As I have mentioned elsewhere, it was Anne Francis, via her performance in the 1965 television program "Honey West," who was first responsible for, uh, jump-starting this young viewer's dormant puberty, and the actress has been one of my very favorites ever since. Anne was always a captivating and eye-catching performer--an undersung actress, truly--who unfailingly made any film or TV show better for her participation in it. And while she always had been a beauty--from child model at age 5, to one of her earliest screen appearances, unbilled, as one of the three teenagers at the tail end of 1948's "Portrait of Jennie," and on to her legendary appearance as Altaira in 1956's "Forbidden Planet"--it wasn't until the mid-1960s that her beauty came to full fruition...for this viewer, anyway. Thus, the Anne Francis of 1965 was really something to see, and fortunately, that year would prove to be a banner one for the actress. It was the year that "Honey West" premiered in the fall, and the year in which Anne starred in two very fine big-screen entertainments: "The Satan Bug" and "Brainstorm." I had seen the first of those two many times in the past, but it was not until Warners started to release some vintage films in its DVD Archives Collection that I got a chance to finally see the latter. And, as it turns out, it was well worth the wait. "Brainstorm" (not to be confused with the 1983 film entitled "Brainstorm," which would be Natalie Wood's swan song) has been called the last of the classic B&W film noirs, and I would most surely agree with that description. Very much following the mold of such noirs as "Double Indemnity" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice," but updating them to more modern times, the film holds up very well today, now more than 50 years since its initial release in May '65.
In the film, Jeffrey Hunter (who had starred with Anne in 1952's "Dreamboat" and was also enjoying a good film year in 1965, having just completed the "Star Trek" pilot "The Cage") plays an engineer named Jim Grayam, who works for a large aeronautical concern in California. Grayam comes upon a stalled car on a railroad track near the company building, and sees that a woman has passed out on the front seat, unaware of the train barreling down on her and her car. He rescues the woman and takes her home...the home of his employer, Cort Benson (Dana Andrews, who also appeared with Anne in "The Satan Bug" that year, as well as in "Crack in the World" and "In Harm's Way"). The woman, as it turns out, is Lorrie Benson (our Anne)...a miserably unhappy wife who is appalled that her recent suicide attempt has failed. Despite her anger at Grayam's rescue, she later invites him to one of her scavenger parties, and the two engage upon a lustful affair. But when her husband finds out, he does everything in his power to frame Grayam and make him appear to be losing his mind. Thus, a woman falsely accuses Jim of being a pervert caller; his car is stolen; his lab is wrecked. No dummy, Grayam realizes what is being done to him, and he and Lorrie, in true noir fashion, hatch a clever scheme to do the vicious Cort in. "Only a madman can get away with murder," Jim realizes, and thus he plots to kill Cort in some manner to be later determined, pretend to be insane, get put away in the booby hatch for a year or so, and then emerge a free man. Sounds simple, right? But do these things ever work out as planned?
"Brainstorm," besides boasting three terrific performances by its three leads (Hunter is particularly good here in his starring role), also showcases terrific supporting work by Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors (she'd previously appeared along with Hunter in "King of Kings") as Dr. Larstadt, a psychiatrist who endeavors to determine whether or not Grayam really is insane or not; Richard "Jaws" Kiel as a mental patient; and three more future "Star Trek" alumni: Kathy Browne as that telephone accuser, Phillip Pine as another psychiatrist, and Steve Ihnat as a doctor. William Conrad, future star of TV's "Cannon" and "Jake and the Fatman," here directs his third Warners film of the year (the others being "Two for a Guillotine" and "My Blood Runs Cold") and brings some impressive directorial touches to the fore (the killing of Cort is especially well done and suspenseful); Mann Rubin's screenplay is both sharp and no-nonsense; and Sam Leavitt's B&W lensing is a thing of true film noir beauty. It is a haunting and atmospheric film, really, whose impact should surely linger with the viewer for days after the final scenes unreel. A mash-up of sorts of those earlier film noirs ("Double Indemnity" is especially homaged, never more so than in the scene in which Anne wears those dark shades as she and Jim plot murder in a library...very reminiscent of the shades that Barbara Stanwyck sports in the supermarket scene in the 1944 film) with the disturbing sanatorium scenes in Sam Fuller's 1963 classic "Shock Corridor," "Brainstorm" is a near-forgotten winner that surely does deserve to find a wider audience today. It contains any number of wonderful sequences (I love the one in which Grayam injects himself with truth serum in an effort to build up his immunity), and is never better than in the scenes with Grayam and Dr. Linstadt, during which we are uncertain just what the doctor is thinking, and whether or not Jim is going crazy or just pretending. And Anne? OMG! As I have mentioned, she never looked more gorgeous than in 1965, and this film shows her at the top of her yummy form. Always a flawless actress, she steals every scene that she appears in. But this is Hunter's film all the way, and his performance here is both appealing and affecting. Somehow, the viewer WANTS him to get away with this murder (Dana's Cort character really is a nasty piece of work), and thus the final moments of the film are all the more unforgettable. "The Most Fiendish Idea Ever Conceived by the Human Brain!" the film's promotional poster declared ... a hyperbolic statement concealing an extremely well-done film. Happily, the era of the classic film noir went out with a very fine winner, indeed!