“The Man With Two Brains” (1983, Warner Archives Collection) Steve Martin plays a brilliant brain surgeon saddled with two unfortunate realities: an unpronounceable last name (Hfuhruhurr) and a gold-digging, possibly homicidal wife (Kathleen Turner). A solution to the second issue is found in the laboratory of eccentric scientist David Warner, who has found a way to keep brains alive after death – including one (voiced by Sissy Spacek) with whom Dr. H falls in love. The problem – how to put Anne’s brain in another woman’s body – sends Martin down a dark (if ridiculous) path that ultimately crosses both the police and the Elevator Killer, whose identity is one of the best gags in this very silly comedy from director Carl Reiner. Those familiar with Martin’s more recent, family-friendly feature efforts will appreciate seeing him in full-bore wild/crazy mode, bolstered by a script he co-wrote with Reiner and George Gipe that carpet-bombs viewers with gleefully absurd gags, most of which land on target. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray offers remastered image and sound that showcases the late Joel Goldsmith‘s pulpy electronic score.
“Seven Beauties” (1975, Kino Lorber) Tracing the arc of a fool – specifically, Pasqualino “Seven Beauties” (Oscar-nominated Giancarlo Giannini), would-be tough guy, world class dupe – through a series of increasingly tragic situations, from murder to war to incarceration in a Nazi prison camp, each of which he survives through a combination of wheedling and self-debasement. This Italian-languge, profoundly black comedy minted Lina Wertmuller (“Swept Away”) as the first woman to net an Oscar nomination for Best Director, and deservedly so: in a sea of bleak set pieces – most notably in the camp sequence, where Giannini is forced to seduce the grotesque commandant (Shirley Stoler from “The Honeymoon Killers,” and Mrs. Steve from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”!) in order to stay alive – Wertmuller is able to find humor and affirmation and even a call to arms to viewers against the complacency and ignorance that fuels Pasqualino’s fate, which provides “Seven Beauties” with a tough-love relevancy for our current situation. As Allison Anders (“Gas Food Lodging”) notes in her superb essay that accompanies the disc, “it’s hard to believe that a film that can take you to the very pit of despair can be so stunningly freeing to experience as this.” Kino’s Blu-ray includes liner notes by film historian Claudia Consolari, which addresses criticism levied at the film for its perceived misogynistic tone, as well as a vintage interview with Wertmuller and a newer conversation with director Amy Hecklering .
“After the Storm” (2016, Film Movement) Disappointment hangs over the family of Hiroshi Abe like dark clouds: his career as a novelist has spun out, and he gambles away his meager earnings as a private detective, which causes strife with his ex-wife and son, already saddled with the prospect of life with her new, overachieving boyfriend; only his mother (Kirin Kiki), appears to content, albeit in a slow-motion community of seniors. So it’s appropriate that a storm – specifically, a typhoon – forces this unhappy unit to examine the possibility for forgiveness and something like common ground. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who specializes in meticulous examinations of the fault lines that run through everyday lives (“Like Father, Like Son”), works in similar territory here, mining rueful humor and intimate conflict from the simple story; you won’t find a tidy ending here, but you do get an honest, sometimes uncomfortable and very real drama about very real people, which helped the picture earn an Un Certain Regard nomination at Cannes in 2016. Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and the short film “The Last Dream,” about a future in which people have lost the ability to dream.
“Three O’ Clock High” (1987, Shout Factory) High school student Casey Siemaszko makes the mistake of touching super bully Richard Tyson, which sets in motion a parking lot showdown at the titular hour. Broad but well-remembered comedy – co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Aaron Spelling, among others – has a likable cast of newcomers (especially Siemaszko and Tyson, now prolific character actors) and vets (Philip Baker Hall, Jeffrey Tambor and John P. Ryan as various authority figures), a score by Tangerine Dream and style to spare, boosted by cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld; director Phil Joanou would go onto to oversee the U2 documentary “Rattle and Hum.” Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray offers commentary by Joanou, who discusses his relationship with Spielberg and points out various cameos (Paul Feig as a hall monitor), as well as interviews with writers Richard Christian Matheson and Tom Szolossi.
“The Big Knife” (1955, Arrow Video) Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) used to be an actor, but now he’s a movie star, and he wants out. Fame has cost him his integrity and his marriage to Ida Lupino, so he refuses to renew his multi-year contract, which prompts volcanic studio boss Rod Steiger to play a dark trump card: the truth behind a fatal hit-and-run that Charlie thought long buried. Few Hollywood-is-Hell dramas (“The Player,” “The Bad and the Beautiful”) regard their subject with such unrestrained venom as this Robert Aldrich drama, adapted from the play by Clifford Odets; the dialogue (by James Poe) occasionally tips into hysteria and sanctimony, but Aldrich’s direction is ripe and steeped in shadows (courtesy cinematographer Ernest Laszlo), and the cast is solid, with Palance and Steiger holding down the cool and hot sides and Lupino and Shelley Winters (doomed starlet) in the middle, though the most memorable turn comes from Wendell Corey as Steiger’s blandly homicidal assistant. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes commentary by critics Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton, who discuss, in particular, the translation of Odets’ source material to film; there’s also a fine 1972 documentary on Saul Bass, who designed the film’s stark credits sequence, among many others (“Psycho“) and the original theatrical trailer.
Also: Warner Archives Collection has just issued a Blu-ray edition of “The Illustrated Man” (1969), director Jack Smight’s hit-and-miss adaptation of three stories from Ray Bradbury’s collection of the same name, which Dukey Flyswatter reviewed here. The new release includes the trailer and making-of featurette, which showcases the elaborate makeup work involved in transforming star Rod Steiger into the title character, that were featured on the DVD.
I remember vividly The Man with Two Brains. I went to the cast and crew screening with my friend Scot Scalise, who was the apprentice editor for the film editor, Bud Molin. Steve Martin was at the screening too. Even though most of the people there had worked on it and seen it already countless times, everyone was rolling in the aisles and laughing hard. It’s well worth seeing!
Man with Two Brains, along with Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, doesn’t get the same degree of appreciation that The Jerk or All of Me earn, probably because they weren’t as successful at the box office. I think they’re both as funny as those other, better known titles.