A Good Film Made Bad
A good title is better than a good movie — at least from a financial standpoint. I tend to think that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the title. And I believe that They Saved Hitler’s Brain is one of the greatest film titles of all time.
The problem is that while The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a great film in pretty much every way imaginable, They Saved Hitler’s Brain is a mess. And I don’t mean this in a good way. But we need to go back a little bit and discuss a charming Nazi film.
The Madmen of Mandoras
Our story starts with the theatrical release of The Madmen of Mandoras in 1963. Made in 1962 with the working title “The Return of Mr H,” it tells the story of some Nazis who escape from World War II with Hitler’s head attached to a machine. They are all set to take over the world but first they must kidnap an American scientist who has the antidote for it.
After his disappearance, his daughter and her husband go looking for him in Mandoras, a made-up countries close to Trinidad and Tobago. There they are kidnapped by the Nazis but escape and work with the local authorities to, at long last, kill Hitler’s head.
This description makes the film sound pretty normal. It isn’t. There is rarely any sense of danger. Conflicts are resolved easily like the supposedly corrupt local authorities who simply explain that they have been under the thumb of the Nazis and turn on them. Or the younger daughter who wasn’t really kidnapped.
At the same time, the film is really well made. The acting is first-rate. The sets are of a distinctly high-B film level. And the lighting by Stanley Cortez (The Black Cat) is great. Okay, so the script meanders. Who cares?! You got Hitler’s head in a bowl!
The Making of They Saved Hitler’s Brain
According to Charles P Mitchell in The Hitler Filmography, the film had a brief run on the drive-in circuit, but it was quickly withdrawn and doesn’t seem to have made much money.
In 1968, Paragon Films acquired the rights to the film. They wanted to sell it to the large TV market. If the film were over 90 minutes long, it would sell for more money than it would at its released 74 minutes.
The producers hired some UCLA film students to shoot some new footage. It turned out to be, based on my tests, to be 18 minutes. It all transpires at the beginning of the film. But it is cut in two with the original footage of Professor John Coleman giving his presentation about the antidote.
The story involves some CID agents checking up on a conspiracy. The two agents and the corrupt chief Van Pelt all end up dead and so the rest of The Madmen of Mandoras proceeds as before.
Interestingly, the two agents (one male and one female) come off well on screen and have good charisma together. But I haven’t even been able to get confirmation of who they are. They aren’t mentioned in the credits. It seems the female agent is Tari Tabakin but I don’t even have a lead on the male.
A Bad Match
The problem with this new material is that it doesn’t match the original stuff. Whereas Mandoras has a very 1950s feel to it, the new material looks like a low-budget take on The Mod Squad. The style of hair and clothes are completely different. And after a bunch of 1950s American cars, we get the cheeky choice of VW Bug here.
It’s also shot very differently. In some ways, I like it more. But it is distinctly of lower quality. The budget doesn’t seem to have allowed for more than two lights. And the shots are simply of a totally different style.
The result is that these scenes seem tacked on. You know: like they were added just to make the film longer. It’s like The Swap — but with far less care.
It’s probably worth watching They Saved Hitler’s Brain just to see that opening material as its own short film. Otherwise, stay away from it. For one thing, because it was made for TV, all the prints are low quality and even the Maddoras scenes look bad.
In the world of Naziploitation films, The Madmen of Mandoras is about as cute and cuddly as you are going to get. So it might be one to share with friends and family. But tell them it is They Saved Hitler’s Brain. It really is a much better title. Even the evil Medved brothers mistook one for the other in their vile little book.
They Saved Hitler’s Brain image via Amazon under Fair Use.