Political Surf on the mysterious Great Brain movie

This column is in today’s Currents, the Standard-Examiner’s digital-only section on politics and culture. All subscribers with Internet have access to Currents.

Last week, in the Sunday Standard-Examiner, I wrote a column on the late Utah-born author John D. Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Brain series. http://www.standard.net/live/opinion/topofutahvoices/177671/ I appreciate the feedback I received from many readers. There still remains a big fan base of Fitzgerald’s gentle adventures of life in early-Mormon Utah. Besides “The Great Brain,” he’s also known for the novel “Papa Married a Mormon.”

I briefly mentioned the 1978 film “The Great Brain,” that starred Jimmy Osmond. I saw that film in a theater in Seal Beach, Calif., and later taped it on a network late-night showing. Then the film disappeared. Although I can’t be sure, I doubt it had a video release since there are no spare copies for sale at E-bay or Amazon.

My copy is very faded. To make sure it survived at least another decade, I converted it to DVD-R. I’ve loaned it to friends and gave a copy to a school teacher who uses “The Great Brain in her class.

For what it’s worth, here is my review of The Great Brain, also published on a personal blog at:


This isn’t a great movie, by any stretch. The acting is hammy, and a very young Jimmy Osmond is frankly, too inexperienced, in my opinion, to play The Great Brain. But if you like the John D. Fitzgerald novels, you’ll find the film a treat.

I’m glad it’s out and that I taped it in the early 1980s. It’s a definite G and post-toddler kids will like it. However, those adults unfamiliar with the Great Brain character may get bored at the juvenile story.

On the plus side, the sets of early, rural Utah are pretty well done and the cast, if inexperienced, is at least earnest. Also, this is a rare film that is almost completely faithful to a book. Fans of The Great Brain will enjoy seeing what they read faithfully adapted to the screen. Examples include The Great Brain, Tom D. Fitzgerald, having adventures with a Greek immigrant family, his fights with friends, his scheming with brothers, including narrator John D. Fitzgerald, and his change of heart when he helps a young crippled boy.

This is an almost impossible film to locate. It never runs on TV it seems and has never been released to video or DVD. Rumor has it the film is locked in litigation. That’s a shame if true, because it seems ideal for a new production or a re-release via DVD to at least the regional Utah/Mormon market.

Still, if you love John D. Fitzgerald’s tales, you’ll want to hunt old family tapes off TV to see if you have this tucked away in the basement. The film was directed by Sidney Levin. It also starred Pat Delaney, Fran Ryan and Cliff Osmond.

Before I wrote this piece, I posted a review (too harsh in retrospect) on the Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077632/ It’s still there, and remains the only review for The Great Brain on the popular movie database. My post, eight years ago, produced an e-mail from a Utah man who wished to view a copy of the film. I duped him a very, very faded copy and mailed it off, no charge.

I didn’t save the e-mails or the man’s name, but he mentioned that “The Great Brain” was locked in a larger litigation battle and that is why it’s nowhere to be found. Whether that is true I have no idea. My e-mailer also mentioned that there were scripts in production for new film adaptations of “The Great Brain.”

However, that bit nugget of information appears to be for naught, as no “Great Brain” film ventures have been released or announced. That’s a shame. It seems an ideal regional opportunity for a feature or even a series. There are so many Fitzgerald “Great Brain” tales to fit 50 episodes at least.

So, the mystery of “The Great Brain” feature film remains. If anyone has any information about why “The Great Brain” is not in circulation or if it will be released or if there are new productions planned, e-mail me at dgibson@standard.net. I’ll be sure to pass on the information.

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3 Responses to Political Surf on the mysterious Great Brain movie

  1. Wendy Deering says:

    I love this book, I read it when I was a kid growing up in N.Z. and thought it was hilarious and have since hunted it out from out local library and read it to my kids. I would love to see it as a movie.

  2. Steve says:

    I saw this movie when it was out in the theaters. Long time ago. And I remember absolutely nothing about it. I did enjoy the books as a kid.

  3. Preston says:

    When I was in high school a friend of mine, Beau Carden, had an older brother whose name I can’t recall, who played the minor part of Swayne in the movie. Beau’s family had a VHS recording and I asked to see it, but I couldn’t endure more than about 15 minutes of it. Jimmy Osmond was worse than inexperienced; he wore a constant smirk or sneer of condescension, and was so pudgy that he would have been properly cast as the grade-school loser. The movie was a fine example of why Osmond Studios didn’t prosper. If someone has sued to keep it from ever being released on video, it’s probably based on artistic grounds. I think there must be a constitutional interpretation allowing such travesties to be quashed simply on aesthetic grounds.

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