Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Absent Minded Professor (1961) at the Walt Disney Studios

Today was another great D23 event at Walt Disney Studios, a "50 and Fabulous" anniversary screening of THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR. THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR was first released on March 16, 1961.

This was my very first time to see the film, which I found quite enjoyable. This was a movie early in Fred MacMurray's happy association with Disney; it was preceded by THE SHAGGY DOG (1959) and would be followed by BON VOYAGE! (1962), the ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR sequel SON OF FLUBBER (1963), FOLLOW ME, BOYS! (1966), THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (1967), and CHARLEY AND THE ANGEL (1973).

MacMurray plays Professor Ned Brainard, who is so absent-minded that he somehow misses his date at the altar with lovely Betsy (Nancy Olson) three times!

The professor invents a flying rubber substance he calls "flubber," which bounces sky-high and can also power a flying automobile. The simple plot involves the professor trying to get his invention to the government, although greedy Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn) is determined to have it himself. Meanwhile, the professor tries to keep Betsy out of the clutches of Shelby Ashton (Elliott Reid), a professor at a rival college.

The film is amusing but a bit slow out of the starting gate, but it builds to a strong second half as Ned and Betsy reunite to battle Alonzo Hawk and get to Washington, D.C.

MacMurray makes the movie, as he completely "sells" the unlikely story, while also managing to keep the professor likeable despite his rudeness to Betsy. In Charles Tranberg's biography of MacMurray, Nancy Olson aptly described MacMurray's performance as "so real and yet with extraordinary humor."

Olson, playing the long-suffering and patient Betsy, is charming, as always. Like MacMurray, Olson had a rewarding career with Disney over a number of years, starting with POLLYANNA (1960) and continuing with SON OF FLUBBER (1963), SMITH! (1969) and SNOWBALL EXPRESS (1972). SNOWBALL EXPRESS is a fond memory of childhood moviegoing experiences with my grandfather, who was always up to take us to the latest Disney film.

One of the funniest sequences in the film occurs when Keenan Wynn's character can't stop bouncing up and down, thanks to "Flubber." The fire truck rolls up to help, and the befuddled fire chief is none other than Ed Wynn, who drew a nice round of applause from the audience. Both Wynns had long associations with Disney; this was Keenan Wynn's first film with the studio, while Ed Wynn's first Disney feature was a decade earlier, when he voiced the Mad Hatter in ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951).

Elliott Reid, who plays MacMurray's romantic rival, had also appeared with MacMurray in WOMAN'S WORLD (1954). Leon Ames is the President of Medfield College, while Tommy Kirk plays Keenan Wynn's son.

The cast is filled with actors whose faces are familiar, even if their names aren't widely known. James Westerfield is particularly funny as a coffee-drinking cop. Other actors in the large cast include Edward Andrews, David Lewis, Wally Boag, Belle Montrose, Forrest Lewis, Gage Clarke, Maudie Prickett, Gregg Palmer (Palmer Lee), and the voice of Paul Frees.

I didn't recognize it, but according to IMDb, the college exteriors were filmed at the picturesque University of Nevada at Reno. You can read more about the University's movie history in a previous post on MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949).

This film was directed by Robert Stevenson, who also directed Disney classics such as OLD YELLER (1957) and MARY POPPINS (1964). Two years later Stevenson reunited with most of the cast to film a sequel, SON OF FLUBBER (1963).

This 92-minute movie is available on DVD.

The black and white print shown today was absolutely pristine. It was a treat that D23 had some very high quality posters for the film, on heavy stock, on sale after the film. I purchased one, photographed here and shown on the left.

For those who care about such trivia, I noticed that while all the film's posters present the title as THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR, with a hyphen, the movie's opening credits are missing the hyphen. While I've used the hyphen in the past, I consider title credits the final word and thus have dropped the hyphen here.

Related Posts: Tonight's Movie: Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009) and a Visit to Walt Disney Studios; Tonight's Movie: Tangled (2010) at the Walt Disney Studios; Tonight's Movie: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) at the Walt Disney Studios.

Update: Here's an article on the movie by Jim Fanning of D23.


Blogger Audrey said...

My mom always liked Fred MacMurray, so we grew up watching a lot of his old Disney flicks. They are all enjoyable family films. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I 'Charley and the Angel' being especially funny. Thanks for the review. It must have been a great experience to see this film on the big screen.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

This sounds like a fun movie. Follow Me, Boys! is one of our family's new favorites - Elliott Reid plays MacMurray's rival again, this time over Vera Miles.

7:32 AM  

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