In the late 1970s producer David V. Picker was persuaded by a friend to see up-and-coming comedian Steve Martin on stage. Picker had never heard of him but was impressed enough by his oddball comic genius that he signed him for a movie deal with the esteemed Carl Reiner directing. The result was "The Jerk", which turned out to be a smash hit upon its release in 1979. Martin seemed set for a meteoric rise in the movie industry but he stumbled badly with his second film, the bizarre, downbeat and ill-advised "Pennies from Heaven". Hoping to recapture his celluloid mojo, Martin soon teamed again with Picker and Reiner for "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", an inspired film noir spoof that, through the technology of the day, allowed Martin to "star" with cinematic legends of bygone eras. Despite favorable reviews, the film was too unconventional for mainstream audiences and under-performed. Undeterred, Martin, Picker and Reiner teamed for a third time in 1983 on what seemed to be a sure-fire spoof of horror films, "The Man with Two Brains", co-written by Martin, Reiner and George Gipe. The film seemed certain to draw in the audiences that had packed theaters a decade before for Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein"- but alas, "Brains" also laid an egg. Martin would soldier on in films until he finally scored some hits, but the fact of the matter is that some of his best work was done in some of his least-seen films, "The Man with Two Brains" among them.
As the title certainly implies, the film is based on a zany premise. Martin plays Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (the name itself is the basis of many hilarious gags in the film), a world-respected brain surgeon who has perfected the "screw-off" method of removing the top of a patient's skull. He's a rich egotist but he's also despondent over the recent death of his beloved wife, with whom he enjoyed the kinky habit of eating lunch off her behind. Meanwhile we meet Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner), a vivacious man-eater who has just finished abusing her elderly millionaire husband to the point that he has a fatal heart attack- only to learn that he had changed his will so that she won't inherit anything. Fleeing the house in anger, Dolores steps in front of Michael's car and suffers a traumatic brain injury. Instantly obsessed by her beauty, he performs a life-saving operation. Upon awakening, Dolores senses that Michael is a trusting, naive soul who she can instantly manipulate. Before long, the two are married - a plot device that sets in motion a running gag about how the perpetually horny Michael has to keep chaste while he waits for his wife to recover from her medical problems (even though she is sleeping with hunky guys at every opportunity.) Her motive is to ultimately manipulate- and presumably kill- her husband without ever having to consummate the marriage- especially when she learns he has just inherited millions from a deceased relative.
Most of the action is set in Vienna, where Michael is attending a brain surgeons conference. Although it's obvious that the closest anyone in the production got to Austria was a Vienna sausage lunch cart in Hollywood, the change in locale opens the story up to more exotic aspects. Michael meets Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner), a fellow nutty professor who has a Universal Monsters-style laboratory constructed in his urban condo. The two men form a friendship- but it's challenged when Michael falls in love with one of his new friend's experiments, the disembodied brain of a lovely lady who he can communicate with by telepathy. In one of the funniest scenes, he takes his new love out for a spin in a rowboat- and puts a hat on the glass jar to prevent "her" from getting sunburned. Meanwhile, a clever subplot is introduced in which Vienna is being terrorized by the mad "Elevator Killer" who offs his victims by injecting them with window cleaner! (The unmasking of the villain's identity is one of the laugh-out-loud moments in the film.) To continue to explain the story line as though it were logical would be an exercise in futility. Suffice it to say, "The Man with Two Brains" is Steve Martin at his best. The film is packed with many hilarious scenarios and sight gags- and Kathleen Turner adds immeasurably to the fun with a spot-on performance as the evil femme fatale. Carl Reiner proved to be the perfect director for Martin and the films they did together hold up well today.
The Warner Blu-ray release is quite welcome and will hopefully allow the uninitiated to enjoy the many pleasures of this film. The only bonus extra is an original trailer which, bizarrely, doesn't mention or credit Kathleen Turner, who had already achieved major stardom from her appearance in "Body Heat".