Review of “The Thing with Two Heads” (1972)

trailer from YouTube

This was our Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. Garlic pizza. Yum. But, aside from that, I remembered watching this flick on something called broadcast television back in the day. It’s one of those movies that’s so bad it’s almost good.


Brilliant surgeon and icky racist Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) is dying but wants his superior intellect to live on—you know, for the good of humanity. To that end, he’s been experimenting with transplanting heads on gorillas. (The punchline is too easy. I—must—resist.) His method of grafting a new head on is to temporarily leave the body with two heads until the new one takes, then cut the old one off. Dr. Kirshner describes this to his pal, Dr. Philip Desmond (Roger Perry), who accepts the absurdity (x-rays included) with a straight face and a gasp or two of wonder.

An emergency occurs when the gorilla subject makes up both of its minds to escape. After emptying out a crowded bodega, it enjoys two bananas at once, leading to its recapture.

Dr. Kirshner’s health takes a turn for the worse. His medical team scours whatever places one might for a patient whose body is healthy but whose head is injured beyond repair. Nope, no cancer. Out of desperation, they turn to death row with an offer for those about to die. Donate your body to science? You’ll still die, but you’ll miss the electric chair. Hmmm… oddly no takers until—

Jack Moss (Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier), a large black man, has always maintained his innocence. Today is his date with Old Sparky. As he’s being strapped in and the minister is reading to him from the good book, he smiles and says, “You know, I’d like to donate my body to science.”

The authorities take him to Kirshner’s house (where he has a suitable mad scientist lab set up). There, the surgical team operates.

Kirshner wakes up first. He feels good. His arms feel stronger than they have years. He brings his hand up with some effort and realizes something’s different.

“Is this a joke?” he demands of Desmond.

He’s not half as disappointed as Moss is, who, declining to be sedated, escapes custody. Most of the rest of the movie involves destroying police vehicles on a motocross course.


While the special effects are hokey at best, the movie presents several great visuals, such as a two-headed gorilla with banana smeared over both muzzles looking up in disappointment when it realizes it’s busted. Not to mention the visual of a two-headed gorilla running down a nice suburban street, chased in a van by Dr. Desmond and his associate.

Our heroes run into a motocross field. One driver abandons his bike in panic. Our heroes then steal the bike, and one thing leads to another. Eleven cops chase them—which is absurd in itself. We watch in slow motion as each car dies a painful death. While this scene goes on longer than necessary, it is silly and produces a snicker or two.

Hating Dr. Kirshner is easy. He’s not only a racist, turning down the services of skilled Dr. Fred Williams (Don Marshall) at his hospital because Williams is black, but repeatedly saying belittling and insulting things to the black people around him. (“Is that all you people think about?”). In one scene, Kirshner promises Williams a position, saying he knows he’s a fine doctor.

“All I have to do is cut off [Jack’s] head,” Dr. Williams says.

So, you were expecting Williams to agree before figuring that out?

The movie is silly and doesn’t take itself too seriously outside of one aspect: its withering view of white supremacy. At the same time, poor falsely-accused Jack might escape the electric chair, he commits a number of crimes that could land him in hot water: flight from custody, assault, assault on an officer, car thief, and assault with a deadly weapon, to name a few. At the end of the movie, he hasn’t cleared his name. Perhaps the writers didn’t want to cut the motocross scenes short to take the time to do that.

It’s a goofy movie with an absurd premise. I guess I shouldn’t look too closely for logic.

An album titled The Thing with Two Heads: Music Inspired by, was released in 1972. It included songs from the movie and others, such as “Take My Hand” by Sammy Davis, Jr. and “O Happy Day” by The Mike Curb Congregation.

The movie can be watched on YouTube here.

Title: The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

Directed by
Lee Frost

Writing Credits
Lee Frost…(screenplay) &
Wes Bishop…(screenplay) and
James Gordon White…(screenplay)
Lee Frost…(story) and
Wes Bishop…(story)

Cast (in credits order)
Ray Milland…Maxwell Kirshner
Roosevelt Grier…Jack Moss (as “Rosey” Grier)
Don Marshall…Dr. Fred Williams
Roger Perry…Dr. Philip Desmond
Chelsea Brown…Lila

Released: 1972
Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Rated: PG

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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