In The Balcony

Olive Films BD $29.95, DVD $ 24.95
Dir. Lee Frost
With Ray Milland, 'Rosey" Grier, Don Marshall, Roger Perry
An American-International Picture, 1972

When one thinks of the grand history of U.S. exploitation pictures of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, one is actually thinking specifically of American-International Pictures, of course, purveyors of monster movies, juvenile delinquents, and rock 'n' roll films in their early era (The Day the World Ended, Girls in Prison, Rock All Night, I was a Teenage Werewolf) and on into beach parties (Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini) and motorcycle epics (Wild Angels, The Glory Stompers) in the '60s. The 1970s, with costs rising, meant jumping on whatever trend seemed profitable, with the occasional winner (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Count Yorga Vampire) making up for Yog - Monster from Space and The Bat People.

A particularly profitable milieu, though, was the so-called Blaxploitation craze of the early '70s; Slaughter, Black Mama White Mama, Blacula, Coffy, and Black Caesar were all huge hits for AIP. None of them, however, were as fun, funny, or entertaining as The Thing with Two Heads (1972), a sort-of follow-up to the previous year's The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. Sort of.

Talk about your high-concept pitch: A white bigot billionaire dying of cancer has his head amputated and put on the body of a black man who's about to be executed for a crime he didn't commit. Before they can complete the transformation by removing the Black guy's head, though, he takes control of the body and escapes, looking for a way to dump the grumpy appendage AND prove his innocence. Friends, this is pure cinematic art.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Bigot to Doctor: "You mean you're actually considering helping this escaped murderer?!!?"
Other Head: "YOU the murderer! Trying to cut off MY head!"
Bigot: "That's different!"

Rosey's girlfriend, on seeing him for the first time after the operation: "Do you have two of anything else?"

Ray Milland had a shiny Academy Award for Best Actor (The Lost Weekend) on his mantle when he signed on late in life for X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The Premature Burial, Frogs, and this one, but who's to judge a workin' man? 'Rosey' Grier is imposing without being an actor, sort of in the way Andre the Giant was in The Princess Bride; the rest of the cast maintains a straight face, important with material like this. Fabled makeup man Rick Baker gives us a two-headed gorilla (a dry run for the bigot's cabeza) and the special effects, much of which concern themselves with a fake version of Ray Milland's head strapped to Rosey's shoulder, ranging from technically impressive to hilariously stupid.

Olive Films' Blu-ray is a beaut, no bonus material but gorgeous picture (1.85:1) and sound. A fan favorite and highly recommended.


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