Thursday, 3 March 2011

AFED #61: The Man Without a Body (UK, 1957); Dir. Charles Saunders & W. Lee Wilder

Hidden amongst the quatrains of Nostradamus's celebrated Prophecies, published in 1555, is a curious passage which has long baffled scholars:

In London, many years from now
I shall awaken, disembodied, in a physician's chamber
At the behest of a rich and powerful man.
But he and I, we shall not be friends. LOL.


Baffling indeed, but it seems unlike many of the 'great' seer's predictions it may have some shred of credence. A little over 400 years later came the extraordinary dramatisation of an incident that rocked the foundations of science to its very core...



This is the remarkable account of Karl Brussard (George Coulouris), a massively successful entrepreneur who discovers he's dying from a brain tumour. It's a tragic waste because Brussard, by his own modest admission, is such a fine physical specimen (!). Fortunately Brussard's doctor has heard of a surgeon in London who's been conducting some exciting research in brain transplantation.

But hold on a second, isn't it accepted scientific wisdom that it's the brain that houses human consciousness? Surely if another man's brain was fitted to Brussard's body then Brussard wouldn't really be Brussard anymore? This not insignificant detail doesn't appear to deter the businessman, who after meeting Dr. Merritt (Robert Hutton) and hearing about the miracles he can work - even with dead tissue - resolves to find a superior intellect to continue his legacy.

And what greater mind than that of Michel de Nostredame? True, he's been mouldering away in a crypt for four centuries but that's just a minor detail. After recruiting a quack doctor to steal the prophet's head from his tomb, Brussard presents it to Merritt to see what he can do.

It wouldn't be much of a story if they failed, but upon awakening in this new age Nostradamus isn't as pleased as Brussard might have hoped; in fact he's a bit pissed off. When Brussard - who is growing increasingly confused and delusional with the effects of his tumour - asks the great man for some business advice Nostradamus stitches him up, leaving him ruined.

Eventually Nostradamus does acquire a body and seeks out Brussard for some righteous vengeance, but I'll spare you the details.

I'm probably not the first person to come to this film with a genuine desire to enjoy it. Like the best 'B' movies it has a ridiculous leftfield concept that sells itself and its surprising such a bizarre sci-fi story should be a British production. The trouble is it's executed with such plodding mediocrity that you've ceased caring by the time Nostradamus is finally revived. The script is dreary and makes no attempt to resolve the blatant flaws in logic, the direction is totally lifeless and the actors - notwithstanding the hammy Coulouris - look bored and a bit embarrassed to be there.

You can imagine somebody like Roger Corman grasping intuitively this was an idea that could only work if it was firmly tongue in cheek. In more skillful hands it might have been a cult classic, instead it's just a waste. Maybe it's not so far-fetched after all, I think I just heard Nostradamus turning in his grave.

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