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Review: The Thing With Two Heads (1972)

by Ursa McKracken – electronsexparty.blogspot.com

Best Bad Quote:

“Honey, I was wondering… uh, do you have two of anything else?”

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The trailer for the film so succinctly sums up the major plot points with these two sentences: “It seemed like a good idea at the time. The white bigot was dying the black soul brother needed time to prove his innocence.” With lines that ridiculous I bet you’re thinking that The Thing with Two Heads is the epitome of camp, with its outrageousness culminating in the most awesome movie ever made. Well, you’d be wrong. Though, that’s not to say that this film doesn’t have any redeeming features.

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Of the hour and thirty minute run time, the first fifty minutes is a somewhat interesting drama concerned with racism that, unfortunately, seems such a distinct disconnect with what one was expecting based on the trailer. The disparity between what you are expecting and what you get makes it hard to enjoy the film. Well, that, and it’s rather boring for most of that fifty minutes too. After that, we get two chase sequences that are fun at first, and more in line with what we are expecting. But, they are not fun enough to really sustain twenty-five minutes and become repetitive. The fifteen minute quick-fix finish ends with an unsatisfying, but hilariously abrupt ending.

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The white bigot, Dr. Kirshner (Ray Milland), is a surgeon who has been experimenting with a way to transplant a head from a dying body onto the body of another, allowing the new head to ultimately take control of the body. After a month or so, the old head is removed. Dr. Kirshner is comatose and dying of chest cancer, so his right hand man must make a quick decision: let the old man die or transplant his head onto the body of a black death row prisoner Jack Moss (played by Rosey Grier) who, at  the last minute, decided to donate his body to science in hope that he would gain more time to prove his innocence. What the “black soul brother” didn’t count on was that he would wake up with the head of a racist old white man attached to him and sneering in his ear.

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As Dr. Kirshner doesn’t have control of his new body yet, Jack escapes and takes along not only the reluctant head of the bigot, but also the brilliant Dr. Williams. In one of the more compelling scenes in the first part, Dr. Kirshner wrongs Dr. Williams in a confrontation that cements the fact that Dr. Kirshner is a bigot in a believable way- in a way that is unsettling in its unfairness and wrongness. Dr. Kirshner meets Dr. Williams for the first time after hiring him based on just his excellent credentials. However, after he discovers that the Dr. Williams is black, he tries to back out of their employment contract by saying that something unexpected has come up. Unfortunately for Dr. Kirshner, there is no “Void if the man you hire is black” clause and Dr. Williams is allowed to work out his time allotted in the contract after an uncomfortable confrontation.

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After the confrontation Dr. Kirshner has an excellent line in defense of his actions that sums up his stupidity and bigotry perfectly. He says: “I just got carried away by some superficial accomplishments before interviewing the man.” He doesn’t say that Dr. Williams is only a brilliant doctor if he can’t see the color of his skin, that the perceived wrongness of being black supersedes his excellent accomplishments. The wrongness of his dark skin now defines him, and thus relegates his accomplishments to a superficial, unimportant status. That it doesn’t occur to Dr. Kirshner that he is making decisions based on the superficiality of skin color would be hilarious in its idiocy if it weren’t so terrible and so true to life.

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The rest of the film involves Jack and Dr. Williams running from the cops. Because this is the 1970’s, the duo, along with the reluctant head of Dr. Kirshner, end up at a motocross rally where they steal a bike. The subsequent chase scene results in a couple of cops crashing their cars at multiple angles- I mean, fourteen doofy cops crashing their cars in wacky ways. The end of the film comes rather quick, as I’ve said. And, though it’s rather unsatisfying, the sheer absurdity of the last two scenes will make you laugh.

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This film had its moments. At times it was intentionally and unintentionally funny. And, despite the ridiculous premise, the bigotry of the Dr. Kirshner was believably written. The problem is that the movie gets bogged down by, well, nothingness. There are so many long stretches of nothing, especially with the twenty-five minute chase scene, that watching becomes a test of patience.

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I almost just want to recommend the trailer for this movie, as it really boils the film down to its best components. But, then you’d miss the magnificent last two scenes. So, I recommend that you watch the trailer and then watch the end of the movie. Five minutes of its best parts, without all the nothing, is really the only way you can enjoy the absurdity of The Thing with TwoHeads.

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Rating:

2 1/2 out of 5 Two-Headed Gorillas

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