Directed by Gérard Oury who co-wrote with Marcel Jullian and Danièle Thompson, 1969's The Brain, released domestically by Paramount Studios, tells the story of a small time crook/escaped convict named Arthur Lespinasse (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who, along with his fairly dim partner in crime Anatole (Bourvil), hatches a scheme to rob a train that is travelling from Paris to Brussels with a load of money onboard. Of course, this being a heist comedy and all, there are others who know about the loot and who have made their own plans to relieve the train of it. The two main thorns in the collective side of our likeable thieves are a crooked British officer named Colonel Carol Matthews (David Niven) and an Italian mobster named Frankie Scannapieco (Eli Wallach). Complicating matters further is the presence of an ambitious, albeit very mischievous, beauty named Sofia (Silvia Monti).
Nothing we haven't seen before in terms of plot, structure and storytelling, The Brain is nevertheless a very entertaining and funny picture. Very much a product of the late sixties in terms of the film's use of bright colors and pop sensibilities, Oury (who was just as prolific an actor as he was a director and as such, likely had a good understanding of how to coax great work out of his cast) ensures that the movie always looks great. With so much of it taking place on or centered around the train we get some interesting shots of the rather massive locomotive in action but so too do we get some striking wide angle shots of some beautiful European scenery as it makes its travels.
Additionally, the film obviously benefits from an incredibly strong cast. Jean-Paul Belmondo is perfect leading man material here. He's suave enough and tough enough that we can buy him in the part but he shows a great knack for comedic timing. The back and forth between his character and the more straight laced character played by Bourvil is the source of quite a bit of snappy dialogue while an incredibly manic performance from the perpetually awesome Eli Wallach finds that actor here at the top of his game. Niven is all class and smarmy charm, playing the type of role he's best at, while the stunning Silvia Monti is exactly that - stunning, particularly when she swings down the side of a white mansion wearing a black bikini and then has an outdoor shower!
Made very much in the style of the Pink Panther movies, played straight but full of inspired lunacy, The Brain occasionally veers off course for a few minutes but any time that does happen, and it's infrequent, it doesn't take long before the script conjures up another comedic set piece. As such, even at almost two hours in length the picture never seems to overstay its welcome. The whole thing builds to a ridiculous conclusion involving a replica of the Statue Of Liberty made to scale, though how the action moves from a train to a shipping dock... spoiling it wouldn't be any fun, right? An animated bit with the train also stands out as odd, as Niven's character uses an instructional cartoon to teach us all about train robberies.
Though a lot of the humor stems from pitting the various characters all set on the same goal against one another, there's a lot of funny little bits and pieces scattered about the background of the film that will reward the more attentive viewers out there. This, it stands to reason, gives the film more replay value than you might expect from a heist comedy. Whatever the movie may lack in originality it more than makes up for with some great performances, some interesting characters and a ridiculous amount of good, goofy fun.
It's worth noting that the version of The Brain included on this disc is the longer uncut French version that, according to Olive's packaging, runs about fifteen minutes longer than the edited U.S. cut of the movie (which was "released dubbed into English" - though apparently both English and French language versions were shot).
The Brain arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen from Olive Films. The elements used for this transfer appear to have been in pretty good shape, though some minor print damage does pop up here and there - tiny stuff, really, minor specks and the like, nothing too serious. Colors hold up well and if black levels aren't reference quality they're still pretty solid. There are no noticeable compression artifacts to point out nor are there any problems with edge enhancement, aliasing or noise reduction. Olive probably could have done a little bit of cleanup work here but that's not really their style. The results, however, are still pretty good.
The only audio option on the disc is a French language DTS-HD Mono mix with optional subtitles provided in English only (though there are a few scenes spoken in English, these are not subbed). Clarity and quality here is fine, there's maybe a tiny bit of hiss in a couple of spots if you really listen for it but otherwise the levels are well balanced, the score sounds good and the dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow.
Aside from a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extras on this disc at all.
The Brain succeeds more on the strength of its excellent cast than on originality or clever filmmaking but there are some good laughs to be had here and the plot moves at a pretty good pace. There's enough style on board to make the film an easy one to look at - if nothing else, this one will put a smile on your face and if Olive's disc is barebones, it looks and sounds fine and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.