The Absent Minded Professor, by Albert W. Vogt III

Yes, I know there is an updated version of Disney’s The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), 1997’s Robin Williams led Flubber.  Whether you like it or not, Disney is always taking its older films and doing re-imaginings or remakes or whatever it is you want to call them.  There are so many of these that you could be tempted to accuse the mouse of being unoriginal.  Then again, they come up with a great deal of original content, so it is hard to say for certain.  My personal conspiracy theory is that their producers hope that people forget that these updated versions had already been done.  Sure, many of these contain nods (called “Easter eggs” today) to their forebears, but they are always aimed at younger audiences who were not alive when the first was made.  I have never seen Flubber, so I could not tell you whether this theory holds up with this specific example.  Still, because I am nerd, and always have been, I remember seeing The Absent-Minded Professor back when cable television was still a relatively new development, and the Disney Channel was one of the pioneering stations.  As with any new medium, you have to find stuff to fill up the airwaves.  Hence, we got this goofy comedy from 1961.  Ah, nostalgia, it just is not what it used to be. . . .

The Absent-Minded Professor is Ned Brainard (Fred MacMurray), and he is teaching a class on physical chemistry at the fictional Medfield College.  His evidently dangerous experiments before his worried class are about to conclude with him giving them homework for the weekend when he encounters a reminder that he is to get married at 8:30 that evening.  Remember the title.  The woman who is about to wed this flighty academic is the secretary to the school’s president, Betsy Carlisle (Nancy Olson).  Despite warnings from nearly everyone, including former beau Professor Shelby Ashton (Elliot Reid) from a rival school, and allusions to Professor Brainard missing two planned weddings already, she assures all that this time will be different.  The reason for her confidence is that she has his maid, Mrs. Chatsworth (Belle Montrose), on her side and trying to get him to keep this all-important appointment.  Of course, in the very minutes leading up to the appointed time, Professor Brainard is in his lab at home fiddling with his elaborate chemistry set and “trying to solve the secrets of the universe.”  Every time he begins to walk out the door to get ready, some part of the equation draws him back, and he continues working.  The result is an explosion that knocks him senseless and he once again does not get married.  When he comes to, he finds among the shattered pieces of his laboratory the focus of all his efforts: a metal container that begins floating.  Inside is a rubbery substance that bubbles out upon opening it.  It is the breakthrough for which he had been hoping, and its bounce seems to defy gravity, and he decides to name the material flubber.  His exuberance is such that he believes that telling Betsy about it will wash away any guilt he might have incurred for missing their wedding.  On the contrary, she appears to want nothing to do with him and rebuffs him at every turn.  Making matters worse is the fact that it looks like she is taking up once more with Professor Ashton.  He also has a difficult time getting anybody in the government to believe his new invention, though various heads of the military are more than interested.  What Professor Brainard needs is a practical demonstration of the substance, and the opportunity comes with Medfield’s basketball game.  With their best player out, they are getting badly beaten until, at halftime, he sneaks into their locker room and puts flubber on the team’s shoes.  With a literal new bounce in their step, they go on to a miraculous victory.  In the stands at the game is one of Medfield’s benefactors, Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn), whose son Biff (Tommy Kirk) is the aforementioned player who could not play for his school.  The reason for the absence is because Professor Brainard had failed him in his course, infuriating Alonzo.  What changes the greedy businessman’s attitude towards Professor Brainard is seeing the flying car the academic had rigged using flubber.  Seeing dollar signs, Alonzo tries to get Professor Brainard share the secret in a new business venture.  Professor Brainard refuses, intent on taking his findings to the government.  He is justified, too, as a number of generals finally arrive to see the substance at work.  Unfortunately, when the generals get into what they are told is a flying car, Alonzo had switched the vehicles to take the technology for himself.  With Betsy’s help, and with Alonzo bouncing uncontrollably outside his house thanks to Professor Brainard, they are able to get the real car and fly it to Washington D.C.  Along the way, they successfully dodge the United States’ military, which mistakes the levitating Model T as an enemy fighter.  With the substance in the hands that Professor Brainard intended, he is free to marry Betsy, and this is how our film concludes.

I laughed at The Absent-Minded Professor more than I thought I would going into it.  I have no recollection of when I saw it as a lad, but I do remember seeing it.  A large reason for my mirth were the corny antics of how they used flubber.  Watching the silliness of basketball players jump through the rafters in the gymnasium tickled.  There is also a great line said about the increasingly bouncing higher Alonzo, where one of the bystanders remarks that Alonzo will be in trouble in a few hours.  It is clean, too, but then again, this was Disney in 1961.  Still, I would not be doing my Catholic duty if I did not mention a brief moment during which I was irked.  If you have reached this portion of the review, and you have read others I have done, you can probably guess what I am going to say.  It is when Professor Brainard says that he is trying to solve the secrets of the universe.  I know I have mentioned this before, but Catholicism is not anti-science.  Speaking of secrets of the universe, one of the biggest ones, how it started, was originally proposed by a Belgian priest.  I am referring to the “Big Bang” theory, the actual theory and not the show.  Anyway, at least with Catholicism, Faith and science are not at odds, except on certain key matters.  The ultimate secrets of the universe are one of them, and I would argue beyond our understanding.  That is not to say that they are un-pursuable.  Yet, at the end of the day they will never completely counter one undeniable fact: that God is the source of it all.  New theories can come along, but they will never find a way of denying this truth.

I think The Absent-Minded Professor is fun, but again, I am a nerd.  Many do not enjoy older movies, and that is a shame.  It is in black and white, so that probably will not help.  Nonetheless, as I mentioned before, I was surprised by how much I laughed at the film.  It is appropriate for any audience, though not all audiences will likely enjoy it as they should.


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