Brain Donors

Brain Donors (1992) is an American comedy film released by Paramount Pictures, loosely based on the Marx Brothers comedies A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races (the first two films the Marx Brothers did after leaving Paramount). The film co-stars John Turturro, Mel Smith, and Bob Nelson in the approximations of the Groucho, Chico, and Harpo roles, with Nancy Marchand in the Margaret Dumont dowager role.

Brain Donors
VHS cover
Directed byDennis Dugan
Produced byGil Netter
James D. Brubaker
Written byJames Kevin McGuinness (story)
George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind (screenplay "A Night at the Opera")
Pat Proft (screenplay)
Screenplay byPat Proft
Music byIra Newborn
CinematographyDavid M. Walsh
Edited byMalcolm Campbell
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • April 17, 1992 (1992-04-17) (U.S.)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$918,239 (USA)
For information about current medical research appeals, see Brain donation

The project was filmed as Lame Ducks; however, when the film's producers (David and Jerry Zucker) left for another studio, Paramount scrapped the publicity campaign, changed the title, and withdrew the film after its initial screenings. Brain Donors attracted attention on the home video market, which has resulted in a cult following according to its screenwriter, Pat Proft.


After the death of tycoon and philanthropist Oscar Winterhaven Oglethorpe, a ballet company is founded in his name by his widow, Lillian (Nancy Marchand). Ambulance-chasing attorney Roland T. Flakfizer (John Turturro) competes against Oglethorpe's former attorney, Edmund Lazlo (John Savident), to be director of the company. Lazlo is chosen for the position after signing the greatest ballet dancer in the world, Roberto "The Great” Volare (George de la Pena). Flakfizer — with assistance from his two associates Rocco (Mel Smith) and Jacques (Bob Nelson) — earns a spot as co-director by wooing the wealthy widow and by signing the company's leading ballerina (Juliana Donald, billed as Juli Donald) and her dancer boyfriend Alan Grant (Spike Alexander). The ensuing struggle between Flakfizer and Lazlo leads to comic hijinks, including a badger game involving a chorus girl (Teri Copley), and an opening-night performance ludicrously sabotaged by Flakfizer and his cohorts.

Cast and characters


Richard Harrington in his review for The Washington Post wrote, "It's all very busy, and in Zucker style there seem to be 10 jokes per minute, but most fly fast and fall flat."[1] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle felt that the film was "an audacious attempt actually to make them like they used to - with no apologies, no nostalgia. It's no masterpiece, but neither was every Marx Brothers movie."[2] In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Brain Donors will stop at very little to get its laughs, and Mr. Turturro has just the right silliness for the occasion."[3]


  1. Harrington, Richard (April 18, 1992). "Lamebrained Donors". The Washington Post.
  2. LaSalle, Mick (April 18, 1992). "Donors Right on the Marx". San Francisco Chronicle.
  3. Maslin, Janet (April 18, 1992). "A Night At the Ballet Run Amok". The New York Times.
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