The Man with Two Brains (1983)


USA. 1983.


Director – Carl Reiner, Screenplay – Carl Reiner, George Gipe & Steve Martin, Producers – William E. McEuen & David V. Picker, Photography – Michael Chapman, Music – Joel Goldsmith, Production Design – Polly Platt. Production Company – Aspen Film Society/Picker-McEuen


Steve Martin (Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr), Kathleen Turner (Dolores Benedict Hfuhruhurr), David Warner (Dr Alfred Necessiter), Sissy Spacek (Voice of Brain No 2)


Eminent brain surgeon Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr, inventor of the screwtop method of brain surgery, accidentally runs down the beautiful but insidious Dolores Benedict. After saving Dolores’s life in surgery, Hfuhruhurr falls in love with her. They are duly married but she continually denies him the fulfilment of his conjugal rights. He is driven crazy with sexual frustration. They take a holiday to Vienna to relax but there Hfuhruhurr falls in love with a disembodied brain in a jar in a colleague’s laboratory.

Steve Martin emerged in the late 1970s, first as a gag writer for shows such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-70) and then in a series of legendary appearances on Saturday Night Live (1975– ). The success of his Saturday Night Live gig led Martin to become a highly successful touring stand-up act and to even release a series of live comedy albums. After a couple of minor appearances in films like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) and The Muppet Movie (1979), Martin teamed with director Carl Reiner to make The Jerk (1979), which he also co-wrote. The two would go onto make four films together, a partnership that went from strength to strength. They next made the conceptually ingenious Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) which wove an entire film around inserting Martin into clips from 1940s film noir movies. Next came this, and their final collaboration was the masterful bodyswap comedy All Of Me (1984), which probably contains Martin’s greatest performance. In the 1990s and beyond, Steve Martin’s screen career has settled down to a series of amiable but ultimately unchallenging middle-of-the-road comedic and increasingly straight dramatic roles. In one’s opinion, Martin’s masterpiece Roxanne (1987) excepted, these films contain the best work of both Martin and Reiner.

The Man with Two Brains is an affectionate parody of Donovan’s Brain (1953) and the whole B movie school of disembodied brain films – see the likes of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1964) and Beast of Blood (1971).

Carl Reiner and Steve Martin mount the film as an hysterical succession of deadpan gags. There is the wonderfully nutty romance with the brain in the jar with Martin taking it for romantic boat trips and places a pair of plastic lips on the side of the jar so he can kiss it. Or the side-splitting sequence where the sexually frustrated Martin places a hat in his lap, which continues to hang unnoticed from his erection when he stands up; or the precarious journey across a broken ledge clinging to a wall by saliva on the fingertips; the attempt to get a young girl to ring a hospital that ends in an argument over diagnosis at an accident scene in the middle of the street.

It’s a very, very funny film that comes packed with so many delightful gags. Steve Martin is one of America’s most under-rated comic geniuses and the film suits his wild talent like a glove. Standing a little in Martin’s prodigious comic shadow, Kathleen Turner nevertheless has an equal amount of fun vamping it up to the hilt. There is also a very funny surprise cameo from Merv Griffen.

In other genre material, Carl Reiner also directed Oh, God! (1977) featuring John Denver as an ordinary man who receives a visit from God; the aforementioned Steve Martin bodyswap comedy All Of Me (1984); and Fatal Instinct (1993), a parody of various well-known psycho-thrillers. Reiner has a long history as a writer, producer and performer in comedy variety shows going back to the 1950s. To more modern audiences, he is better known as the father of Rob Reiner and for the role of Saul Bloom in the Ocean’s Eleven films.

Actors: , , ,
Themes: , , ,