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Film Review: The Absent-Minded Professor
In 1961, Robert Stevenson released The Absent-Minded Professor, based on the 1922 short story, A Situation of Gravity by Samuel W. Taylor. Starring Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olson, Keenan Wynn, Tommy Kirk, Leon Ames, Elliott Reid, Edward Andrews, David Lewis, Jack Mullaney, Belle Montrose, Wally Brown, Wally Boag, Don Ross, Forrest Lewis, James Westerfield, Gage Clarke, Alan Hewitt, and Raymond Bailey, the film grossed $25.4 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, and Best Effects, Special Effects, the Golden Globe for Best Actor – Comedy or Musical, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Picture and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Comedy, the film won the Third Place Golden Laurel Award for Top Cinematography, Black and White, the Second Place Golden Laurel Award for Top Male Comedy Performance and the Golden Laurel Award for Top General Entertainment. A sequel, Son of Flubber, followed in 1963 and the film was remade as a made-for-TV movie in 1988 and again in 1997 with the title Flubber.
After missing his wedding for a second time, Professor Brainard tries to marry his fiancée for a third time. However, he stays up all night inventing a substance with mysterious kinetic properties, which he calls Flubber, causing him to miss the wedding again and drive his fiancée into the arms of a rival professor. Now, he plans to use the substance to win her back and cause the college basketball team to win their next game. At the same time, Brainard tries to tell the government about Flubber, but only receives the interest of the executive Alonzo Hawk who is threatening to foreclose on the college.
An interesting film to say the least, The Absent-Minded Professor, is pretty enjoyable. What the film really has going for it are the subplots that surround the main plot, which is Brainard working to get his fiancée back after he misses the wedding for the third time. What the film presents is Brainard trying to get the government and military interested in Flubber, only Hawk to steal the car before representatives do show up, as well as Hawk threatening to close the school down because Brainard failed his son. These subplots are played out quite well too. Not only does the film perfectly capture the rivalry between the military branches, with them trying to hide the fact that they’re interested in the discovery only to get to the town at the exact same time, but it gives Hawk some good comeuppance too, seen not only when the Flubber on the bottom of his shoes causes him to bounce continuously for hours but also when he crashes into a police car near the end of the film.
However, where the subplots make the film a good one, the film’s main plot is decent, but actually turns Brainard from a likeable and absent-minded professor into a mean-spirited jerk that can’t let go of his fiancée. His absent-mindedness really only comes about at the beginning of the film when he’s working so hard on his scientific discovery and missing his wedding. After that, when his fiancée says she wants nothing to do with him ever again and starts seeing a rival professor, not only does he never experience a bout of absent-mindedness ever again through the whole film, but he just seems bent on taking her back by any means necessary. This includes, stalking the woman and terrorizing the other professor with the flying car and making him get into a car crash, which he congratulates himself for. It’s pretty jarring to consider someone like this as the protagonist in the film when these actions are usually reserved for the antagonist.
As a whole though, Hawk is a pretty good villain for the film, acting as the corrupt businessman who seeks to strong arm the college for what he sees as personal insults. In this case it’s his son failing Brainard’s class. Beyond that though, he pretty much passes for the head of the town’s mafia, routinely taking items, whether lawfully or otherwise, and storing them in a warehouse with some pretty shady and tough guards who would rather rough Brainard up when he comes for the car rather than call the authorities. The man is treated with quite a bit of respect by those to whom he has given money, but it’s clear early on that the respect comes from fearing what he might do if slighted rather than actual respect. The aforementioned comeuppance when Brainard tricks him into bouncing with Flubber on his shoes is not only humorous but seemingly well-deserved.
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