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THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS(1958) THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1958)


Ah, finally...a thinking-man's movie for a change! A film that's intelligent, thought-provoking, cerebral! That's right, gang...I just popped "Citizen Kane" into the VCR, while you poor saps torture your gray-matter with this cinematic head cheese! Enjoy...



With this review, we welcome one of the all-time greats of B-Moviedom to the hallowed, musty halls of the Graveyard of Movies. A thespian of unequalled ability who is guaranteed more than one entry in this website...the inimitable John Agar. (Cut to stock footage of old ladies applauding, a la "Monty Python") Any aficianado of low-budget science-fiction movies from the 1950's surely has at least one favorite John Agar performance tucked away in his/her own little heart--mine can be found within the bizarre confines of "The Brain From Planet Arous".


What? No Pinky?!


The story in this movie is very simple, in both senses of the word. Nuclear scientist Steve March (the aforementioned Mr. Agar) and his fellow researcher Dan (Robert Fuller of "Emergency" fame) detect pulses of radiation coming from within the heart of "Mystery Mountain", a nearby mesa. While briefly visiting his fiancee Sally (Joyce Meadows) and her father, Steve announces his plans to go on an expedition to Mystery Mountain to check out what the heck's goin' on. Sally's father advises Steve not to go (plot point!!); Steve naturally takes a well-stocked Jeep up to the mesa with Dan.


Well, no sooner do our favorite scientists enter the cave inside Mystery Mountain (played here by another SF-movie veteran, Bronson Caverns) than they encounter a giant floating brain with big glowing eyes in front. And wouldn't you know it, it turns out the brain's giving off all the radiation that our boys' Geiger-counters detected earlier. Anyway, the giant brain fries Dan to a crisp with only a thought, and it knocks Steve unconcious. Now, where did that there big, disembodied brain come from? Why did that big disembodied brain char-broil Dan but not Steve? You ask many questions, o faithful one...


Fast-forward to about a week later: Sally and her pop are worried sick because they haven't heard a peep from either Steve or Dan. Suddenly (ta-dah!), Steve shows up looking none the worse for wear; he tells Sally that Dan's gone to Las Vegas for a vacation...but we know better, don't we? Sally notices that Steve is acting, well, not quite like himself today--that he's different, somehow. "I don't know what you mean, 'different'", Steve replies. "I'm still the same old lovable character I always was..."


Then suddenly, Steve doubles up in pain like he's got Excedrin Headache #666; then just as suddenly, he's practically drowning Sally with wild, passionate kissing (the 8-year-olds in the audience must've loved this!). This sudden change in behavior catches Sally off-guard, and for good reason. Steve's then jumped by Sally's German Shephard George (though it looks like Steve and the dog are playing with each other); Steve quickly chills out, then leaves.


When Steve returns to his lab, he doubles up in even worse pain than before (maybe he saw yesterday's dailies...). Then the big disembodied brain from back in the cave (remember?) exits Steve's body; it turns out that the brain has been inhabiting Steve's body since they first met in Mystery Mountain. As is the standard policy of all movie villians since the dawn of time, the brain reveals its plans in front of a now-terrified Steve: the brain's name is Gor, a criminal from the distant planet Arous, and it is using Steve's body in a wild scheme to take over the world (where's Pinky when you need him?). Since Gor will be controlling the body and actions of a famous nuclear scientist, conquering the Earth should be that much easier (why?). In a real twist on this sort of thing, it turns out that Gor has the Hots for Sally, and since Steve is Sally's fiancee, well...you can take it from there.


Still concerned over Steve's actions from early on, Sally and her dad (Thomas Browne Henry) decide to make the trip to Mystery Mountain themselves. When they do, they find two things: 1) Dan's barbecued corpse, and 2) yet another brain from planet Arous. This particular brain is Vol, an interstellar policeman (policebrain?) who has come to bring in Gor. What's the charge? Maybe Gor illegally parked in a handicapped-brain spot...who knows?


Meanwhile, back at the lab...Gor is still gloating to Steve about what it plans to do in it's scheme for world-domination; it partly involves a nuclear test at a nearby facility. "So Friday the savages are going to play with their new toy...Gor will be there!" Gor also reveals a little bit about himself to Steve: "When I am in your body, or in my present transitory form, I am without substance and indestructable" (said "transitory form" explains why Gor often appears transparent--actually it tries to cover up the awful special effects, to no avail).


Now we zoom back over to Sally's house, where she and her dad are soon greeted by Vol; George looks as if he's about to lunge at the giant floating brain (no doubt thinking "mmmmm...dinner!")when Vol appeases the animal--"Good dog! Good dog!" Vol outlines his own strategy in front of Sally and her dad: Gor has to be either forced out of Steve's body or Steve has to be killed while Gor is inhabiting him. Also, Vol needs an earthly host too, one who can be around Steve without arousing any suspicion; Sally then suggests George the dog(!) as a likely container for Vol. Sure enough--soon the alien cop is going undercover inside George's body.


Soon, Steve/Gor is en route to Sally's house; he then sees a passing plane--or rather, a model of a passing plane--overhead. As an early display of his new-found powers, Steve stares ahead at the plane with wide, silvery eyes--then KA-BLOOEY!--the plane explodes in mid-flight. Steve/Gor laughs his collective hinder off; evidently he finds the subject of a cheesy plastic model being blown to teensy bits amusing. He then arrives at Sally's house; confident about his awesome power to destroy, he offers Sally the world on a silver platter. Then he talks about a demonstration he plans to give at the nearby nuclear test the next day: "It will make the atomic bomb look like a firecracker!" He then goes into a lengthy discussion about power and why everyone in the world, including himself, wants it so badly. Then, "I want you, Sally...and what I want, I take!" Well.

Sally and Steve then hear radio reports of a nearby plane crash; naturally, the two love-birds zip off to investigate. When they reach the crash-site, they find things a total mess; bodies are being pulled out of the wreckage, and they all have radiation burns very simular to what Dan suffered in the cave. Steve concludes that only "a power from outside this world" would be responsible for such a horrid catastrophe. (Hmmm...you don't suppose...NAAAAH!!)


Some time later, after Steve's left Sally's house, Vol reappears; he tells Sally that all Brains from Planet Arous (including Gor) are vulnerable in their corporeal form, which they must attain every 24 hours in order to take in oxygen. Vol then points out that Gor's weakest spot would be on the area known as the Fissure of Rolando--a good sharp whack there could kill the nasty brain.(Plot point!)


Back at Steve's house, the local sheriff (Wiley Paine) pops by and asks Steve more than a few questions concerning Dan's death. The sinister grin Steve/Gor starts displaying by itself speaks volumes, but then he tells the sheriff "I killed Dan. And I killed those people in the plane. And now I'm going to kill you." And soon there's a deep-fried sheriff on Steve's floor...


"Hey gang! John Agar here, reminding you to always make sure that your contact lenses are clean before putting 'em in! Thanks, and God bless!"


Next day, Steve/Gor finally shows up at the military installation where the test is supposed to take place. To show the army brass that he does indeed mean serious business, Steve/Gor creates an explosion a jillion or so times more powerful than the atom bomb's by just staring out the window with those big silver eyes. (The resulting destruction is, of course, played by stock footage.) Steve then orders the people assembled there to contact representatives of all the governments in the world, lest those nations' capitals be wiped off the face of the earth. While arrangements are being hurriedly arranged, Steve is laughing maniacally, not unlike some goofy Republic-serial villian.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch...okay, Steve's lab...Vol reminds Sally of Gor's weak spot; she then finds a conveniantly-placed encyclopedia-volume containing a diagram of the human brain. She scribbles "Gor's Achilles' Heel" on the page (hope Sally doesn't have to take that book back to the library...) next to where the Fissure of Rolando is (Still another Plot Point!)...


Later (I assume), we're back at the military base, where Steve/Gor and a group of ambassadors (read: stereotypes) are gathered. A general (not any specific general...a general general?) tells the ambassadors about the big kablooey that happened there yesterday, and that Steve/Gor made it happen. To further demonstrate his incredible super-duper powers, Steve blows up yet another airplane (or rather, yet another model of an airplane...I can't for the life of me understand how representives of all the industrialized nations of the world would be impressed by this). Then, Steve/Gor lays his plans for world domination on the table: all of the factories and nuclear plants on Earth are to be put to work to create an interplanetary space-fleet, with the sole purpose of conquering Gor's home-planet Arous. Once he's taken over Arous, "a world where intelligence is all", Gor will allow the Earth to exist as part of his new galactic empire. Without questioning even once how an average human like Steve March acquired such awesome power, the ambassadors reluctantly agree. Evidently, if these guys can be overly-impressed by an exploding Revell model of a B-26, they can be impressed by some looney-tune who wants to conquer the galaxy...kinda sad, when you think about it.


Soon, our Stevie-kins returns to his lab; bushed from his heavy session of interplanetary villiany, Gor pops outta his host, where he gloats incessantly to Steve that they've accomplished what such guys as Napoleon and Hitler never succeeded at (making a really-goofy sci-fi movie?). Gor is now in his natural state, by the way--meaning that instead of being cheesily superimposed, he's now a huge brain-shaped ballon-thingie hanging on barely-visible wires. Gor even has a big spinal cord, making him look like a Fiend Without A Face balloon from Macy's Thanksgiving Parade...


While this is going on, Sally is hiding inside the lab, quiet as you please, when she finds the mesquite-grilled corpse of the sheriff from early on...naturally, Sally freaks out and screams ('cuz she's a woman and all...). Gor's attention is diverted, and he floats around the lab trying to toast Sally's butt.


During this time, Steve sees the encyclopedia page that Sally had so thoughtfully laid out for him, with Gor's weak spot pointed out. Springing into action, Steve runs to the corner and grabs a handy axe; just when Gor's about to deep-fry Sally, Steve whacks him repeatedly on the giant floating brain's Fissure of Rolando. Chop-chop-chop...no more Brain from Planet Arous.


In the meantime, Vol/George (the dog, remember?) peeks thru a window in Steve's lab; Gor just took a one-way trip to the boneyard (brainyard?), so now Vol leaves his canine host for the long trip back to Arous. His old loveable self again, Stevie-kins asks Sally just how the flaming heck she knew about Gor's soft-spot. Sally explains to Steve that there was another Brain from Planet Arous, and that he was inside George all this time; Sally calls for the dog, and asks for the alien to pop out (they didn't see him leave a few seconds ago...conveniant, wot?). And wouldn't ya know--nothing happens! "You and your imagination," Steve coos; he then smooches Sally, who no doubt has a truckload of egg on her face. The End.


As you can plainly see here, the story (and its cinematic treatment) isn't exactly Hugo-award material, to say the least. There are still too many unanswered questions floating around the air (not unlike that brain balloon), such as: what becomes of Steve March now? Since he was associated with the deaths of the sheriff and all those people on the two planes, would he be incarcerated in any way? Granted, he was under the possession of a giant brain from outer space, but Steve would end up sounding like a total nutburger if he explained this all to the authorities, even with that same giant brain lying all chopped-up on his floor.


Once you go past the many, many absurdities that abound in this movie, there's still much to be enjoyed about The Brain From Planet Arous, not the least of which is John Agar's performance. Although he doesn't quite meet up to the requirements of his role--he's too average, too likable, the only notes he's usually capable of playing in any role he's given--Agar is clearly trying his best here. Agar's role as Steve March requires him to run the gamut of expressions as he's both tormented and possessed by Gor, from outrage (when Gor tells Steve of his attraction for Sally), to oily malevolence (in the scene where he's alone with the sheriff in the lab). Agar's acting doesn't always strike the right note throughout the movie, but it is more than what he's required to play in the vast majority of his films, and it's fun to see him at least try here.


Agar had to suffer for his art, though. In an interview with Tom Weaver, Agar said about those silver contact lenses he had to wear: "They were extremely painful. To get the effect, they painted silver on the lenses and every time I'd blink my eyes, why some of that silver would come loose, you know, and it was like having sand in your eyes. It just hurt like heck." Producer Jacques Marquette later told Weaver that the special lenses could only be worn for 15 minutes at any given time.


Then there are the brains themselves. The concept of alien invaders resembling giant floating brains with glowing eyes is indeed goofy, to say the least, but it's also fantastic in the old pulp-thriller sense of the term. The brain prop that was used (the same prop is used for both Gor and Vol) is memorably silly-as-hell, and if director Nathan Juran had more money at his disposal, the brain(s) would have looked at least a little more dignified. As was the case with low-budget SF-movies during this time, however, the director was forced to work with what he had available to him, which wasn't much. Still, the Brains From Planet Arous are some of the most endearingly-goofy aliens in movie history.


The Brain From Planet Arous has indeed many a fault, and it surely has earned its place in the Graveyard of Movies. But it also has a screwy, brain-dead charm in the story that makes it an archetypal '50's B-movie, and John Agar is quite fun to watch despite being under some very trying circumstances. It's a junk-classic of (relatively) high caliber.

--Jeff "Widget" Myers


CAST: Steve March: John Agar, Sally Fallon: Joyce Meadows, John Fallon: Thomas Browne Henry, Dan: Robert Fuller, Sheriff Wiley: Tim Graham, Col. Frogley: Henry Travis, Gen. Brown: E. Leslie Thomas, Colonel in conference room: Ken Terrell, Russian ambassador: Bill Giorgio, Dr. Tate/voices of Vol and Gor: Dale Tate.

CREW: Director: Nathan Juran (here working under "Nathan Hertz"), Screenplay: Ray Buffum, Producer/Director of Photography: Jacques Marquette, Associate Producer: Dale Tate, Sound effects/Supervising editor: Irving Schoenberg, Music: Walter Greene, Make-up: Jack Pierce, Assistant director: Bert Chervin, Props: Richard M. Rubin, Sound: Philip Mitchell, Technical advisor: J.L. Cassingham.

1958 (general release; saw limited release in December, 1957); a Marquette Production for Howco International release. 71 minutes; black and white. Part of a double-bill with: Teenage Monster.


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