Three Cheers For ‘The Man With Two Brains’

The Mad Scientest Trope has been around since Mary Shelly penned Frankenstein. Robert Louis Stevenson also explored the trope with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moureau were classics about scientists testing the limits of how far they could go. Even Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is obsessed with how far he can achieve with science and technology.

You don’t see much of the Mad Scientist trope lately in movies. Maybe it’s because people are afraid of giving ammunition to conspiracy theorists who believe Earth is flat and vaccines cause autism. (Notice you don’t see many wrongfully convicted thrillers since O.J. Simpson was acquitted?) But for a while the American cinema was filled with mad doctors and scientists. Every novel above has been adapted multiple times. I’m sure Steve Martin, Carl Reiner and many others associated with The Man With Two Brains attended Saturday afternoon mattinees of Donovan’s Blood and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and laughed at the absurdity of the movies but enjoyed them nonetheless.

A movie with Two Brains is a parody of the Mad Scientist trope where Martin plays Dr. Michael Hfurhruhurr, a brilliant but very narcissistic brain surgeon in true Martin fashion. I typically don’t care for people who make up funny names in movies but here it works. He’s devised a screw cap procedure where he screws the top of skulls back on the patients after he completes. It’s absurd because most patients of brain surgery have their heads shaved but Michael claims this procedure can be done without shaving the head.

One day, while being interviewed as he drives around an affluent neighborhood, he accidentally hits Delores Benedict (Kathleen Turner), a shrewd gold-digger of a woman. Delores has just caused the death of her latest victim by angering him when she cooked his prized angel fish and served him. Michael falls in love with Delores during her recovery and they get married in her hospital room. However, Delores is just after his money and found another sucker.

She denies Michael sex to consummate the marriage but enjoys the lust of the well-toned younger Latino gardener. Michael’s supervisors tell him to take a honeymoon/business trip to a conference in Vienna to ease the sexual tension. Unfortunately, the vacation doesn’t cause any romance as Delores is willing to have a stranger pay her thousands to touch her ass Also, in Vienna there is a serial killer on the loose riding elevators and injecting people with window cleaner. SPOILER ALERT!! It’s Merv Griffin in a hilarious cameo.

Michael also discovers Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner in a parody of his evil villain roles) as a doctor who steals and collects brains from the Elevator Killer and others in the morgue so he can perserve them. Dr. Necessiter hopes to transport the brains in other beings such as gorilla but hasn’t had any luck on another person. A joke is that despite looking like he’s living in a condo, Dr. Necessiter’s interior looks like an ancient castle labatory from the old horror movies. But as his butler (Paul Benedict in hilarious casting) shows the walls are as thin as tissue paper.

At the lab, Michael hears the voice of a woman coming from one of the cannister containing a brain. The voice belongs to Anne Uumellmahaye (Sissy Spacek). Michael and Anne form a relationship and he decides to stay in the Vienna area renting a cottage on the lake so he can remain closer to Anne. But Michael soon learns time may be running out for Anne and he’ll need Dr. Necessiter to transfer her brain to another body, leading Michael to prowl around Vienna like a madman searching for a woman he can kill.

This was the third and penultimate movie Martin made with Reiner. The movie was release during the summer of 1983 earlier in Martin’s film career, even though he was in his late 30s, he looks older. There’s often been a darkness to his roles and comedy that has turned some people off. Most of his characters are often a little selfish and aloof at times. And there probably is narcissistic about real-life medical officials.

This was Turner’s first role after her breakthrough in Body Heat and it can be seen as a parody of the role. She said she took the role because it was a comedy and it was so outrageous. Her scenes with Martin are a great mix. In the supporting roles, there’s a young Jeffrey Combs as one of Michael’s colleagues. Considering Combs would go on to play a Mad Scientist himself in the cult horror classics Re-Animator and From Beyond, it’s almost like Reiner could tell there was something about him.

Other supporting roles include James Cromwell as an Austrian realtor wearing lederhosens and a pre-Hunter Stephanie Kramer as a hit-and-run victim Michael tries to kidnap and 1980s buxom blonde Randi Brooks as a prostitute who has the body Michael wants but not the voice. There are parts of the movie that some people might find as foolish and silly even for an R-rating movie but it shows that Martin, Reiner and co-writer George Gipe were willing to push the envelope.

Having someone like Griffin play a serial killer is one of the best cameos ever, especially considering there’s a subtle hint when Delores is watching The Merv Griffin Show earlier in the movie. This is a parody of how thrillers would (and still do) have characters around whose function is only to be revealed as the killer in the end. The movie does end with a fatphobic joke that hasn’t aged too well even if it’s intentions are well-meaning.

Some people have argued that Michael running around Vienna searching for a woman to kill was a criticism of misogyny and male superficiallly. Turner said she took the role because it wasn’t the same female tokenism from other roles she was being offered. But you can’t go into a movie like this expecting too much social commentary. I think the movie more through comedy exposes how men view women as objects and how Delores is able to play on that to get what she wants.

Two Brains wasn’t as successful as The Jerk or All of Me, the last collaboration between Martin and Reiner. It only earned $10 million while the other two were big success. The Jerk reportedly made $100 million. Martin would later incorporate the surname Hfuhruhurr into a scene in i and take on darker comedy roles in Little Shop of Horrors, Novacaine and his hit TV show Only Murders in the Building.

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to enjoy a comedy/sci-fi horror movie like this.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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