The Absent-Minded Professor – Family Movie Night

The Story:

Ned Brainard, a chronically absent-minded chemistry professor at cash-strapped Medfield College, stumbles across an anti-gravity substance that he believes can save his beloved institution. While his bumbling effort to monetize the discovery prove ineffective, he does manage to attract the attention of the powerful Alonzo Hawk, a corrupt businessman who vows to steal the material for himself.

The Stars:

Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olson, Keenan Wynn

Release Date:

1961

Rating:

G

Our Take:

Professor Ned Brainard (Fred MacMurray) is absent-minded. Astonishingly so. In fact, he’s so absented-minded, he’s late for his own wedding. And it’s not the first time he’s stranded the charming Miss Carlisle (Nancy Olson) at the altar, either. But at least he’s got a good excuse this time. He was busy discovering Flubber, a mysterious, rubbery substance that actually gains speed and energy when it hits other objects rather than losing them.

Convinced that his invention will save the struggling Medfield College — as success that will, in turn, salvage his relationship with the now-understandably-miffed Miss Carlisle — Professor Ned sets out to prove to his detractors that Flubber is the solution to all their problems. Hilarious hi-jinx ensue: Flubber-based basketball success for the previously-door-mat Medfield, a Flubber-fueled, flying Model-T, even a Flubbericious dance sequence where Brainard’s Flubber-soled dress shoes greatly enhance his (previously unmemorable) dancing abilities. Unfortunately, all his antics succeed in doing is capturing the attention of Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn), an unscrupulous businessman who is Medfield’s most famous and powerful alumnus (as well as the holder of most of its debt).

Seeing an opportunity where others see only absurdity, Hawk plans to seize the discovery for his own monetary gains. But Brainard’s goofy absent-mindedness hides a surprisingly stubborn streak; he and his friends are unwilling to hand over their Flubber without a fight. And in the high-flying — or is that bouncing — finale(s), everyone gets their just desserts. (Well, maybe not entirely just. Disney’s not quite mean enough for that.)

Directed by the legendary Robert Stevenson (of Mary Poppins fame), the film is neither groundbreaking nor narratively or thematically complex. What it is, though, is a tremendous amount of fun. Anchored by MacMurray’s goofy, sincere, almost impossibly absent-minded Ned and bolstered by universally enjoyable supporting performances — Wynn’s despicable Hawk is particularly noteworthy — the laughs it produces are many and heartfelt. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable Friday-night charmer.

Be Aware:

The film is rated G. So G, in fact, that the “Parental Guidance” section of its IMDB page is blank. Enjoy.

Appropriate for Ages:

I’m inclined to say 5-and-up, those that’s more of a “comprehension” issue than an “appropriateness” one. Youngsters might find the setup it a bit hard to follow (particularly the laboratory scenes). There is a tense moment or two near the end of the film when the U.S. Government confusedly scrambles its fighters in an attempt to intercept Brainard’s Model-T that could be a bit much for the very young. But we have watched and enjoyed it down to the 4-year-old level here in the Susanka house. Pretty much universally acceptable.

Related Material:

The film’s unexpected box office success led to an eventual sequel, making it the first Disney film to earn that distinction. (Sadly, it also earned itself a remake: Robin Williams’ Flubber, from 1997. But let us not speak of such sorrowful matters.) Son of Flubber returns much of the original cast and crew to Medfield, and while it has never managed to capture my imagination as wholly as its predecessor, it, too, is excellent family fare.

For those who find themselves inexplicable drawn to the fictional Medfield College, it serves as the academic backdrop for Kurt Russell’s “Dexter Reilly” trilogy  – The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and The Strongest Man in the WorldThe whole series is a lot of fun, though probably ideal for a slightly older audience.

This is the latest in our Family Movie Night series, in which Patheos writers bring you weekly  recommendations for a film to watch together as a family. All our recommendations can be found by visiting the Family Movie Night page.

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • jbdavis

    This is the image of Fred MacMurray I had as a child, plus his role as father on My Three Sons. I think he was happy in those roles, but they certainly didn’t display his depth … having just rewatched Double Indemnity this weekend, my mind is boggling slightly.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

      I certainly agree that he had much more to offer than just the bumbling cheerfulness of Ned Brainard and his kind, Julie. Films like “Double Indemnity,” “The Apartment,” and “The Caine Mutiny” make that abundantly clear. I’m glad we get to see both sides.

      …but this is still how I remember him best.

      • jbdavis

        Me too … mostly as that dad for My Three Sons.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X