Directed by Nathan Hertz (Nathan Juran)
Produced by Jacques Marquette
Written by Ray Buffum
Director Of Photography: Jacques Marquette
Supervising Film Editor: Irving Schoenberg
Music by Walter Greene
Cast: John Agar (Steve March), Joyce Meadows (Sally Fallon), Robert Fuller (Dan Murphy), Thomas Browne Henry (John Fallon), Kenneth Terrell (Colonel), Henry Travis (Colonel Frogley), E. Leslie Thomas (General Brown), Tim Graham (Sheriff Wiley Pane), Bill Giorgio (Russian), Dale Tate (voices of Gor and Vol)
Many 50s science fiction movies were plagued by paltry budgets and skimpy schedules. But seen today, there’s a charm to them money just can’t buy. The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), a cheesy gem from Nathan Juran starring John Agar, is a perfect example of this.
In the early 50s, the owners of two independent cinema chains — with theaters spread across Virginia, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi* — got together and entered the production side of things as Howco International. They knew the kind of pictures that worked in cinemas like theirs, and that’s exactly what they made. One of their offerings was The Brain From Planet Arous.
According to just about every criteria used to size up a movie — production values, effects, writing, acting, etc. — this picture comes up lacking. But it might be a better movie, or at least a more enjoyable one, because of it.
Steve March (John Agar), a scientist, and Dan (Robert Fuller), his assistant, head to Mystery Mountain to investigate a “hot burst of gamma.” Deep in Bronson Caves, Steve and Dan are confronted by a floating brain-monster named Gor from the planet Arous. Dan shoots at Gor and is promptly burned to a crisp, while Steve’s body is possessed by the sinister brain. “I need your body as a dwelling place.”
Through Agar, Gor announces that he’s going to take over the earth, and he’ll wipe out the capital of any country that doesn’t play along. Help arrives when Vol, a friendly brain from planet Arous, shows up and inhabits the body of George, a dog belonging to March’s fiancee Sally (Joyce Meadows). Turns out, Gor is Public Enemy Number One back on Arous.
It also turns out that Gor has a thing for earth ladies, and while dwelling in Agar, he puts the moves on Joyce Meadows. “She appeals to me.”
By the last reel, the fate of the world depends on Sally and her alien-possessed dog. What does Sally do? Get out the encyclopedia, of course.
One of the best things about The Brain From Planet Arous is that it’s absolutely, completely nuts, in a way we wouldn’t really see until Hollywood’s open-border policy for whacked-out Mexican and Italian monster movies came along in the early 60s. The story comes from a short story cameraman and producer Jacques Marquette liked as a kid. Screenplay duties went to Ray Buffum, who also wrote the film’s “co-hit” Teenage Monster.
By this time, architect turned art director turned director Nathan Juran had shown himself to be quite adept at sci-fi and fantasy stuff with The Deadly Mantis and 20 Million Miles To Earth (both 1957). With this one and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958), he had himself credited as Nathan Hertz. As I see it, there was no need to hide behind a pseudonym. He does a good job with what he had to work with. The performances are fine, across the board — with Agar completely over the top when inhabited by Gor. Marquette’s cinematography is quite good, especially in the cave sequences. It doesn’t look near as cheap as it clearly was. And Irving Schoenberg’s no-frills editing keeps things moving well.
I’ve loved The Brain From Planet Arous since I was a kid, when I was actually frightened by Gor and creeped out by Agar’s chrome-looking contacts. So I was absolutely thrilled to learn it was on its way to Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. I knew Phil Hopkins and his gang would come through — and did they ever! The movie itself looks terrific, but not perfect. That’s the way I like ’em! The sound is clear as a bell. The extras are nicely done (Ballyhoo’s work here is up to their usual high standards), including an intro featuring Joyce Meadows.
With movies like The Brain From Planet Arous getting Cadillac Blu-Ray releases like this, this is a wonderful time to be an old sci-fi movie nut. I’m surely not the only one out there with this picture one near the top of their Blu-Ray Want List. Highly, highly recommended.
Oh, and the picture started shooting 65 years ago today.
* This is the kind of stuff that makes me proud to be from the South!