Saturday, October 15, 2011

Donovan's Brain (1953) - Film Locations

Donovan's Brain (1953)

It's not a horror film, but Donovan's Brain (1953) is creepy enough (ok, campy enough) for October Halloween viewing.  In the film, Lew Ayres plays Dr. Patrick Cory, a scientist experimenting with keeping monkey brains alive outside of their bodies. When a millionaire by the name of Donovan crashes nearby Dr. Cory's home and lab, Dr. Cory volunteers to help resuscitate the victim. When that fails, Dr. Cory secretly removes Donovan's brain and attempts to keep the brain alive outside the body. The experiment seems to work until Donovan's brain begins to take control of Dr. Cory.

Many of the scenes take place at the home of Dr. Cory, which looks to be a remote area of Southern California. However, there are a few scenes that take place in Los Angeles. In an early scene when Lew Ayres needs to go into the city, we see his plane flying over downtown Los Angeles with a view of City Hall in the background.

Lew Ayers flies over Los Angeles. City Hall in background.

Bird's eye view of City Hall in Los Angeles as it appears today.

When Ayers needs to stay in Los Angeles for a few days he crashes at The Town House apartment building located at 639 S. Commonwealth Ave. This same apartment building can be seen 22 years earlier in the Charlie Chaplin film, City Lights (1931) in the scene where Chaplin, after receiving money from a millionaire, runs out of the apartment to buy the basket of flowers from the blind girl. Below are comparisons of the Town House apartments as they appear in the film and how the building appears today.

Lew Ayres arrives at the Town House apartments.

639 S. Commonwealth Ave, Los Angeles

The entrance to The Town House apartments.

A present view of the entrance to The Town House apartments.

The Town House Apartments, 639 S. Commonwealth Ave.

I'm not a hundred percent sure, but it looks like there may have actually been scenes filmed inside The Town House apartments building. Usually, a film production would recreate the interiors on a soundstage at the studio, but the screenshots below look like they may be an authentic look at the interior of the Town House apartments circa 1953.

Lew Ayres enters The Town House apartments.

Ayers goes up the steps to the lobby.

Ayers in the lobby of the Town House apartments.

The elevators inside the Town House apartments.

In the next scene comparison Lew Ayres is seen leaving The Town House apartments, getting into a cab parked on Commonwealth Ave. In the background you can see the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the same church where James Mason brings his family in the Nicholas Ray film, Bigger Than Life (1956). In the modern day view you can just barely see the church steeples peeking above the trees and partially blocked by the modern glass building.

Looking down Commonwealth Ave 
outside the Town House apartments.

Looking down Commonwealth Ave, the First Congregational 
Church of Los Angeles in the upper right corner.

In one scene when Lew Ayres is going about town he is spotted by a reporter. In the screenshot below, we can see that the building Ayres goes into was on South Olive Street near West 7th Street. The building in the background can also be seen in Charlie Chaplin's film City Lights, in the opening credits of the Joan Crawford film, Possessed (1947),  and in the Pat O'Brien and Bette Davis film, Bureau of Missing Persons (1933).

Reporter on S. Olive near W. 7th Street, Los Angeles

S. Olive near W. 7th Street, Los Angeles

Near the end of the film, Lew Ayres is almost completely controlled by Donovan's brain. Under Donovan's control, Ayres nearly gets killed by stepping in front of moving traffic. The scene was filmed near the intersection of Wilshire Blvd and S. Westmorland.

Ayres on Wilshire Blvd near S. Westmorland. The art deco
Bullocks Wilshire building can be seen on the right.

Looking east down Wilshire. Bullocks Wilshire building on right.

Looking down S. Westmorland near Wilshire Blvd.

Looking down S. Westmorland near Wilshire Blvd. 
The side street is now divided in half.

Donovan's Brain (1953) is available on DVD and is currently available to Watch Instantly on Netflix. 

The film also stars Nancy Davis, later known as Nancy Reagan and Gene Evans.

Bird's Eye View (c) 2011 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird's Eye (c) 2010 Pictometry International Corp, Google Street View (c) 2011 Google

Your thoughts?


M. Bouffant said...

If memory serves, the sign on The Town House used to read Sheraton Town House, so I'm pretty sure it was a hotel rather than apartments when the movie was filmed.

Snow White Archive said...

Thanks for the tour of the town...and the film. What a terrific blog idea!

Kate Danley said...

I follow your blog on my reader, but just wanted to pop over to let you know how much I look forward to your posts! You do an absolutely amazing job. I can't even imagine how much work goes into each of these updates. Keep it up! I love it!

Robby Cress said...

A Snow White Sanctum,

Thanks for the comment. That's exactly what I hoped this blog would be - a virtual tour.

Kate D.

Thanks for the kind comment. I think an e reader would be a great way to follow. If people keep reading, I'll keep the posts coming :)


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