Forgotten Films: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

The Brain That Wouldn't Die: It's bad but not Plan 9 bad.

By Scott A . Cupp

This is the 144th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Sandi and I did our usual thing of having some old friends over then we went down to the Riverwalk and did the Thanksgiving buffet at the Hilton Palacio del Rio. Great food, great company and conversation, and some not-so-great football afterwards.

As we were doing all of this, I was reminded of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 Thanksgiving Turkey marathons and remembered that I had this lovely film queued up on my DVR. Somehow when the MST3K folks showed this, I always ended up missing it, so I went in unsullied.

I got this off of Turner Classic Movies (the wonderful TCM, perhaps the greatest channel on cable). Ben Mankiewicz, one of the TCM hosts, did an introduction where he mentioned that some films are just so bad that they can achieve cult status. This is one of them.

Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers, though he was billed as Herb Evers) is a brilliant but flawed surgeon. He is assisting his father (Bruce Brighton) when the patient died. After his father gives up, Bill asks to try something on him and manages to bring the corpse back to life. Bill has been doing some experimentation on transplanting human tissue, though not through normal research channels. The hospital has been missing parts and pieces from the morgue and the elder Dr. Cortner feels that Bill has probably been committing the thefts.

Bill receives a message that there is a problem at his mountain cottage. He decides that he needs to go there and takes his lovely fiancée Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) with him. On the way, after a truly boring series of moving vehicle and traffic sign shots, there is an accident. Bill is thrown from his convertible. Dazed he returns to the burning car and finds Jan has been decapitated. He wraps the head up in his jacket and walks/staggers some distance (probably miles) to his cabin where he hooks the head up to a contraption.

He is helped with the head installation by Kurt (Anthony LaPenna, billed as Leslie Daniels. I guess nobody wanted to use their real name…). Jan wakes up and finds she is a disembodied head, sitting in a pan of liquid. She must have suffered some brain damage from oxygen deprivation during the period when she was being transported to the cabin because she just wants to die.

Bill wants to transplant her head onto a new beautiful body, because he wants a beautiful wife. So, obviously, this means going to strip clubs to find a woman he can then kill and transplant Jan’s head onto it. So we get several scenes of Bill talking up strippers, trying to determine who he can kill without anyone recognizing him or remembering him as the last one being with them.

He gets talked into judging a bathing suit contest where one of the strippers reminds him of Doris Powell (Anne Lamont) who is now only working as a photo club model who keep a portion of her face covered to hide a disfiguring scar. Great body and scarred face = potential murder victim.

Jan, meanwhile, has been talking to something — the thing that Bill and Kurt have previously experimented on — and is being held captive in a locked closet. Jan wants nothing to do with the murder/transplant and is communicating with the closet thing. As you might expect, things do not go as planned and Bill, the mad scientist, does not accomplish his murder.

The dialogue gets pretty florid or awful or both. The story was developed by Joseph Green (the director and screenplay author) and Rex Carlton (the producer). Special effects are pretty weak. The strippers are pretty. The film was originally shot under the title The Black Door according to IMDB. According to Ben Mankiewicz in his intro to the film, the original release title was going to be The Head That Wouldn’t Die and that this was not changed on some of the end credits.

The version TCM showed ran just under 70 minutes. Apparently the original release was 82 minutes which included a great deal of gore not shown in the film I saw.

It’s a bad film – maybe not Manos or Plan 9 bad, but still not good. So I’m glad I got to see it and without the MST3K dialogue, though I would like to see that now. Well, maybe not now, but sometime.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Forgotten Films: The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

The Mad Miss Manton — both the movie and the character — are full of wacky hijinks.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 143rd my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

When I was doing the Forgotten Films over at the Missions Unknown blog (RIP!), one of the things I always wanted to do was to expand the films and books I was reviewing to more than just the science fiction, fantasy and horror fields because I read in lots of different areas. I wanted to do some mystery or Western or other types of reviews. However, Missions Unknown was designed to attract readers and fans to the World Science Fiction Convention which was held in San Antonio in 2013.

That’s two years gone now and so is Missions Unknown, so I am going and doing the films and stuff I want to review. Now, that is not to say that I am abandoning the sf/f/h field, because that would be silly. They are an integral part of who I am and what I read and watch. But they are not the only things.

This week, I want to go for a screwball mystery comedy from a bygone era. Barbara Stanwyk was an actress I never really appreciated when she was alive. My first exposure to her was on the TV screen as Victoria Barkley on The Big Valley. She was an imposing presence there, but as a young teen, Linda Evans was much more appealing to me. Later, I discovered her work as a femme fatale in film noir classics such as Double Indemnity. Her comedies came into my scope much later when I found Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve. A very versatile actress, she was never one of my favorites until I first saw The Mad Miss Manton.

This is a screwball comedy that is not quite up to the standards established in Katherine Hepburn’s Bringing Up Baby, but it’s not far off those standards either. Melsa Manton (Stanwyk) is a socialite who has a history with the police involving “pranks.” Early one morning she sees a friend exiting an abandoned home owned by other people she knows. Inside, she finds a diamond pin and a dead body. She leaves the house and calls the police, who are less than pleased when they arrive and find no body. Melsa was dressed for a costume party and has left the pin in her cloak, which was left at the house. And, surprise, it’s not there when she returns.

The incident garners a front page editorial in The Daily Clarion from Peter Ames (Henry Fonda, reteaming with his The Lady Eve co-star). Melsa files a million-dollar libel suit against the paper. Ames, having never met Melsa, finds himself falling for her. Melsa and her cohort of rich, young, single gal pals go to the friend’s home and find the missing pin. They also discover the friend’s dead and stuffed into the refrigerator.

When the police refuse to come, the ladies put the body in Peter’s office and inform the rival newspaper, which makes it the front page story. Ames is clearly falling for Melsa, and she wants nothing to do with it. She’s not really sure if he is truly in love or is trying to get out of the lawsuit. Hijinks ensue and everyone is running around with no concept of due process or anything legal.

Fun is had. Ames is shot. There is deceit and laughter. There are more murders and love abounds. Lunch is had by Pat (one of the gals) who is always hungry.

I watched it again today and absolutely enjoyed it. You might check it out. It shows on TCM fairly often, as they truly adore Barbara Stanwyk and it’s not hard to see why.

Of course, you might think today’s crop of comedians that top the box office are funny. I’m talking Melissa McCarthy, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Seth Rogen and the like. If that’s the case, there is no hope for you, so you can avoid this one, an actual funny film. Your mileage may vary too.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.




Forgotten Films: The Invisible Woman (1940)

The Invisible Woman: It's a fun flick if you also expect the logic to be invisible.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 134th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This summer, as every summer, TCM did their Summer Under the Stars festival and featured a star for every day. One of the days was devoted to Virginia Bruce (1910 – 1982), a star I was not very familiar with. She made a lot of films, one or two of which I had seen, but she was just not a name or face that I knew.

When browsing the TCM schedule I saw a listing for The Invisible Woman for the day with John Barrymore, Virginia Bruce and John Howard and a description of a vaguely sf-ish film, so I made the DVR work. A month has passed and it has been sitting on the DVR, and while I was searching for a film to review, this was the one that spoke to me.

This is a charming little film, no great work, not a movie of big thinks or anything special, but it has its moments. Richard Russell is a rich man with a fondness for women and scandal. He is supporting Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) at his home that spends a great deal of money on crackpot ideas.

When Russell finds out he is broke, he cuts off the money to Gibbs just when Gibbs has a potential gold mine. So Gibbs has to amend a personal ad for a volunteer for an experiment to be turned invisible. The previous listing of $3,000 remuneration has to be changed to no remuneration just as the ad is set to run. This elicits lots of snarky mail but only one response which is positive, from a K. Carroll. Gibbs sends a note for Mr. Carroll to be there at his lab the following day, unaware that K. Carroll is actually Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce).

Kitty works as a model for a dress shop run by Mr. Growley (Charles Lane), who is a mean spirited manager, docking Kitty an hour for clocking in two minutes late and firing another girl for having a cold. Jobs are hard to come by and he can get away with this. Kitty is willing to become invisible so she can give him what for.

Gibbs is, of course, surprised when K. Carroll turns out to be female and upset when she disappears from the lab as soon as she is invisible. This causes Russell to doubt the Professor’s veracity, much to the delight of his butler, George (Charles Ruggles) who dislikes the Professor intently. Russell heads out to his cabin to get away from everything including the Professor.

Kitty has to take off her clothes to be invisible, but she gets her revenge on Growley, pretending to be his conscience. She kicks him, destroys some dresses, and rips the time clock off the wall. When she returns to the Professor’s lab, he is being menaced by some thugs led by Foghorn (the wonderful Donald McBride) and his men, including Frankie (Shemp Howard, in an unexpected role). Foghorn works for criminal Blackie (Oskar Homolka) who is hiding out in Mexico unable to return and homesick.

Kitty spooks the thugs and they exit. Gibbs and Kitty go to the cabin, where they get caught in the rain. Kitty tries to warm herself up with some brandy and it increases the invisibility. Eventually Russell begins to believe that the gizmo works while Kitty has to sleep off her booze.

When they return to the lab, they find that Foghorn and his men have stolen all of the equipment (but not the injected serum) which helps control the process.

In Mexico, Foghorn is volunteered to try the process for Blackie and, without the injection, finds that it makes his voice higher and his height lower. Enter Kitty and the Professor to try and reclaim the equipment, while Russell, who is falling in love with Kitty, follows.

True love triumphs and the film closes with Russell and Kitty examining their baby boy some distinct time in the future. The child promptly fades away.

As I said, not a major film, but I had fun with it. Common sense does not bother to intrude into the film plot. But I enjoyed it. In addition to Shemp, another surprise guest was Margaret Hamilton, just a year after the Wizard of Oz as Gibbs’ housekeeper. Also Maria Montez appears briefly as one of Kitty’s co-workers modeling dresses.

Don’t rush out to find it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it’s worth a watching.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.