blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Brain from Planet Arous (1957, Nathan Juran)

Given its micro-budget and absurdity, The Brain from Planet Arous is often surprisingly okay. Director Juran was so embarrassed he took his name off the final product (using his middle name, Hertz, as his surname on the credits), and the movie does get goofy, but its biggest problem isn’t the budget in the end.

Instead, it’s how Arous treats leading lady and de facto protagonist Joyce Meadows. She’s second-billed, but lead John Agar has been possessed by an evil space brain. For the vast majority of the… seventy-minute runtime, it’s not Agar bent on world domination and assaulting Meadows; it’s this evil super brain. Literal super brain. There are two of them, one bad, one good, and they’re usually physically immaterial but visible, something Agar never figures out when trying to fight the bad one initially. Concerning since he’s a nuclear physicist.

He and his sidekick, Robert Fuller, measure a way too much radiation out at “Mystery Mountain” (Ray Buffam’s script seems written for a “Scooby-Doo” in more ways than one) and go out to investigate. Before they go, they go over to Meadows’s house for some all-American grub. Hamburgers, French fries, and casual sexism. Though not as much as later when Meadows’s dad, Thomas Browne Henry, says he’s going to hide in his office, so he doesn’t have to help with the dishes and will only come out when she’s finished.

Henry is terrible, which ends up helping the film a little. The only time the space brains appear in shots with the actors is when the brains are possessing someone. Otherwise, they never share shots, so there’s a lot of Agar dramatically flailing around the frame all by himself. There’s only so much he can do, right? Like, come on. It’s called The Brain from Planet Arous, after all.

And when Agar’s possessed and planning world domination, he has moments of success. He’s able to get absurd enough to match the script. Rolling around by himself, there’s nothing to be done with it.

He also gets metallic mutant eyes, which are clearly painful to wear, and Agar’s wincing pain makes for a more effective moment.

After the opening, when Agar and Fuller go out and find the alien, most of the movie is set either in Agar’s lab or Meadows’s house. Specifically, her backyard because it seems like the lab is in a different part of that same house. The first scene makes it look like she’s coming in to get them for lunch, not getting in a car and driving over and bringing them back for lunch.

Later, her dog will run between the houses regularly, but Agar always drives back and forth. It’s a little weird, but I guess even Arous knew the idea of scientists Agar and Fuller living with his girlfriend Meadows and her dad Henry was too silly.

Meadows and Agar only get a couple scenes together before he becomes possessed by the evil brain, who taunts Agar about what they’re going to do to Meadows and how she brings out a certain malicious lust in the otherwise asexual brain. It’s a lot, and Meadows spends most of the movie terrified of Agar attacking her. She’s pretty damn good at it.

Of course, after Agar gets back and assaults her, dad Henry tells her to get over it; Meadows doesn’t get any support until the good alien space brain shows up and confirms Agar’s now dangerous to Henry. It’s obvious what kind of world Meadows is living in.

And, just when the film needs to acknowledge her ability to overcome that world’s hindrances… it makes a sexist joke about her. And she’s a silly, silly lady. It’s a mean ending for the character, a bad one for the film, a big diss to Meadows (who kept a straight face not just opposite translucent space brains but also Henry’s bad acting), and a crap end for the film overall.

Instead of having a resolution, the movie literally just has someone gaslight Meadows and make her the butt of a joke.

It’s a bummer since it didn’t have to end so badly. And it didn’t have anything to do with the budget, just bad writing. Arous just needed to take itself as seriously as its two leads did. Agar and, especially, Meadows get nothing for their efforts.

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