The Absent-Minded Professor
 

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Robert Stevenson
Writers: Bill Walsh, Samuel W. Taylor
Cast:

  • Fred MacMurray — Professor Ned Brainard
  • Nancy Olson — Betty Carlisle
  • Keenan Wynn — Alonzo P. Hawk
  • Tommy Kirk — Biff Hawk
  • Elliott Reid — Professor Shelby Ashton

Walt Disney: 1961
black & white

96 minutes May 2008

  
Flubber: discovery, applications, anti-romance

The Absent-Minded Professor is a quite enjoyable science fiction film, with the science presented as blackboard gobbledygook and bubbling test-tube pipe-mazes, but integrated firmly within a well-plotted comedy. Professor Brainard of Mayfield College has a chemistry experiment go successfully awry, rather in the manner of the discovery of the vulcanization of rubber. The serendipitous invention he names flubber, for flying rubber. It's got a lot of bounce, and if one is not careful, the rate of bounce gets out of control.

As with flubber itself, the professor's absorption in his experiments threatens to bounce his fiancee into the arms of a rival. The romantic difficulties are nicely dovetailed with the scientific and collegiate themes.

The applications shown for flubber are bouncing balls, shoe soles, and — with controlled minimal radiation — a generalized lifting device. The anticipated collegiate basketball game, with shoes modified by flubber, is bouncing if not uplifting comedy; and since Brainard also is a good practical engineer, it's sweet to see the venerable Model T Ford take to the air.

(I trust I give away no surprises, since both of these applications appear on the movie posters and cover sleeves. By the way, as in some other contemporary films, you might notice that almost all the cars significantly in view are Fords — good active advertising for an automobile manufacturer, even for non-flying models.)
  

Flubber: using, mastering, romance

The time and practice allowed by the plot for learning how to use flubber surely is inadequate for a break-through discovery, but reasonable to keep the action within cinematic bounds. Among the pioneers of powered heavier-than-air flight, the Wright Brothers with their hands-on practical bicycle experience were the aerial inventors who grasped that they'd have to teach themselves how to fly any airplane they got in the air. Flubber presents its own learning problems, and I particularly like these sequences.

The specific bouncing-ball application was handled rather more scientifically a few years earlier in Walter S. Tevis' story, "The Big Bounce".
  

Fred MacMurray as Professor Brainard is excellent as usual, and Keenan Wynn as the hostile businessman Alonzo Hawk is outstanding. The pace is good and the sight-gags come fast: good fun throughout, and thoughtfully developed. Well worth watching.

  

© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
A spaced-out note on our movie's title:
the title as displayed in the film footage itself, is:
The
Absent Minded
Professor

but so closely spaced that it could be read as:
The
AbsentMinded
Professor

— a word-formation style common since Apple's programs MacWrite and MacPaint,
but surely rare in non-Scottish movie titles.

The Absent-Minded Professor

is the form now printed for covers and catalogues.
  


  
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