The Archivist Volume X: Steve Martin in Forgotten Funnies With THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS [1983] and…

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand and Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

Welcome, new and returning friends, to The Archivist! I spent my time off during our last episode (a very special thanks to Austin Vashaw for gallantly taking the reins — do be sure to go back and read that if you haven’t already) to dig up a few forgotten treasures.

Now that it appears I will have to lose my overwhelming respect for Bill Cosby, I can still luxuriate in the yet untarnished body of hilarious work by the great Steve Martin. If you haven’t seen these flicks, do yourself a favor and correct that unfortunate business.

The Man With Two Brains [1983] Dir. Carl Reiner

I can’t fully wrap my head around how this movie could possibly not be considered an absurdist classic. This beast is more consistently funny (and by “consistently”, I mean it is never not funny) than half of Mel Brooks’ catalogue. As a slight send-up of old B Sci-fi movies, that’s an easy comparison, but The Man With Two Brains has more in common with the work of Leslie Nielsen or Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker. This is a send-up of everything. I was worried, after wiping tears away within the first ten minutes, that the movie was simply front-loaded with the great stuff, and would soon fizzle off into the same opacity as its own legacy. Not so. Like The Naked Gun, or Airplane, if you so much as sneeze while watching, you missed another great joke, and that much is true for the entire length of the film.

Somehow, in the midst of this totally bonkers script, giving even the Monty Python boys a run for their money, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, and George Gipe managed to craft a story with propulsion. It doesn’t rest on its thousands of jokes sewn into every line of dialogue. Instead, it gingerly guides every nutty gag through a structured plot, with legitimate motivations for its central characters, and I was surprised to be sitting there, still laughing about a joke from five minutes ago, excited to see how it would all end.

The film even boasts a fantastic cast of actors who were never funnier. Kathleen Turner plays a comically incautious femme fatale. The great David Warner (the TGRI scientist from Secret of the Ooze) is effortlessly funny, playing a scientist, of course. James Cromwell shows up for about three seconds and gets a laugh, and I wouldn’t dare spoil whom, but an old television icon has a truly hilarious cameo in a scene near the end.

It’s really a shame no one preaches the good word on this one. Buy it. Watch it on repeat. Tell everyone how funny it is.

My Blue Heaven [1990], Dir. Herbert Ross

I can’t say I was quite so enthusiastic while watching My Blue Heaven.

This here, is a damn interesting piece of work. Released one month prior to Goodfellas, this comedy is based on the same biography as Scorsese’s beloved drama, and can, in many ways, be considered an unofficial sequel to its far more successful successor. There is a lot of good going on in the movie, but it’s all just a little too much to swallow.

The script, written by the late Nora Ephron (Yeah… just say that one time out loud: Nora Ephron wrote the sequel to Goodfellas), is overflowing with sweetness, humor and magnetism. We would expect at least that much from the woman responsible for every decent romantic comedy ever made. It’s cute! I have no problem admitting it is adorable, but having seen Scorsese’s classic many times, knowing Ray Liotta’s character so well, I can’t help but get a little uncomfortable watching Steve Martin’s rendition.

The whole thing takes place before Henry Hill (called Vincent Antonelli, here) finished testifying against his former partners in crime, but right after he is has been placed in witness protection. Martin is in full stereotypical Italian swagger. He has the flashy hair, he has the flashy-er suit, and he strolls around his new middle-of-nowhere suburban surroundings saying “Fuhget aboud-it!” and such. You know… like a sketch comedian would. As much as I would like to be won-over by his wiseguy wiles, it is hard to watch all of these whacky farcical antics in the context of the disturbing barbarism I know came before his time under protective custody. It’s the kind of thing you have to see, just so you can know what you thought of it. Fortunately for you, whoever you are, you will also probably enjoy your time finding out.

Just like in The Man With Two Brains, My Blue Heaven also boasts an excellent cast doing some good work. Joan Cusack plays a lost and lonely District Attorney. A variety of familiar character actors appear as Vincent’s old friends who are now in the protection program, and Rick Moranis gives an excellent performance as (for the first time? The only time?) a regular guy. As the FBI agent assigned to keep Vicent in line until his court appearances, we don’t get the normal Moranis shtick. No super-nerdy stupidity, not that I have a problem with that, but it is truly refreshing to see him play an intelligent, human character. He wears the role rather well.

There you have it: an exciting pair of lost comedies starring some of everyone’s favorite people.

It’s double feature time!

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