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Bird in the Head, A

Entry updated 25 October 2022. Tagged: Film.

Short US film (1946). Columbia Pictures. Directed by Edward Bernds. Written by Bernds. Cast includes Vernon Dent, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Moe Howard, Frank Lackteen, Art Miles (uncredited) and Robert Williams. 16 minutes. Black and white.

Hired to put wallpaper on the walls of a room in the home of the Mad Scientist Professor Panzer (Dent), the Three Stooges (at the time Fine, Curly Howard, and Moe Howard) do a predictably inept job and are promptly fired by Panzer's associate Beedle (Williams). They flee into Panzer's laboratory, and the scientist is elated because he is planning to transplant a human brain into the body of his caged gorilla (Miles) (see Identity Transfer), which he believes will make him rich and famous; and he thinks that Larry's brain is small enough to make the operation a success. Initially believing that he is hiring them to work, the Stooges are escorted by the professor into a luxurious room, but he locks the door to keep them confined. They are soon visited by the gorilla, who attacks them before they can elude him. Back in the laboratory, the Stooges figure out Panzer's nefarious intent and run away, whereupon they again meet the gorilla; this time, he seems less menacing and actually takes a liking to Larry. When they again go to the laboratory, Panzer enters via a secret entrance with a machine gun, announcing that he wishes to kill them all. But the gorilla grabs the weapon and, firing wildly, apparently kills the professor, enabling the Stooges to escape along with Larry's newfound gorilla friend.

The film's title references a scene in which Panzer scans Curly's brain and sees the silhouette of a cuckoo clock, literally identifying Curly as a "bird brain". Undoubtedly inspired by several horror films of the 1930s and 1940s (see Horror in SF) featuring planned or completed brain transplants, some involving gorillas, the film may be unique in recognizing that only an unusually small human brain could fit inside a gorilla's head, since gorilla brains are typically about one-third the size of human brains; arguably, this makes the film a rare instance in which a farcical comedy is more scientifically accurate than comparable films that are ostensibly more serious. Of course, the film is also perpetuating the myth that there is a relationship between brain size and Intelligence, since Curly's dim-wittedness is clearly attributed to his small brain. Given his eventual resort to violence, there is possible significance in Panzer's name, a well-known German tank, but he does not have the German accent which would suggest any connection with historical events. There is otherwise little that is especially memorable about this film, with its emphasis on typical Stooges antics. A contemplated brain transplant from a human to a gorilla figures in another Stooges short, Spooks! (1953). [GW]

see also: Three Stooges Films.


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