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Donovan's Brain (1953)

Approved | | Sci-Fi, Horror | 30 September 1953 (USA)
Yet another version of Curt Siodmak's novel about an honest scientist who keeps the brain of a ruthless dead millionaire (Donovan) alive in a tank. Donovan manages to impose his powerful ... See full summary »


(as Felix Feist)


(novel), (adaptation) | 1 more credit »

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Complete credited cast:
Janice Cory (as Nancy Davis)
Herbie Yocum
Donovan's Washington Advisor
Lisa Howard ...
Chloe Donovan (as Lisa K. Howard)
Chief Tuttle (as Kyle James)
Victor Sutherland ...
Nathaniel Fuller
Michael Colgan ...
Tom Donovan
Peter Adams ...
Mr. Webster
Harlan Warde ...
Treasury Agent Brooke
Shimen Ruskin ...


Yet another version of Curt Siodmak's novel about an honest scientist who keeps the brain of a ruthless dead millionaire (Donovan) alive in a tank. Donovan manages to impose his powerful will on the scientist, and uses him to murder his enemies. Written by Marty McKee <mmckee@wkio.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Sci-Fi | Horror


Approved | See all certifications »


Official Sites:



Release Date:

30 September 1953 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Donovans Hirn  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Dr. Cory, under the control of the brain, makes out a list showing several false identities under which Donovan has hidden money around the country. The first four names on the list are actual names of crew members: production supervisor H.B. Chapman, production designer Boris Leven, assistant director Jack R. Berne (on list as "Jack Byrne") and set decorator Edward Boyle. The fifth name, Fred Russell, is that of a popular sports writer of the early 1950s. See more »


The size of the brain in the tank keeps abruptly changing size, within the same scene. See more »


Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [after Cory wakes Scratt up from a drunken stupor] My dear Dr. Schratt, you sober up with more
[pauses and shrugs]
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: grace than anyone I ever saw. You're terrific. C'mon, let's go.
Dr. Frank Schratt: Are you kidding?
[He hold out his shaking hand]
Dr. Frank Schratt: . Look! Nope.
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: Frank, don't let me down.
Dr. Frank Schratt: What's more useless than a surgeon with a hangover? I'm a drunken zero.! I pass!
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: No, you don't. I'd rather have you do a corneal transplant for me drunk than anyone else sober.
[Pulls him by the arm]
See more »


Featured in Child's Play (1988) See more »

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User Reviews

Not as corny as it sounds
30 April 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Made in an age when the science fiction film genre was dominated by giant insects and monsters from beneath the sea (not that there's anything wrong with those) "Donovan's Brain" stands out as a more understated (and under-appreciated) gem.

A movie about a dead financier's brain being kept alive in a fish tank as it takes over the minds of people around it could easily become silly; in fact it would be hard for such a premise NOT to be silly (which is why Steve Martin loosely adapted the premise for his comedy "The Man with Two Brains.")

But thanks to deliberate pacing and fine performances from its cast, what could have been an exercise in the ridiculous becomes instead a surprisingly effective film. The very reserved script keeps "techno-babble" to a minimum as the story unfolds, and a low budget limits most of the visual and special effects to the very basic, but rather than feeling "cheap," the film's spare quality instead tends to limit distractions from the story.

In 1944's "The Lady and the Monster" (a lesser and earlier adaptation of Curt Siodmak's novel) the brain's takeovers were signaling obviously, using lighting and musical cues. But in "Donovan's Brain" you know the brain has taken control solely due to the controlled and subtle performance of Lew Ayres, who indicates a transformation in Dr. Cory by as little as a change in posture and a hardening of his expression (no such kudos for Steve Brodie as Herbie Yocum, whose inane "zombie walk" stands out in its cheesiness.) Gene Evans also did well in the movie playing Cory's assistant Dr. Frank Schratt, and future first lady Nancy Davis turns in a serviceable, if somewhat wooden, performance as Cory's steadfast wife.

"Donovan's Brain" will not be anyone's favorite movie; coming out in a year which also saw the release of classics like "The War of the Worlds," "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," "It Came From Outer Space" and "Invasion from Mars," it's not even anyone's favorite sci-fi movie of 1953. But although it's not considered a classic, this small film far overcomes its B-movie title. It's better than it sounds, and well worth a look.

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