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Saturday, 9 August 2008

The AbsentMinded Professor (1961)

The AbsentMinded Professor (no space, no hyphen) is Prof Ned Brainerd, professor of Physical Chemistry at the Medfield College of Technology, played by Fred MacMurray. He's a talented man with a passion for his work but he's even more absent minded than you'd guess from the title. As the film begins he's about to get married, but given that he's already failed to turn up for his own wedding twice odds are not good that he'll make it for number three. Sure enough he stays home to work on an experiment which blows up the house and leaves him unconscious.

In the morning Brainerd discovers that he's accidentally created a substance that breaks all the laws of physics. It doesn't just defy gravity, it provides perpetual momentum. He dubs it flubber for flying rubber because a lump of it bounces and bounces and... Naturally, given that this is an all-American film from Disney it won't come as too much of a surprise to find that the first two uses Brainerd puts his new wonderstuff to are to make his Model T Ford fly and to enable the Medford College basketball team to beat their rivals from Rutland. None of this makes the remotest sense and I can find logic flaws in every scene, but then I can hardly apply the laws of physics to a film about a gravity defying perpetual motion machine, huh?

What's most amazing about the entire film is that Brainerd's discovery, were it real, would revolutionise whole industries and shake the entire world up. Every technological discussion I read on Slashdot asks where our flying cars are. Hey, it's the 21st century. Yet Brainerd, who creates a flying car quicker than Tony Stark creates his suit (there are a lot of references to this film in Iron Man), can't seem to demonstrate anything to anyone. His girl won't listen to him, and only the bad guy (Alonzo Hawk, played with relish by Keenan Wynn) believes him because he saw the car fly over Medfield.

So he rings the government prompting the funniest and most subtle scenes in the entire movie. You see, the army, the navy and the air force have made up and they're all happily talking to each other without prejudice. The military is now completely united and all is right with the world, but the moment Brainerd's call comes in all three of them loudly mock his claims while quietly organising flights out to Medfield. Of course we have some subplots to tidy up before we work out what's going to become of Flubber.

This one is more fun than The Shaggy Dog and more consistent, if just as insane. It's a coin toss as to whether Fred MacMurray or Keenan Wynn had more fun with their parts. Nancy Olson also has fun as Betsy, Brainerd's long suffering fiancee. Tommy Kirk is back, though in a much smaller role, and there's even a part for Ed Wynn, Keenan Wynn's famous American clown of a father. I'm happy I finally caught up with this one, but then I can't say was missing that much.

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