Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Brain That Wouldn't Die -- a sleazy search for the perfect body

By Steve D. Stones

The first question I always ask myself every time I watch this drive-in schlock masterpiece from 1959 is: “Would any man want a girlfriend with a sewn-on head?”

It’s such a simple question with a simple answer, yet the main character in "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," played by Jason “Herb” Evers, is determined to keep Jan Compton (Virginia Leith), his fiancé’s head alive after it is severed from her body in a terrible car crash.

Evers spends most of the film desperately looking for a beautiful young body to attach to his fiancé’s head. He hangs out at bathing beauty contests and a figure model class drooling over curvy cuties to replace his fiancé’s body. He finds just the right body of a brunette named Doris (Adele Lamont) at the figure model class. She conveniently has deep scars on her face, but her body is to die for (no pun intended).

As for me, if I lost my girlfriend in a car accident, instead of keeping her head alive, I think I would be looking for a new girlfriend. Why go through the trouble of looking for a new body when you can just find the entire package, right? This is a large part of the unintentional humor of the film. What’s even funnier is when the severed head argues with the lab assistant as to whether or not it is right and ethical for them to be keeping her alive. Why be half dead when you can die a full death?

Perhaps the film is trying to make a statement about unconditional, unyielding love? Evers loves his fiancé deeply, and the loss of her body is not going to change his love for her. Even if it means he has to commit murder to keep her alive.

The film has many of the clichés in horror films that we’ve all come to identify. A monster is kept locked away in a closet and patched together by a mad doctor, much like Frankenstein’s monster. A loyal, yet deformed laboratory assistant stands by the mad doctor, despite his fear of the monster in the closet and his determination to suggest that their experiments are ethically wrong. The mad doctor is a playboy at heart who may love his fiancé, but deep down has a lust for other women too. We’ve seen this formula before.

Although The Brain That Wouldn’t Die began production in 1959, it was not released until 1962. The ending of the film shows the title as: The Head That Wouldn’t Die. It is the first film that I’m aware of that brings graphic violence to the screen, even pre-dating Herschell Gordon Lewis’ graphically violent Blood Feast.

The lab assistant has his right arm torn off by the monster in the closet. He drags the right side of his body up against the lab walls, smearing blood everywhere. The monster bites off a large section of Herb Evers’ neck, and then spits it on the lab floor as the camera zooms in on it closely. This was graphic stuff for the early 1960s. Television prints of the film had to cut out these two scenes in order to be able to show the film on TV.

One unique aspect of the film is its unconventional ending. Normally the good-looking guy, in this case the mad doctor played by Evers, gets the girl and a happy ending occurs. In The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, it’s the monster that gets away with the girl, while the handsome man lies bleeding and dying in his laboratory. This is a bit more original than most conventional low-budget horror films.

If you ever find yourself in the same situation as the mad doctor in this film, I think it would be best just to go out and find yourself a new girlfriend. After all, why go through the trouble of sawing off the head of another woman just to use the body for your girlfriend’s head? Nature didn’t intend for heads to be replaced with different bodies, so why waste your time improving on nature? This is what makes the plot of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die so absurd, yet fun to watch. Keep the popcorn close by.

(This film can be viewed for free on Tubi, Amazon Prime, and other locations, including YouTube.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Future Stooge Joe DeRita in Wedlock Deadlock, a Columbia comedy short from 1947


Review by Doug Gibson

There's a scene in the Columbia comedy short, "Wedlock Deadlock," that contains the kind of studio in-humor that makes me love these semi-vintage comedies. Star Joe DeRita, frustrated beyond sensible patience by obnoxious, cloddish in laws who won't leave, is holding a book titled "Nearly Perfect Murders." The author's name is Elwood Ullman.

The scores of thousands of movie-goers who saw this short for the next few years in various theaters likely had no idea who Ullman was. He was the screenwriter for "Wedlock Deadlock." It was an inside joke for the Columbia team, likely hatched from director Edward Bernds, who directed many above-par Columbia shorts for Hugh McCollum's department. 

You can watch "Wedlock Deadlock" here, via YouTube. Greg Hilbrich, who runs the absolutely essential The Columbia Short Department website, showed me links to all four Columbia comedies DeRita starred in during the second half of the 1940s. "Wedlock Deadlock" was my favorite; all are more or less remakes of previous Columbia shorts for other stars. DeRita with a full head of hair kind of resembles Lou Costello a little. But he lacks Costello's wit, although he's' not bad in physical comedy. He was mostly cast as a harried husband. (More on The Columbia Shorts Department at the end of this post)

In "Wedding Wedlock," shlubbish DeRita is "Eddie,' improbably maried to gorgeous blonde, Betty, played by Christine McIntyre (probably the most iconic Columbia female star; she was in dozens of shorts but is best known for her supporting work with the Three Stooges). The pair are in their new home, all lovey-dovey, when ... her family arrives uninvited.

They are mother-in-law, Lydia, sister-in-law Hortense, and brother-in-law Chester. They are rude, pathologically insensitive freeloaders who take over the house, to Eddie's outrage and Betty's mild protests. There are slapstick comedy scenes. DeRita serves dinner and is not able to get a bite. Another scene involves the trio rearranging the furniture and a fight over a radio in the home. Eddie's eventually ready to go after the in-laws with a meat cleaver but  relents after Betty's pleas for patience. Nevertheless, the in-laws take over the bedroom, forcing the newlyweds to sleep on chairs and tables in the living room. More slapstick ensues as DeRita's makeshift bed collapses.

Eventually, Eddie arranges to have his friend, Dick, and his wife Ruby, come visit the house. The goal is to give the rude Lydia, Hortense and Chester a taste of their own medicine. The final few minutes of the short is very funny. I don't want to give the ending away but I will mention that Dorothy Granger, who plays Ruby, more or less steals the film with her enthusiastic, manic, funny performance. I am aware of Granger, who included Columbia in her roughly 250-film career of minor roles, uncredited bit parts and TV roles. She really steals the show from DeRita, who grumbles more than he fights. Also, McIntyre, who has a history of playing -- energetically -- a heroine, a villain, and a comic in many Columbia shorts, is also quite passive in this short.

The slapstick comedy fell a little to DeRita, but more so to comedy shorts veterans Esther Howard (Lydia), Patsy Moran (Hortense) and Charles Williams (Chester). They are obnoxious but do an adequate job carrying physical comedy. William Newall, as Dick, also is adequate. As mentioned, though, Granger's Ruby is the best slapstick comic presence in this short. 

However, the "ironic tag" ending, that Columbia occasionally used, allows both DeRita and McIntye to show a bit more passion, Columbia "O'Oucho" style, at the very end.

I don't know how ubiquitos "Wedlock Deadlock" was in theaters. Below in old newspaper clippings from The Anniston (Ala) Star (Dec. 21, 1947) you see it mentioned as a short with George O'Brien's "Wings Over Wyoming," and there's a paragraph noting that "J DeRita" is the star. Below the Star is a Feb. 24, 1949, Statesville (Tex) Daily-Record clip showing the film as the comedy short with Johnny Mack Brown's "The Fighting Ranger." That bill also includes a supporting feature and a cartoon.

According to Wikipedia, DeRita was not happy with his Columbia shorts. Maybe that's why only four were produced. The former burlesque and Los Angeles stage star doesn't project great screen presence. He does do physical comedy fairly well. Two other shorts, "Slappily Married," and "The Good Bad Egg,' show off his skills. But I prefer him in an understated, suffering "everyman" role like "Wedlock Deadlock."

I really appreciate all Hilbrich has done gathering and preserving the entire Columbia shorts output. Without genre experts like him we would miss a lot of the great shorts. 

Afternote: I recently acquired copies of nearly two dozen non-Three Stooges Columbia comedy shorts. Greg Hilbrich, who manages the invaluable website The Columbia Shorts Department offers many of the comedy shorts, including titles other than Columbia, for sale via DVD and digital download.Sales of these non-Stooges shorts provided the opportunity to view vintage comedy shorts that are out of circulation.