak of life — and of death!”

Where the film betrays some weak-mindedness is an eagerness to get to the point with Jan-in-the-pan, the severed head character. Somehow she KNOWS she’s a severed head, which robs us of a potentially very dramatic scene of her finding out, (reflection in shiny surface?) and somehow she knows that she now has a tremendous new power, without ever actually learning this, which again could have made for a good strong scene. However, as the story goes on and it becomes clear that she doesn’t have any tremendous new power at all, I came to appreciate the inverted wisdom of Green’s forbearance.

Instead we get many many shots of the withered hand guy looking pensive, which don’t achieve much since we don’t really know what he’s worried about — his shrivelled arm? The guy in the closet? The severed head lady? The fact that he’s missing the strip-shows? All good reasons for concern, but as Alexander Mackendrick says, ambiguity is a choice between two possible meanings, not countless.

“My hopes — shattering with each severed arm he grafted to me!”

Interesting how the scientific genius obsessed fanatic, having decided he needs a new body for his fiancee’s head, immediately decides that abduction and murder is the only possible course of action, and immediately resorts to visiting strip-shows and kerb-crawling and going to “body beautiful” contests. It’s hard not to form the conviction that he’d be doing all this anyway, even if he didn’t have his girlfriend’s cranium waiting in a dish.

“Posing bare for a bunch of neurotics.”

I liked the magnificent man-hating life-model with the scar — shades of PEEPING TOM. The movie’s assumption that being a man-hater with a scarred face makes you a prime full-body donor is bordering on the offensive, but the powerfully-built vixen is so impressive as she forcefully stresses every single syllable of dialogue, one can’t help but admire her magnificent froideur and hauteur. It’s kind of a shame when she mellows out.

“This kind of thing must be done.”

That’s a BIG HAND that reaches through the hatch from the evil closet. And it’s no fake monster hand, just a really enormous meaty man-paw. The mutant it’s attached to may be a bit overdone, but he’s still rather disturbing, and well worth the wait. It’s a shame he doesn’t get more to do — his gibbering was fun, but he falls curiously silent when he emerges from his prison-cupboard. A monologue about the dangers of science run amok would have been nice — everyone else has one. But fighting the mad scientist with his arm stuck through a door makes for an agreeably different action sequence. Perhaps if the monster had got a foot jammed in a waste-paper basket, that would have raised things to the next level.

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“When she does come to, it will be your head consciously awakening for her.”

Wait — the monster gets the girl? Is that a first?

Ripping the lid off the id

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2008 by dcairns

The 1941 MGM DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has never been a favourite of mine. In the MGM tradition, it substitutes production gloss for imagination, throwing money at the screen, with little high-grade thought in evidence. Spencer Tracy is no favourite of mine either, though I acknowledge that he CAN be rather fine. He was routinely praised as an underplayer, but he’s uncomfortably broad here, partly because he’s trying to do Hyde with minimal makeup, which means plenty of eye-rolling instead. I do wish somebody in the ’40s had tried to make the story with TWO actors. Imagine Michael Redgrave as Jekyll and Robert Newton as Hyde!

Still, the flick has some exciting sequences, once you wade through the set dressing and gowns by Adrian and endless padding. The montage-transformations, inspired by Mamoulian’s subjective hallucination sequence in the 1931 version (it’s absolutely shameful how much here is lifted from that superior production), have a Slavko Vorkapich kind of insanity, but are actually the work of filmic doppelganger Peter Ballbusch, who must have been taking lessons from the king of cod-surrealist montage malarkey.

The fast-cut assemblages of detail shots as Dr. J. brews his potion, bars the door and draws the shades, harks back to Eisenstein and forward to Sam Raimi, and then we’re into the lunacy:

Good Girl Lana Turner (!) and Bad Girl Ingrid Bergman (!) emerge from a lily pond, trying to look naked, and then everything goes all champagne-sparkly.

Then it’s “Into the mud, scum-queen!” as Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr might say, as the fizzy pond becomes a feculent quagmire, sucking the soiled maidens down into the dirty depths of Spencer Tracy’s pervy unconscious. Now he is a coachman, swinging freely with the lash, and Turner and Bergman are his horses. Well, I make it a rule never to criticise anybody’s lifestyle choice.

“Sadism is fine as long as you’re not hurting anybody,” ~ Cynthia Payne.

Transformation #2 features more of the same. Lana Turner is a Bottle Imp, sealed within the GLASS WALLS OF SOCIETY:

Ingrid Bergman is A SEXY CORK:

And yes, Spencer Tracy is screwing her.

My absurdly glossy, beautiful book Hollywood Horror by Mark A. Vieira is full of great background stuff. Spence is quoted as having said ~

“I felt Jekyll was a very respectable doctor — a fine member of society….But there was another side to this man. Every once in a while, Jekyll would go on a trip. Disappear. And either because of drink or dope or who knows what, he would become — or should I say “turn into”? — Mr. Hyde. Then in a town or neighborhood where he was totally unknown, he would perform acts of cruelty and vulgarity.”

As a description of the story, this is a mixture of the obvious and the bafflingly inaccurate. But as Vieira helpfully points out, it’s a very accurate profile of Tracy himself, who had been dropped by the Fox Corporation for drunken misconduct. “Tracy, after repeatedly disappearing on binges, quarreled violently with studio head Winfield Sheehan. According to makeup artist Frank Westmore, Tracy ‘went on such a drunken rampage that he had to be locked inside a huge studio sound stage… Before he reached the blessed state of unconsciousness, he tore down sets and systematically smashed thousands of dollars’ worth of lights.'”