(director: Robert Stevenson; screenwriters: Bill Walsh/story by Samuel W. Taylor; cinematographer: Edward Colman; editor: Cotton Warburton; music: George Bruns; cast: Fred MacMurray (Prof. Ned Brainard), Nancy Olson (Betsy Carlisle), Keenan Wynn (Alonzo P. Hawk), Tommy Kirk (Biff Hawk), Leon Ames (President Rufus Daggett), Edward Andrews (Defense Secretary), Elliott Reid (Shelby Ashton), Belle Montrose (Mrs. Chatsworth), Ed Wynn (Fire Chief), James Westerfield (Officer Hanson), , Edward Andrews (Defense Secretary); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walt Disney; Buena Vista; 1961)

“Disney produces a goofy lightweight Mack Sennett-like family comedy fantasy film that’s joyfully directed by Robert Stevenson.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Disney produces a goofy lightweight Mack Sennett-like family comedy fantasy film that’s joyfully directed by Robert Stevenson (“Mary Poppins”); it’s written by Bill Walsh from a story by Samuel W. Taylor. It was nominated for three Oscars: Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Art Direction, and Best Special Effects. How it lost in Special Effects to The Guns of Navarone is a real puzzler.

Fred MacMurray plays Professor Ned Brainard, an absent minded zany chemistry professor at the small-town Medfield College, who forgets twice to attend his own wedding, leaving pretty college secretary Betsy Carlisle (Nancy Olson) standing at the altar. The third time he misses it because he blows up his lab in a failed experiment that accidentally allows him to discover a rubbery substance with the elusive quality of anti-gravity, which he calls Flubber (flying rubber). He finds novel ways to use it; such as in the heel of his college basketball team’s sneakers, which enables them to leap higher than their rivals and to come from behind at halftime and beat the taller Rutland College, and inside the motor of his Model-T, which enables the car to fly.

The prof plans to let the government in on his secret to help them out, but he’s waylaid by unscrupulous loan shark businessman Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn), an oily alumnus of Medfield, who plans to call in his loan to the struggling college and thereby force it to close down. He then plans to put up in its place a real estate development that should be a windfall for him. But Hawk sees the potential for great profits in Ned’s invention and when the prof fails to go along with his greedy plans to blackmail the government to make a killing, he steals the Model-T before the military bigwigs can see it in action. The prof also tries to save the college from financial ruin with his Flubber discovery and win back his irate fiancée Betsy, who is now dating the self-important English professor at Rutland College named Shelby Ashton (Elliott Reid).

In the end the prof takes back the special car, leaves Hawk jumping aimlessly around while “flubberized,”and takes Betsy and his shaggy dog Charlie to Washington, D.C. in his flying car. The flying car gets by the Pentagon’s elaborate defense security system and lands on the White House lawn, whereby the President greets him as a national hero; he thereby saves his school and marries Betsy while in flight in his jalopy.

Due to its success, it was a much imitated formulaic film. But no other film in the series is nearly as good.

The Absent Minded Professor (1961)

REVIEWED ON 2/13/2007 GRADE: B  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/