Dr. Strangefilm Case #019: They Saved Hitler’s Brain

Those of you who are students of history as well as off-the-wall moviedom may be aware that this coming weekend marks the 66th anniversary of V-E Day. It was on May 8th, 1945 that the Allied nations accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender, thus ending World War II in Europe. The order to surrender came from newly installed German president Karl Dönitz, whose predecessor–Führer and failed Charlie Chaplin impersonator Adolf Hitler–had blown out what little brains he had with a Walther PPK pistol nine days earlier. As everyone knows, shortly after taking his own life, his and new bride Eva Braun’s bodies were burned outside the Berlin bunker. And that was the last the world saw of Adolf Hitler…or was it? Not according to this month’s head case, a 1966 (Or is that 1963? Or 1971? I’ll explain as we go along.) Fourth Reich retch-fest of a sci-fi/espionage flick entitled They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

Well, technically it was first called Madmen of Mandoras. Mandoras is one with those fictitious Latin American banana republics where ’60s cinema action heroes couldn’t throw a sombrero without hitting a Nazi fugitive, and the madmen are a small–very small–cabal of German ex-officers and maybe a half-dozen soldiers who have been lying in wait for decades perfecting yet another plan for global domination. Their weapon to take over the world this time is the super-deadly “Z-gas,” but before these goofy goosesteppers and their mysterious “head man” (sorry) can launch the attack, they must first capture Professor Coleman (John Holland), an American who has devised an antidote to the gas. Luckily, the kidnapped prof’s son-in-law Phil Day (Walter Stocker) just happens to be an agent for the government’s Criminal Investigative Division. Even more luckily, Phil and wife Kathy (Audrey Caire) meet up with a Mandoran…Mandorinian? Mandorite?…man named Teo (Carlos Rivas) who tells them where Kathy’s dad has been taken. For his efforts, Teo is promptly shot and killed by enemy spies, then left by Phil in a phone booth for a fat woman to discover, in what must have been meant as an attempt at comic relief.

One quick plane ride south of the border later, the husband/wife rescue mission meets up with Kathy’s flighty sister Suzanne, who was also brought to Mandoras, and Teo’s twin brother Camino, who informs them of the shocking secret that’s been pretty much ruined by the film’s renaming: as Allied bombs were falling across Berlin, a team of doctors actually amputated Herr Schicklgruber’s noggin and kept it alive, bad moustache and all. The heinous head was then secretly flown out of Germany to a safe haven in Mandoras (“This is like some kind of a bad joke,” exclaims Phil in one of this movie’s rare flashes of insight.). This info, by the way, came courtesy of the late Teo, who was a medical technician during the procedure (were there really a lot of Latinos living in WWII Germany?). After a shooting in a nightclub that does little to advance the story, Phil, Kathy and Suzanne are eventually taken to where the professor is being tortured into divulging the formula for the antidote, and soon they are all ushered into the presence of their not-as-dead-as-reported host…

That’s right, inside an oversized mayonnaise jar sits the one and only “Mr. H” (That’s how he’s referred to in the film, as if he was Hazel’s boss), played by an actor named Bill Freed whose performance consists of leering, sneering and crying out “Mach schnell, Mach schnell!” for no apparent reason. Unhappy with how their German “guests” plan to turn their country into South Berlin, the Mandoran president and the local police chief help Professor Coleman, Phil and the ladies escape from captivity. Picking up Camino and a few other friends along the way, our heroes go to the mountain airstrip where German generals are flying in to help “Mr. H” and his flunkies launch their global Z-gas attack. All it takes are a few well-tossed hand grenades by the good guys, which wipe out the 10 or so members of the Nazi “army,”  to foil this elaborate, developed-over-18-years scheme. Ultimately, it’s Phil who does the honors of lobbing a grenade into Hitler’s limo, where a wax head that looks more like Chaplin than Bill Freed slowly melts from the flames. For some reason, this all happens to the very recognizable music from Creature from the Black Lagoon and other Universal ’50s horror outings. Perhaps veteran character actor Nestor Paiva, who played police chief Alaniz and was Captain Lucas in Creature, brought it with him.

Now, this all sounds like a nice, tight, goofy little romp of a movie…and that was the problem. As originally shot in 1963, Madmen of Mandoras (which narrowly escaped being dubbed The Return of Mr. H) clocked in at a brisk 62 minutes or so, which didn’t make it very appealing to theatrical exhibitors or TV stations. Luckily, a new company picked up the rights to the picture a few years later and, in order to flesh it out to feature-length, had UCLA film students shoot a half-hour of new footage. These “bonus” scenes make up nearly all of the stitched-together turkey’s first 30 minutes and involve a pair of CID operatives–a guy with a ’70s porn star mustache and a mini-skirted gal who resembles a heftier Marcia Brady–who are also looking for Professor Coleman. That this duo never directly interacts with any of the original film’s characters, that their late ’60s/early ’70s hairstyles and wardrobe clash with the Kennedy-era couture elsewhere, and that the juxtaposed clips blur the line between daytime and nighttime as well as Ed Wood at his most inept only adds to the strangeness…as does the fact that the male agent’s car crash death was footage taken from the 1958 Robert Mitchum actioner Thunder Road.

As bad as the collegiate clips are, though, they do at least match the older film for sheer tedium and plot incongruities. Why, for example, did the Germans kidnap Suzanne as well as her father? For that matter, why abduct the professor at all, if you plan to use the gas and there’d be no time to make an antidote? Why was the swastika on the wall behind “Mr. H” backwards: were the filmmakers afraid of offending actual Nazi fugitives? And why did they rename this movie They Saved Hitler’s Brain, when it’s really Adolf’s entire head, neck and a good portion of shoulders resting inside his ersatz aquarium (a similar problem occurs in another sci-fi stinker from the same period, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die)? The opening credits appear to be the only place in this movie where brains were on display.

Oh, in case anyone was wondering, original Madmen of Mandoras director David Bradley (who also made early efforts starring Charlton Heston and Nancy Reagan), passed away in 1997, so there’s no chance of his coming back to make a low-budget Middle East shocker entitled They Saved Bin Laden’s Brain….assuming, of course, that Bradley’s preserved head isn’t tucked away in a Hollywood storage locker somewhere.

  • Jack West

    Poor David Bradley! He showed such promise in his Northwestern U days. My film class studied HIS version of Julius Caesar so we would be inspired on how to shoot our own movies.

  • Grand Old Movies

    Excellent post on one of those so-bad-it’s-good psychotronic films! Mr. H’s mustache in this flick looks more Chester Conklin than Charlie Chaplin (but what can you expect from a film that gets the swastikas backward?) – seems the late 50s/early 60s produced a spate of these head-in-a-bottle-or-on-a-tray movies – must have been something in the air!

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