Curt Siodmak is best remembered for writing Donovan’s Brain.
He actually had a rather long and busy career writing screenplays with the occasional novel or short story thrown in, but let’s face it, people rarely notice who actually wrote their favorite movies — even though we pay a lot of attention to who may have directed a film. You have to wonder which one really has the greatest impact on the film.
Of course, Donovan’s Brain was adapted, officially and unofficially over and over, and not just in the movies but on radio and TV. So it shouldn’t be a great surprise that Siodmak would revisit his own story in a new novel.
What is mildly surprising is that Siodmak didn’t adapt his story for the screen himself.
Some have actually described this as a sequel, although there really aren’t any official ties to the original story — certainly none of the characters carry over, nor does the central gimmick. But the story itself is nearly identical. Instead of a brain kept alive in a tank controlling someone telepathically, this time around a scientist finds a way to inject a man’s memories into another person.
This one starts out a lot like some of the Seventies medical SF films like The Terminal Man or The Mind of Mr. Soames but then turns into a Cold War era spy thriller and finally into something far more personal.
David McCallum, who played Ilya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. plays Dr. Hillel Mondoro, the assistant of the scientist who invented the process. Rather than let his boss test it on himself, he injects himself with Hauser’s memories. Unfortunately, Hillel doesn’t realize that their subject was a defecting scientist from the Soviet Union — and that a lot of people hope to gain the scientific secrets Hauser was working on.
Nor does Hillel expect that Hauser’s personality will start to take over, forcing him to race off to Europe on a mission of revenge that has nothing to do with science or the Cold War.
Perhaps the most amazing thing here is that Hauser’s Memory does not look like a TV movie: technically, the film looks quite good, with solid editing and without the cheap look we expect from TV productions. It must have had an impressive budget (for a TV film) as it races from one European location to another and must have actually visited at least a few of them. It is also generates plenty of suspense, thanks largely to McCallum’s increasingly decrepit state: it is an impressive performance, but then, that is what we expect from David who has always been a remarkably talented actor. Leslie Nielsen gives a noteworthy performance as well, as an American intelligence officer whose cheerful exterior hides something rather more dangerous. Thanks to Airplane! which discovered his considerable gift for comedy, we tend to forget what a talented actor he was. Unfortunately, although his character remains a constant presence in the story, Leslie himself vanishes early on, even though everyone keeps talking about him.
Boris Sagal directed: while he spent most of his career making TV shows, his big moment of fame was directing The Omega Man.
The opening credits particularly impressed me: they are beautiful and complex, with some striking imagery of breaking glass. I suspect that the film title credits of the Sixties and Seventies –inspired, perhaps by the work of Saul Bass — might have been best ever made.
For the record, the whole idea that you can mush up a brain and harvest its memories is rather silly. I honestly can’t say whether anyone ever believed that memory had anything to do with Rna, but I think we can all agree that mixing brain tissue with saline solution and running it through a centrifuge just doesn’t sound like the right way to harvest Rna. Or memories.
I’m not sure if this was the first downloading memories story, but it has become a very common theme these days — one notes that Kevin Costner’s film Criminal (2016) is remarkably similar, although I doubt if anyone involved in it ever saw this movie — or read Curt’s novel.
It isn’t a great classic, but it remains solid and engrossing throughout, right to its downbeat ending. Yeah, the science is dumb. But what Boris, David, Leslie and Curt did with it is still well worth a look.
If you can find it.
Buy the novel at Amazon: