Remembering The Man With Two Brains

Carl Reiner has a long and storied body of work, from The Dick Van Dyke Show and the 2000 Year Old Man to Fatal Instinct.  And if you've never seen Where's Poppa?, you really should.  But the first thing that springs to my mind whenever I hear his name is his classic series of comedies with Steve Martin.  Four brilliant films in a row, each of which is represented to various degrees on home video...  The Jerk finally has a decent special edition by way of Shout Select, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is available on barebones MOD blu and sadly, All Of Me still only has a fullscreen DVD to its name.  And The Man With Two Brains?
"Two brains" is apt here, as the pair did their best work together.  Reiner's penchant for non-stop gags and parody combined with Martin's gifts with the absurd form a uniquely silly voice that hits brilliant peaks.  Even if they don't manage to quite sustain it the entire running time, they always keep things cheery and fast paced to hold your engagement the whole time, which is still more than you can say for most of the competition.  Honestly, the older I get, the fewer comedies I really feel like I need to keep in my collection... the same old jokes dipped in barely different contexts, different faces doing the same acts.  But every time I revisit once of these four, I'm freshly impressed and cracking up all over again.
This time, Martin plays a brain surgeon in their most madcap venture yet, about mad scientists, love, brain transplants and of course... murder.  They've assembled an impressive supporting cast including Kathleen Turner, horror legend David Warner, a disembodied Sissy Spacek, Merv Griffin and yes, that is Jeffrey Combs preparing to operate.  Production designer Polly Platt gives 1983's TMWTB a stylish look, too, which sticks with you like none of its peers have managed.  This film got knocked around pretty roughly by critics in its time, but I think they'd all sing another tune trying to find a comedy that delivers comparable laughs today.
In 1999, Warners first released TMWTB on DVD as a basic, barebones fullscreen release in an infamous snapper case.  And for almost a decade, that was pretty much our only option.  But in 2006, Warners quietly released it on the UK... with a remastered widescreen transfer!  I was psyched when I figured this out, and if DVDExotica existed back then, you'd've had a post all about it.  But since then, Warner Bros brought that widescreen transfer to the US, first as a 2014 MOD DVD in their Archives collection, and much more excitingly, as a proper blu-ray in 2017.
1) US 1999 WB DVD; 2) UK 2006 WB DVD; 3) 2017 US WB BD.
The one thing you can say about Warner's original DVD is that at least it was mostly open matte.  Their 1.33:1 transfer does trim a little off the sides, but it's mostly just revealing excess vertical information.  At 1.78:1, both the widescreen DVD and blu are probably revealing a bit of excess vertical information, too; but we're close enough.  The blu-ray corrects a little vertical stretching, though, bringing back a bit of that vertical image along the bottom.  Moving beyond the framing, the blu is clearly using an old master, so it's not the most perfectly captured fine detail, with grain often MIA.  But getting rid of all that smudgy compression weighing the DVDs down alone is a big improvement.

Each disc features the original English mono, but it's bumped up to DTS-HD on the blu.  The original DVD doesn't have any subs, but the import has a bunch of options, including the English, a second English HoH track, French, Icelandic, Italian and an Italian HoH track.  The blu-ray boils it down to just the one English HoH track, which is fine.
Unfortunately, no matter which edition you go with, this film is barebones.  The US DVD has nothing (and the same goes for that 2014 Archives DVD), while the UK DVD just has a random commercial for their James Dean Collection.  The 2017 blu-ray at least finally gives us the proper TMWTB trailer, but it's pretty paltry when you think about the kind of delightful special edition we could've had: Reiner's done some great commentaries, and this film has some cherished deleted scenes ("You've cooked her Z's!") that are being left woefully unavailable to the fans.
So I do recommend Warner's blu; it's unquestionably the best edition going of a movie everybody should own.  And while Warner Archives is great in that they get good, quality editions of a lot of films that've been in need of them, it's a bit of a curse, too, in that it means almost no WB titles will get licensed to the boutique levels that would really give them the special care they deserve.  So it's also the best this film's going to get in a very long time, if not forever.  R.I.P. Carl Reiner.

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