Professor Franz Mueller (Erich von Stroheim) is a researcher turned mad scientist. His laboratory is in a spooky castle-like mansion in the Arizona desert. His specialty is the brain. He is trying to find out if the brain can survive after death. Most of his research is on monkeys, so far.
Assisting him in his work is Doctor Patrick Cory (Richard Arlen) and Nurse Janice Farrell (Vera Ralston). Mueller has been happily poking around monkey brains until one night when a small plane crashes nearby. Dr. Cory rushes to the scene to find one man dead and another near death. Hoping that there may be some hope for the injured man they bring him to Mueller’s laboratory.
Unfortunately the man dies. Before he is sent to the morgue Mueller gets the bright idea to take out the man’s brain and experiment on it. He manages to keep the brain alive. Later he and Dr. Cory find out that the brain belongs to millionaire William H. Donovan. Mueller feeds the brain more and more energy, trying to communicate with it.
One night the brain sends out a telepathic message to Dr. Cory. The messages continue and get stronger. Eventually the brain begins to take over Dr. Cory’s will. Under the brain’s influence Cory travels to LA and accesses money from a secret account. With the money he begins bribing and influencing people. His aim is to get a man named Roger Collins (William Henry) out of prison.
Janice is none too happy about all this. She sees that her boyfriend is being taken over by the evil brain and that Professor Mueller is using Cory as part of his experiment process and not caring what happens to the real Dr. Cory.
“The Lady and the Monster” was released in 1944 and was directed by George Sherman. It is the first adaptation of Curt Siodmak’s novel “Donovan’s Brain” This is a horror movie of the disembodied brain type and is a precursor to “Donovan’s Brain” 1953 and “The Brain” 1962. Why the first adaptation was called “The Lady and the Monster” is a guess.
Erich von Stroheim as the mad scientist is also an add on. In the book Cory was the doctor/scientist and the victim of Donovan’s mind probe. There are other changes. I’m not sure if they made the film any better or not, just different but with the basic premise still intact.
The atmosphere of the film was good, sort of a gothic, noir science fiction thriller. Not as intense as “Donovan’s Brain” but visually better with fantastic gothic sets and unusual shadows. Set in the desert it also has an eeriness and a sense of being alone in the world.
Vera Ralston as Janice Farrell was totally trashed by viewers and critics alike. In some circles she was voted the worst actress ever. I beg to differ. Although not stellar and, OK, a little wooden, I can assure you I’ve seen much worse. Of course against Erich von Stroheim both Ralston and Arlen pale in comparison but Arlen does have moments that make you want to take a step backwards.
Altogether it was pretty good. Just don’t expect to see a regular monster. Don’t even expect to see much of the brain either. For a mad scientist movie, there wasn’t much science going on.