Editor’s Note: The Man With Two Brains was released on August 29, 2017 on Blu-ray by Warner Archive.
Brilliant brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (“it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled”) is still despondent over the death of his young wife when he accidentally hits professional gold digger Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner) with his Mercedes. Eschewing medical ethics and clearly hoping to get a look at her naked, Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) operates on her himself and saves her life with his amazing screw-top cranial surgery technique. Sensing another wealthy catch, Dolores seduces Hfuhruhurr and talks him into marriage, with the promise of sex sometime in the future once her headache goes away. Frustrated, Hfuhruhurr meets the brain of Anne Uumellmahaye (voice of Sissy Spacek) floating in a jar in the lab of colleague Dr. Necessiter (David Warner) and falls in love. Complications arrive in the form of hot ‘n’ sexy gardeners, a large inheritance, and a crazed serial killer.
The third of what would be four movies that teamed Steve Martin with writer-director Carl Reiner, The Man With Two Brains is an affectionate and deeply silly spoof of low-budget horror flicks from decades ago, and one that acknowledges what a 1950s Z-list movie starring a pulsing brain in a pan never could: that these mad scientists were pretty much just looking to get laid. The dialogue is hilarious, Vaudevillian, ridiculous and sublime, and frequently eschews words altogether for a series of vaguely human noises like “Schlermie,” “anointy-nointy,” and “thptbtbtbtbt.” There is precious little plot to be had, because a plot and zaniness rarely mix.
The Man With Two Brains is arguably Martin’s best performance from his silly surrealist period. He exhibits more control of his craft than in The Jerk and more human-like qualities than in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, though one could make a pretty solid case that his movies from this era needed neither professionalism nor recognizable human behaviors and emotions. There are no messages or metaphors here. The point of the film isn’t to teach life lessons or make you think, it’s to spoof films that were so bad they were almost spoofs themselves. It’s to take all those movie tropes you’ve watched since you were old enough to sit up on your own and inject them with “Pane in the Glass” off-brand window cleaner, mash them into chunky salsa until they’re no longer recognizable, then have some guy in an unconvincing gorilla costume serve it to you in a flaming glass that briefly catches your sleeve on fire.
Kathleen Turner made her film debut in 1981 with the stunning Body Heat, her critically acclaimed performance garnering her international fame. She waited nearly two years before working in movies again, choosing Two Brains as her follow-up, a brave move considering it would mean her only two film roles would have been as a femme fatale and then a spoof of a femme fatale. The risk paid off, though, as Turner puts in a fantastic turn as a psychopathic and greedy woman without any hint of a soul or heart of gold underneath her grifter exterior.
Turner is absolutely beautiful, of course, even after a third act physical transition that’s played for fewer laughs than you’d expect, but what often gets overlooked is how beautiful the film itself is. Gorgeous, sun-lit interiors give way to Hammer Horror sets in soft 1980s jewel tones, and a scene in a Viennese red light district is astonishingly photographed, looking almost like a deleted scene from the 1979 cult classic Hardcore, courtesy veteran cinematographer Michael Chapman.
The Man With Two Brains has never looked better, and it’s all thanks to Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release, the product of a new 2K scan of original elements. The new soundtrack sounds fantastic, restoring the original dynamic B-movie horror synth to its proper glory, as well as the requisite goofy sound effects. This release is a fine tribute to the work of Carl Reiner — he’s said that an early scene in Two Brains with a little girl giving Dr. Hfuhruhurr her medical opinion is his favorite scene of all time — and is a long overdue restoration of a comedy classic.