The Thing with Two Heads (1972)
Starring Rosey Grier, Ray Milland, Don Marshall, Roger Perry, Chelsea Brown, Kathrine Baumann, John Dullaghan
Directed By Lee Frost
I can get behind any film that casts an Academy Award winning actor alongside ex-defensive tackle Rosie Grier as a half bigot, half convict… thing with two heads. In concept alone, this film is a stroke of genius. You can tackle the race issue with slow burning drama ala Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, or dress it up in the guise of a police investigation like they did with In the heat of the Night. But it takes a real visionary to slap a racist-spouting, prosthetic Ray Milland head on Rosie Greer’s shoulder and call it a day.
The Thing with Two Heads could have a brilliant statement, forever ridding the world of racism and making boys and girls of all colors join hands and sing in the streets, but instead it decides that what we really need to mend hate and end injustice are a shitload of car chases and dirtbike races! Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t need no message up in my movies in order for me to appreciate them. I can get along just fine with explosions, dismemberment, or lasers. But this film sets itself up for some very interesting opportunities and chooses not to explore them. Dawn of the Dead is a great film because it has the blood, gore, and head-explosions that we all know and love, but it also mines its own premise to reveal maybe just a little something about human nature and society at large without sacrificing all of that fun stuff.
This is a very convenient coincidence because Max soon realizes that he has lung cancer and has but a few days to live. He sends his medical team out on an all points bulletin for a candidate willing to donate their body to science so he can have his men perform the body grafting experiment with his own head! After a prolonged search the team comes up empty-handed until the lieutenant governor allows a single death row inmate the opportunity to act as donor for the project.
The operation goes off without a hitch. Max finally wakes and realizes, to his horror that his head has been grafted to a black man’s body! In addition to being one of the world’s greatest minds, Dr. Max is also a shameless bigot of the highest order, having nearly fired one of his most qualified doctors simply after realizing he was black. This of course leads to some pretty funny exchanges between the two-headed Ray / Rosie combo as the two go back and forth as Dr. Max gets all purple in the face while calling Rosie a “Black bastard” over and over again. Rosie does a good job of blowing him off since he has more important things to do, like proving his innocence. Still in control of the body, Rosie breaks out of the facility as soon as he gets an opportunity, with Dr. Max’s head in tow. Authorities are called into action and immediately give chase to the two-headed monster.
It’s at this point that the film kind of hits a brick wall. Instead of cherishing this beautiful cultural exchange and milking every opportunity it has to offer, it decides to give us car chase after car chase. Granted some of them are good, great even… And if you ever thought the mere mention of big ass Rosie Grier on a tiny dirtbike was hilarious, just wait until you see him doing that with a rubber Ray Milland head flopping all over the place… But It begins to get old fast, and when you hear whirring sirens and mutterings of “You black bastard!” for the fifteenth time, you really start to wish these two could just sort out their differences in a quiet room somewhere.
I guess not. And this film fares worse off for it. You have to eventually get to this one, if only for the mere spectacle of it all. But don’t go in expecting groundbreaking social commentary packed beneath the cheap veneer of a B-movie.