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Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Brain from Planet Arous

In many ways, this movie typifies the stereotype of 50s B-scifi. It uses ample stock footage. (in this case, nuclear tests). It uses models suspended by wires. (the two airplanes) And, it has a monster (or alien) which isn't particularly scary looking. The cast has B-movie stalwarts, such as John Agar, Joyce Meadows and Thomas Browne Henry. The premise is stereotypic too. A malicious "advanced" alien wants to take over the earth. The resolution is not as typical. A friendly alien provides the key that saves earth. This, instead of the usual where earth scientists electrocute the monster.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A little bright light settles onto a rocky desert mountain, followed by an explosion. Steve and Dan (nuclear scientists working in a remote desert cabin (?), pick up intermittent radiation bursts. The go out to Mystery Mountain to investigate. In a newly cut cave, they are confronted by an ethereal floating brain with glowing eyes. Steve fires his pistol at it, but it comes on. Steve collapses, as does Dan. The brain settles into Steve's body. Back at the house, Steve's fiancee notices that Steve has changed. He's brash and lecherous. He says Dan ran off to Las Vegas. When alone, the brain creature, named Gor, floats out of Steve. It explains that he plans to rule the earth, choosing Steve as his host body because of his security access. Gor also likes Sally in an unhealthy way. Feeling there must be an explanation for Steve's new odd behavior, Sally and her father drive out to Mystery Mountain. There they find Dan's body, burned by radiation. They also see a floating brain, this one named Vol. Vol explains that he's here to recapture Gor, and escaped criminal from planet Arous. Vol can recapture Gor only when he's outside of Steve, While inside, Steve (and Gor) are invulnerable. Vol opts to inhabit the family dog, George, as a way to often be near Steve/Gor without arousing suspicion. Gor-Steve attends a nuclear bomb test, but usurps the test to demonstrate his mighty power. He makes a blast like an H-bomb. A General tries to shoot Gor-Steve, but is struck dead. Gor-Steve demands that the leaders of the major nations meet him in 10 hours. At that meeting, Gor-Steve explains that all nations will use their industrial resources to build a fleet of ships so he can conquer Arous. Earth would be a vassal planet. Vol, unable to catch Gor exposed, tells Sally about Arous-brain weakness. A fold called the Fissure of Rolando. A blow there would kill Gor. Sally writes a note to this effect, on a page torn from an encyclopedia about brains. Gor comes out of Steve to boast of his plans. Sally, hiding in the next room, screams. This distracts Gor. Steve, in his right mind, reads the note and picks up a handy axe. He chops away at Gor. The brain is dead. Cue badly written "funny" ending. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
It's easy for a modern viewer to see BFPA as pure camp, almost self-parody, but they were serious. There is still something intriguing about an all-brain creature (with glowing eyes) which balances himself on a boneless spinal column. Not your typical nemesis.

Cold War Angle
While less coherent, several Cold War themes weave in and out of BFPA. Gor represents the side of nuclear weapon power that everyone feared. Innocent people (such as on the two planes) killed without warning. Gor's demonstration at the test facility made it inescapable that his power is just like our nukes. Another Cold War anxiety is that an insider could get "turned" by the enemy. Yet another theme is the evil despot who wants to rule the world with an iron fist.

Got No Body -- The brain creatures on Arous had "evolved" beyond bodies. The could project power, but all we see them capable of is destruction. Gor needed earthlings for their creative abilities. We could build ships. Apparently Gor could not, on his own. This suggests that Gor was too weak on Arous to dominate without our hands. This is similar to the aliens in It Came From Outer Space ('53) who needed earth bodies and tools to fix their ship.

They ARE After Our Women -- As a pure intellect who had risen above such savage feelings, Gor was not prepared for power of lust. Once he got to see how desirable a pretty woman is, however, he quickly became obsessed with "experiencing" physical pleasures. Gor, despite his advanced intellect, couldn't manage his libido. This movie clearly presses the audience's "save our women" button.

Good Ol' Fashioned Date Rape -- Gor-Steve tries several times to take the Steve & Sally relationship far beyond proper bounds. Sally is, at first, a little amused at Gor-Steve's suddenly more amorous behavior. When He presses further, however, we can see that there is an understood line of acceptable behaviors and Steve was clearly over it. Note that even in the 50s, when it was supposed to be a man's world, and women submissive, a man did not have a right to do as he pleased, even with someone committed to him.

Smirk Works -- John Agar, as an actor, never quite seemed to be able to take his roles seriously. Typically, he had a silly smile on his face as if he could never get over the fact that he was acting in a movie. In BFPA, however, the smirk works. Since he was supposed to be possessed by the evil brain-thing, Gor, Agar's usual smirk at least has a reason to be there.

Problems at Home -- Typically, aliens have been homogeneous -- all good or all bad. Sometimes there have been occasional lone good "aliens" among the generally bad ones, such as Lambda among the Catwomen of the Moon ('53) or Exeter from This Island Earth ('55). Arous is not so simple. It has criminals and apparently some problems with security. Vol, in the role of kindly protector alien comes to apprehend the evil brain.

Bottom line? BFPA is not high art, nor does it aspire to deeper meanings. It is, however, formulaic B-grade sci-fi. As such, it is a good example as a stereotype. A fan of the genre can enjoy it as such. Someone seeking though-provoking drama will come away dissatisfied.

1 comment:

John Drake said...

Howdy Movie Fans,

This movie is a hoot.

Don't pick it apart, just watch it for fun.

The scene where John Agar, glowing eyes and all, it looking through the window blinds at a nuclear test is quirky.

Who would have thought the world would be saved by a dog (with an alien inside him)?

Now I know why I always liked dogs.

Get your giggle hat on and have a good time.

See you at the movies,