|Title:||The Thing with Two Heads|
|02.02.09||Internet|| Ray Milland plays a transplant surgeon with severe arthritis and "terminal chest cancer" who perfects a procedure to transplant his head onto a healthy body; you know, to allow his genius to continue. The problem is that he's a racist and the only body they could find is that of a deathrow inmate who happens to be Rosey Grier. Of course he's wrongfully imprisoned so as soon as he wakes up with a honky head-mate, hijinks ensue.|
OK, there's a few points to make about this right up front:
-Some of the movies I'm watching this month kind of border on different genres. This one for instance is really more sci-fi than anything else, but it's still "known" as blaxploitation thanks to Milland's racism, this black doctor's pride, and I guess playing "Happy Day" over the end credits. So as a standard for my criteria, I'm going off Josiah Howard's awesome reference book: Blaxploitation Cinema. He actually includes a few I wouldn't (Silver Streak, Terminal Island, etc.) but it includes everything I do.
-Michael Viner was the music producer/consultant on this movie. The name is intimately familiar to me in a completely different context so I did a little googling and came up with a fact that severely biases my feelings toward this movie. The band Viner collected to score this film did so well that they released a couple albums afterward under the name Incredible Bongo Band. A lot of these songs were funky covers of rock standards, including a little track named Apache. The chorus of that recording, now known as the ultimate break in all of hip hop, is known to pretty much everyone thanks to the sugarhill gang ("Tonto! Kemosabe! Jump On It!"). So, in a certain sense, this movie created hip hop.
-I really like Ray Milland. He's not what I would call a great actor - sort of a poor man's Cary Grant at his best - although his performance in Lost Weekend is great. The real reason why I like him is Panic in Year Zero. When actors accumulate enough favors to direct a movie, I think it says a lot about who they are. Some are good (Ordinary People), some kind of suck (Albino Alligator), most are interesting (Tree's Lounge) and some are fucking bizarre. Like you watch it and wonder "he finally had the power to make a movie and THIS is what he chose?" Such is the case with Panic in Year Zero. One of my favorite movies by the way. Also, around the time of this movie he was either not afraid or forced by addiction to do some equally crazy shit like X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. So seeing him as a decrepit racist genius surgeon here is perfect.
All that said, I was in love with this movie for the first half. It took its time with the setup and everything seemed perfectly fine to my willing suspension of disbelief and William Smith's cameo was a nice surprise and they did this operation and everybody's reactions were great (my favorite reaction comes later in the film though when Rosey's woman sees him with a white boy head on his neck. No surprise at all. "You always get into the craziest shit!" and "is there anywhere else there's two of you?" is all she has to say on the subject), it's all rolling smoothly. Then there's a car chase. Which turns into a foot race. Which turns into the take-a-nap mother of all dirtbike vs. cop car races ever set in Bakersfield, USA, or the Earth. I think it actually times in at just under 30 minutes. Think about that. That's a third of the movie. It doesn't transcend time or space like Psycho from Texas but it runs neck and neck (pardon the pun) for length.
This is when I paid some bills and checked my email.
Eventually, the narrative returns and the conclusion looms. The ending is a smidge of a letdown but still pretty satisfying. All in all, a very fun movie that really should've been 70 minutes.
Feel like following along? Up tomorrow is a film I've had on VHS for at least a year and have never gotten around to seeing more than the trailer at the Alamo: The Black Godfather.