The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)

One Sheet Poster for 1974 Reissue

Charming Disney fantasy about Professor Ned Brainard (Fred MacMurry) and his revolutionary invention, Flubber (short for flying rubber).  For a film that’s 50 years old, it holds up beautifully, with the majority of the special effects still special.  I remember seeing it on a double-feature in the mid-‘70s with a theater full of other kids, and we all went ape whenever the flubber got put to good use.

Only Disney’s second live-action comedy (The Shaggy Dog was the first), the film gave Uncle Walt’s special effects team their first real challenge since Darby O’Gill and the Little People.  For me, the amazing thing about the film is Fred MacMurray’s performance.  While playing a variation on his character from The Shaggy Dog, it’s still revelatory in that, only a year before, he played really, really despicable Jeff Sheldrake in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.  And before that, he was Walter Neff in Wilder’s Double Indemnity.  (For an insane drinking game, take a shot of the alcohol of your choice every time MacMurray says “baby” in Double Indemnity.  You’ll be plastered by the halfway point of the film.)

The Absent-Minded Professor also introduced the character of Alonzo P. Hawk, played by Keenan Wynn, into the Disney universe.  Wynn went on to reprise the character two more times in Disney films.  The impression he made in the role is such that whenever I think of a live-action villain in Disney’s comedy films, Wynn immediately springs to mind.  It seems like he was in every live-action Disney film for about twenty years; I was surprised, after doing a little research, that he only appeared in five Disney films.

The Absent-Minded Professor was remade twice: once for television in 1988 (with Harry Anderson taking over the title role), and then again theatrically as Flubber in 1997, with Robin Williams.  But if you grew up in the 60s and 70s, there’s only one real The Absent-Minded Professor, and that’s Fred MacMurray.

Astoundingly enough, the entire film has been posted to YouTube, and it’s in one piece, not several parts.  Watch it soon–it may not be there (and here) for long!

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