The Atomic Brain (1963)
This 1963 debacle was initially known as Monstrosity, hence the poster, but it was retitled as the perhaps more accurate The Atomic Brain when it made its way to television. It comes directed by Joseph V. Mascelli – the only outing for the filmmaker, for good reason. It is typical mad scientist fare, except there’s an old woman lasciviously rubbernecking at attractive young women to pass the time.
Oh sure, The Atomic Brain purports to have something to do with the notion of youth and aging in the middle of its bland hobbling. There’s a worthwhile plot strand about how far we may or may not be from relocating the human brain in an attempt to cleave to youth. Indeed, the average cover of a woman’s magazine seems to suggest that this idea may not be all that unappealing.
Character actress Marjorie Eaton is Mrs. March, an elderly woman living out her days on a pile of money and idealism. She is extremely shallow, clinging as she does to ideas of youthfulness and life. March hopes her money can draw her eternal life in some form, so she hires an eccentric scientist named Dr. Frank (Frank Gerstle) to put her brain in a youthful, perfect body.
This causes March and Frank to put an advertisement in the paper for housekeepers, an advertisement which has been responded to by three attractive women. March assesses which of the women she finds most attractive and, because she’s never known love, puts Frank on the task of swapping out the young woman’s brain with her own.
As mentioned, there’s some potential to the story of the rich and powerful buying up youthfulness as a concept. The notion that Mrs. March believes that her life can carry on if only she was placed in the body of someone more, let’s say, Monroe-esque is hardly all that foreign. The mad science of Dr. Frank may seem absurd, but the basis isn’t that ridiculous given the conceit of modern society.
Unfortunately, those prescient elements aren’t given their due course and The Atomic Brain is just sloppy. Even with the poetic feline justice afforded to Mrs. March and the paw button-pushing of the dénouement, Mascelli is hopeless when it comes to providing pacing or continuity. The movie simply lurches around, with miserable connective tissue and limp characters.
Even the closing escape sequence, with Nina (Erika Peters) and Bea (Judy Bamber) frantically trying to escape the lightning-infused laboratory, is wretched. The suggestion of sly vengeance does little to excuse the lumbering disposition and dull acting that audiences would’ve endured throughout the sloppy but lean 64 minutes.
This is one of those low budget films from the 1960s, of course, and it’s a given that you shouldn’t expect a world of overwhelming social commentary. The Atomic Brain was, however, filmed over the course of 10 days and it shows. While Roger Corman may have managed something at least halfway interesting in the same timeframe, Mascelli flubs the job.
The creatures, for instance, never materialize like they should. One of the three women, Anita (Lisa Lang), has an amusing sequence where she eats a mouse and subsequently bounds around everywhere – seemingly a preview of the later catlike machinations of Mrs. March – but that’s the extent of the fun. Even an early nod to Frankenstein fails to land with impact.
The Atomic Brain is a pretty forgettable piece. It’s garden variety mad scientist stuff, as you’ve probably already guessed, and it’s careless as all hell. That said, there are poorer movies made even today with higher budgets and greater “talents.” Perhaps this Monstrosity isn’t so bad after all.