Extolled by many schlock-film fans
as a guilty pleasure, this stodgy saga of a manipulative
space brain is indeed wildly entertaining -- on levels perhaps
never intended by its makers. It is perhaps the quintessential
John Agar performance, suited as it is to his special brand
of deliberate, yet oddly convincing acting.
To the surprise of no aficionado,
Agar portrays a dedicated scientist recently baffled by
a confounding series of signals emanating from a barren,
mountainous area near his desert home. Against the better
judgment of his lovely fiancé, Joyce Meadows, Agar
treks toward the source of the readings accompanied by his
enthusiastically curious assistant, Robert (Emergency!)
Upon spelunking said caves (actually
the familiar confines of Hollywood's oft-filmed Bronson
Canyon) the mystery of the emanations is revealed in the
form of an immense floating brain with eyes. It describes
its malicious intentions in an echo-laden voice before dispatching
Fuller telepathically. The brain, named Gor, then slips
into Agar's cranium, replacing the good doctor's personality
with its own.
Under Gor's control, Agar heads home
where his dog barks at him suspiciously. His future father-in-law
(the ever-dependable movie authority figure Robert Browne
Henry) notes his irritability and his fiancé is flustered
by his sudden sexual aggressiveness. Oh, that Gor.
Before long, Gor/Agar is casually
announcing his plans for world conquest at a meeting of
top brass from the nearby air base. Gazing skyward through
basilisk pupils, Agar causes a plane to explode, laughing
maniacally all the while.
If two heads are indeed better than
one, you'd think a second brain would make for a more engrossing
film. In this case, the arrival of a second Arousian brain,
named Vol, makes the film twice as silly. Vol is a cop,
hot on Gor's trail. He's shadowed the renegade brain all
the way from the mean streets of Arous. Gor's goin' down.
Curiously, both Gor and Vol are voiced by the same actor,
Dale Tate, who makes a cameo appearance early in the film
The plan calls for Vol to inhabit
the skull of Agar's dog, emerging at the critical moment
when Gor must temporarily leave Agar's body to recharge
his battery. As the cop brain explains, once floating freely,
Gor is vulnerable at a specific spot on his bloated lobes.
A single blow to this region will do him in. Sure enough,
he's whacked with an ax in the film's final frames, allowing
Agar a fading romantic clinch with Meadows, grinning at
her overactive imagination. Women.
Directed in evident haste by speed-conscious
journeyman Nathan Juran, aka Nathan Hertz, The Brain
From Planet Arous is not without its charms. The rocky
desert setting echoes several, more notably atmospheric
films of the period, particularly, It Came From Outer
Space and The Monolith Monsters. And someone
went to great lengths to make these brains seem scary. Though
they're undoubtedly laugh-inspiring today, there's something
gutsy about attempting to scare an audience with big, vein-laced
balloons with crazed cartoony eyes. The idea is spooky.
The execution is not. The notion of alien cops pursuing
a deadly truant across the universe was novel and intriguing.
Depicting these protagonists as wobbly outsized brains undermines
As previously noted, if you're only
going to see one John Agar film, make it this one. His full-tilt
portrayal runs a B film gamut from laid-back, pipe-smoking
prof to grinning deviant. Respect should be paid to this
guy. A decorated war hero who survived a marriage to Shirley
Temple, Agar descended rapidly from John Ford classics (She
Wore A Yellow Ribbon) to paper-thin films like The
Mole People in a matter of a few years. Yet even in
indefensible dogs like Zontar, The Thing from Venus,
his performances were quite serviceable and far better than
the films deserved. In Arous, Agar throws himself
unstintingly into the role, noting in later years that the
black lenses he was required to wear while inhabited by
the evil Gor were decidedly uncomfortable and may in fact
have caused genuine damage to his vision.
Director Juran's resume undoubtedly
inspires a second glance. There's hardly a B movie sub-genre
that hasn't felt the influence of his workmanlike hand.
His collaborations with animator Ray Harryhausen (20,000,000
Miles to Earth, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad) are in
many ways outstanding, but it is for impoverished fare like
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman that he'll long be remembered.
In Brain From Planet Arous, he's hampered by ludicrous
prop work and a small cast saddled with a first-draft script.
Even so, Juran is able to wring a modicum of atmosphere
from these meager ingredients.
Whatever big screen moniker he went
by, workhorse director Nathan Juran/Hertz could always be
counted on to deliver the B movie goods. The precipitous
teaming of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis in Juran's Hellcats
of the Navy is of limited interest these days, but a
grounding in his shock film output is by all means necessary:
20 Million Miles
To Earth (1957)
Juran wrangled the
human cast in what is perhaps Ray Harryhausen's most satisfying
film. The animation is rarely short of impressive and the
uniqueness of the Roman setting lends greatly to the film's
climax. The oddly endearing personality of Harryhausen's
animated creature however, clearly dominates the film.
The Deadly Mantis
Much screen time
is used in trying to convince the audience that the praying
mantis is one of nature's most vicious and blood-thirstily
crafty predators, all the better to scare us when a massive
mantis emerges from the arctic ice. The dopey cardboard
bug of the film's title sadly possesses little fright value.
The Seventh Voyage
of Sinbad (1958)
Thought by many
to be Harryhausen's finest hour, the stunning animation
is enhanced for a change by a well-conceived script. Solid
performances from Kerwin Matthews as Sinbad and Torin Thatcher
as his evil counterpart nonetheless pale beside Harryhausen's
Attack of the 50
Foot Woman (1959)
Transformed by a
gigantic, see-through alien into the titular titan, super-stacked
Allison Hayes traipses through town wrapped in a massive
bed sheet searching for her philandering husband. Her wobbling,
papier-mache hand plucks him from the neighborhood honky-tonk
as local tart Yvette Vickers looks on.