June 18, 2019

From 1961, in my "imaginary movie project," it's "The Absent-Minded Professor."

As you may remember, I am rewatching movies — one for each year beginning in 1960 — that I saw in the theater when they originally came out — for fun and to compare my present-day reaction to what I can remember feeling when I was young. For 1961, when I was 10 years old, I watched "The Absent-Minded Professor."



1. The professor, played by Fred MacMurray, was really only "absent-minded" about one thing: the woman he was supposed to marry. As the movie begins, he is forgetting to attend his own wedding after already missing 2 attempted weddings — not weddings to different women. There's just one woman and he can't seem to remember to show up to get married to her, and she's about ready to give up. Of course, it's obvious that in the end he will marry her, but I'm sure I worried a lot more about this problem when I was 10. These days, I'm just a little annoyed that the woman's role is to be the long-suffering but perfectly nice match for the man who's the only interesting person here.

2. You'd think a professor would have a professional lab and assistants, but the professor putters around in a shed in his backyard assisted only by a cute dog who listens to his narration. The professor creates "Flubber" (flying rubber) through some freewheeling experimentation that blows up the place. With no regard to public or personal safety, the professor puts the Flubber in his Model T Ford and goes flying about the town.

3. As a kid, I didn't understand much about how the world works, so I must have been open-minded about the flying car and the use of it to bounce on top of road-bound cars driven by people the professor needed to harass. I accepted it when Flubber was smeared on basketball shoes so that the professor's home team could win a basketball game by bouncing over their opponents. To me now, the behavior with the car was a criminal assault and the intervention in the basketball game was cheating.

4. This Disney movie, like so many Hollywood movies, has a businessman as the villain. This character somehow thinks he can gain possession of the powerful invention that is Flubber by simply stealing the car, a problem the professor deals with not by using law enforcement but by putting Flubber on his own shoes and jumping this way and that until he's stolen the car back.  If you think people bouncing higher and higher is hilarious, then this is your movie.

5. There was never an explanation for how people who had leaped very high into the air were capable of repeatedly landing on their feet and not falling over or getting hurt. If you worry about that, it's not so funny. The businessman villain got his comeuppance when he's tricked into putting Flubber on his shoes and jumping from the second story of his house. He then bounces up and down over and over until the football team is brought in to tackle him. I can't remember how this made me feel when I was 10, but rewatching, I felt that Disney was inviting children to laugh at a man who was being tortured. We were supposed to hate him because he was a businessman and therefore cared about nothing but money, and so we were expected to laugh at him being repeatedly hurled a hundred feet into the air and slammed back onto the ground. Of course, he always landed on his feet, so the Flubber on his shoes relaunched him. Why didn't he ever fall on his ass? He didn't have Flubber on his ass, so wouldn't the bouncing have ended if only he'd fallen flat?

6. You can see I don't recommend this movie. I didn't expect to enjoy it very much, but I saw very few movies in 1961, and if I hadn't picked this, I'd have had to pick a cartoon — "101 Dalmatians." Maybe I made the wrong choice.

7. I did amuse myself by theorizing that the movie was about sexual frustration. The man can't consummate his relationship with a woman, but he does succeed in making a substance that gets everything up. Eventually, it's enough — he's bounced high and hard and long enough — that he can finally satisfy her.

86 comments:

GingerBeer said...

Only after I married did I learn this was my wife's favorite comedy film. By comparison, she thought "Young Frankenstein was "predictable. I ended up showing both films to our kids when "Netflix" was only DVDs. They howled at "YF." As for "TNP," they thought it was stupid. They no longer try to explain jokes to her, as it's understood by all she has no sense of humor.

Mike Sylwester said...

TNP?

The Nutty Professor?

Mike Sylwester said...

I loved My Three Sons, a TV series that was broadcast from 1960 to 1972, starring MacMurray. The three sons and their situations aged during those 12 years.

Darrell said...

Another movie made to taunt Althouse.

GingerBeer said...

Mike: My apologies, "TA-MP."

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Flubbers

Not Sure said...

If you think people bouncing higher and higher is hilarious, then this is your movie.

The good guys getting high, the bad guy a businessman--sounds like a movie version of The Greening of America.

buwaya said...

At the time a great deal of "science" was still done without what we would think of as a professional lab. And even professional labs were not much to look at. The ideal of the lone inventor, the little guy breaking things open was, perhaps, at its height.

The original Hewlett-Packard lab is still preserved in San Jose -

https://www.sanjose.org/listings/hp-garage

This was not the only such shed, garage, house or similar in Silicon Valley, from the 1930's-80's.

buwaya said...

"The good guys getting high, the bad guy a businessman--sounds like a movie version of The Greening of America."

An old story of Silicon Valley - the creators interests threatened by the VC guys who want to push him/them out.

Mike Sylwester said...

I remember watching The Absent-Minded Professor when it was in the theaters. I remember the flubber, but I have absolutely no memory of the missed weddings.

eddie willers said...

I didn't expect to enjoy it very much, but I saw very few movies in 1961, and if I hadn't picked this, I'd have had to pick a cartoon — "101 Dalmatians." Maybe I made the wrong choice

If the choice for Disney is live action or animated, pick the animation. As a kid, my mother took me to Old Yeller. Cried my eyes out. Even the puppies at the end were little help. (But the little square hamburgers from the Krystals next to the Fabulous Fox did the trick)

gongtao said...

The original version of 101Dalmatians is a fantastic movie. Really.

rcocean said...

Yes, Fred Mac committed flubber in the first degree. Its not often that Althouse comes off a nattering prude/Scold but it looks like flubber has an additional property.

I"m just amazed you didn't find it racist and homophobic. Lets be honest. If Maureen O'Hara had played the Professor - you'd still be laughing your flubbering ass off.

rcocean said...

101 Dalmatians in the theater with my daughter and visiting niece in the 1990s. I was surprised how much they liked it. Chicks seem to dig it, for some reason.

Mike Sylwester said...

The parts of the movie about flubber would amuse the children in the audience.

The parts about the missed weddings would amuse the parents.

rcocean said...

People seem to forget that a lot of these 50s and early 60s movies that are thought "old fashioned" and "Family" films are actually set in the 1920s or 1930s or earlier. For example, the Quiet Man isn't about Ireland in 1953, its set in 1923. So, even when it was released, it was looking back to a more simpler time. I assume that's why AMP is set in the 1920s. So, is "Cheaper by the Dozen".

Darrell said...

Flubber was an attempt to maintain White Supremacy--everybody knew that.

readering said...

I'm a few years younger than AA so I think the first movie I ever saw in a theater was the sequel, Son of Flubber from 1963. I don't imagine the plots were much different. The next film I remember was A Tiger Walks from 1964. I idolized Walt Disney, and used to think I had a deprived childhood for never having been taken to Disneyland. (I was 15 when Disney World opened and had long grown out of that view.)

Mike Sylwester said...

I watched Old Yeller a couple years ago. It's a great movie, but several animals must have been severely injured or killed to make the movie. There are vicious fights between various animals.

rcocean said...

Absent minded professor is a movie aimed at YOUNG KIDS. I'd say below 12. I didn't see it till I was 18 or so on TV, and didn't much care for it. Mildly amusing but that's it. Also, in the 1970s- early 80s Teenagers/kids would go through an "Anti-Disney" "Anti-Cartoon" phase. You were too old for that "kid stuff" and wouldn't be caught DEAD at that kind of stuff.

With most people that phase wears off - when they reach their 20s.

rcocean said...

"Flubber was an attempt to maintain White Supremacy--everybody knew that."

It was their secret weapon, and worked pretty well. The left is still fighting White Supremacy - its everywhere! I suspect Trump has some in the trump Tower. Maybe puts some on his golf balls.

Tank said...

The only part of Althouse's critique that I agree with is the part about making the businessman the villain.

rcocean said...

BTW, I NEVER Liked movies with dead animals. Hated Bambi. Didn't like Old Yeller or any other movie where the Dog died. Cats Die? OK. Dogs? no.

PresbyPoet said...

The xerox machine is the product of one man's mind and experimentation. The start of the personal computer was a bunch of guys likely living in their mom's basement. When Facebook moved to Palo Alto, they moved into a house.

The detached garage is a very handy place to use. When it blows up, it may not burn down the house.

The early cyclotrons were tiny (11" in 1931), compared to the megamonsters we need today. The first atom pile was built under a college stadium in the middle of Chicago. No EIR required.

The English idea of the proper man was the rich man engaged in a "hobby" who didn't need to be paid for his work. Much of 19th century science was by what we would think were "real" scientists.

rcocean said...

I'd love to get some flubber on put it on Koch Brothers or Bloomberg or Zuckerprick and bounce them off to the Moon.

rcocean said...

Jobs and THE OTHER GUY WHO NO ONE TALKS ABOUT invented the PC in their garage.

People have invented a lot of stuff in their garages. You just need the right one.

PresbyPoet said...

correction, NOT "real" scientists

Mike Sylwester said...
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Mike Sylwester said...

If I were doing your project, I would have re-watched Babes in Toyland as my 1961 movie.

A few months ago I ran across a video clip of Annette Funicello singing the song I Can't Do the Sums, and it is charming.

Laslo Spatula said...

While Althouse is watching films from the sixties, Laslo Films' latest two features -- and our Ingmar-Bergman-makes-a-exploitation-horror-flick short "Snow and Oranges" -- just got semi-finalist nods in two different film festivals in the last week.

C'mon, Althouse: "Snow and Oranges" is only 27 minutes. I'll send you a DVD. You can watch it, and then you can watch it again fifty years from now and see if your perception of it has changed.

"It was NOT a farming accident, Olaf!"

I am Laslo.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Disney kicked businessmen a lot. "Mary Poppins," for example. He wasn't the only one and perhaps was only reflecting parts of culture, but one does have to wonder how much influence it had over time.

Darrell said...

Disney kicked businessmen a lot.

Lefties in Hollywood had a lot to do with that, even back then.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

People have invented a lot of stuff in their garages.

ok-- but who invented that matrix of innovation, the garage ?

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

"Necessity"??

EDH said...

Althouse overlooks the physics of the professor’s condom made of flubber in his ability to keep the girl.

Darrell said...

Althouse overlooks the physics of the professor’s condom made of flubber in his ability to keep the girl.

It's cheating. PIV orgasms are a tool of oppression of the Patriarchy.

PM said...

Thought Fred was a dip (Absent-Minded, My Three Sons) until TCM came along.
He did some great work.

Eleanor said...

The first garages were converted carriage houses. There have been a lot of important inventions that began in carriage houses/garages. That part of the story of the Absent Minded Professor is one part that's not fantasy. I suspect part of the disdain Althouse has for the movie is she hasn't had much contact with the mindset of the scientist/engineer. Sometimes scriptwriters get the characters right on the money, and sometimes they don't, but either way people who do understand how scientists/engineers think can get a good laugh. I bet Anne didn't like the movie all that much as a kid, either.

khematite said...

rcocean said...
"People seem to forget that a lot of these 50s and early 60s movies that are thought "old fashioned" and "Family" films are actually set in the 1920s or 1930s or earlier. For example, the Quiet Man isn't about Ireland in 1953, its set in 1923. So, even when it was released, it was looking back to a more simpler time. I assume that's why AMP is set in the 1920s. So, is "Cheaper by the Dozen".

But unlike the first two films you mention, "Cheaper by the Dozen" was quasi-autobiographical, based to some degree on the life and career of Frank Gilbreth, an early 20th century efficiency expert and proponent of "scientific management." Anyway, for those who might prefer a more contemporaneous setting, there's the 2003 remake bearing no resemblance to the earlier movie or the book it was based on. It starred Steve Martin, now transformed from an efficiency expert into a football coach.

madAsHell said...

I would have re-watched Babes in Toyland as my 1961 movie.

Annette may have been charming, but the rest of the movie was just flashing colored lights, and explosions. It intrigued me as a kid, but was completely unwatchable when I shared it with my kids.

Think "Go SpeedRacer".

madAsHell said...

Great porno title "Flubber was a condom!!".

Marcus said...

So our Hostess can't suspend disbelief and try to enjoy a movie made in the early 60s for kids? What a grump. Get offa her lawn!

THEOLDMAN

jimbino said...

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Thomas Hardy

rightguy said...

I watched TAMP in the theater as an 8 year old and loved it. So did all my friends- and our parents. I remember the grownups marveling at how naturally everyone seemed to fly and bounce around.

Not that I want to sit through it today. I see it as whimsy that could only work when it did : during a uniquely optimistic and innocent era.

Patrick Henry was right! said...

It's a COMEDY!!!

For crying out loud!

rcocean said...

Two engineering students were crossing campus when one asked the other, "Where did you get such a great bike?"

The second engineer replied, "Well, I was walking along yesterday minding my own business when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike. She threw the bike to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, "Take what you want."

"The second engineer nodded approvingly, "Good choice; the clothes probably wouldn't have fit."

RichardJohnson said...

You can see I don't recommend this movie. I didn't expect to enjoy it very much, but I saw very few movies in 1961, and if I hadn't picked this, I'd have had to pick a cartoon — "101 Dalmatians." Maybe I made the wrong choice.

I don't know if I'd enjoy Flubber/Absent-Minded Professor today, but as I kid I liked it. I would say the best movie I saw in 1961 was The Guns of Navarone. While Absent-Minded Professor was an entertaining fastasy, Guns of Navarone told me that things are not always what they seem. Didactic and also entertaining.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

PM said...

Thought Fred was a dip (Absent-Minded, My Three Sons) until TCM came along.
He did some great work.


He was great in The Caine Mutiny.

William said...

I could conceivably rewatch The Nutty Professor, but The Absent Minded Professor is a bridge too far. Given your choice of occupation in later life, it does seem that your choice of films was more organic than circumstantial......There aren't that many books or movies that you can revisit with pleasure throughout your life. Mark Twain. MGM musicals. The Wizard of Oz.

Rory said...

"You'd think a professor would have a professional lab and assistants, but the professor putters around in a shed in his backyard assisted only by a cute dog who listens to his narration."

Thorne Smith's rollicking old novel, The Night Life of the Gods, opens with a series of explosions coming from the home laboratory of its eccentric protagonist.

Gk1 said...

Ugh. This brings me back to how deathly dull I thought Disney films were as a kid. Particularly all of the live action ones. Even the full animated ones could be tedious like Alice in Wonderland. As an 7 year old I lost the plot on that one almost immediately. The last film decision my mom made for the family was taking us to "The Computer that wore tennis shoes" with Kurt Russell. I remember being excused half way so I could go play in the lobby until it was over.

Lawrence Person said...

Just the year before, MacMurray played the heel in The Apartment.

Mary Beth (the commenter) said...

"101 Dalmatians" would have been a better choice. I didn't see TA-MP in theaters, I was too young, but I do remember seeing at least some of it. Probably on Wonderful World of Disney. I don't remember much about it, other than I don't like it. I probably turned it off part way through. I didn't (and still don't) much care for physical humor. There are some exceptions, but this isn't one of them.

Freeman Hunt said...

"I would say the best movie I saw in 1961 was The Guns of Navarone."

My sons love that movie. They showed it to two friends last week who pronounced it "epic."

Ken B said...

I rewatched a movie too, and was similarly mortified. Did you know that Moe assaults Curly??

Leora said...

You should have done 101 Dalmations. I was very impressed with Cruella DeVille and her two tone hair style. I have a small plastic statue of her of dubious vintage that I found in a thrift store a few years back on my bookshelf. I should mention my grandfather was a furrier so I may have missed the point that she was a villain. I also really liked the evil queen in Snow White. Snow seemed like kind of a drip.

Biff said...

I loved the original 101 Dalmatians when I was little. After seeing it, I begged my parents to get a Dalmatian and eventually wore them down. Dalmatians have a reputation for being a high maintenance breed, but my Dalmatian was the sweetest dog I've ever had. All these decades later, I turn into a three year old whenever I see a Dalmatian.

rcocean said...

"He was great in The Caine Mutiny."

Yeah, that was the great thing about Fred MacMurray. No one was better at playing the Disney father, or the light comedian (The Egg and I, etc.) but if you wanted a heel..he was your guy. Caine Mutiny, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Pushover. All Great Heels and fall guys.

I love his performance in Caine Mutiny. You think he's the good guy. The smart intellectual who see through Captain Queeg. And by the end, you're glad when he gets the wine in face.

What's sad is that Wilder wanted Paul Douglas for the Fred M. part in the Apartment. Can you imagine Shirley MacLaine in love with Paul Douglas? LOL! Of course, maybe Shelldrake had some Weinstein Plotted plant action going on.

Ken B said...

Do you watch Bugs Bunny mentally counting the torts and castigating the morals of rabbits?

rcocean said...

"The Guns of Navarone."

Yeah, its a boys own adventure. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre

rcocean said...

If you're talking 1961 what about "The Parent Trap"?

Of course, there's also "Lover come back" - which is hilarious. But I doubt Althouse saw it in 1961. A kid would be mystified at the humor.

chickelit said...

My sons love that movie. They showed it to two friends last week who pronounced it "epic."

"Where Eagles Dare" is another epic.

Laslo Spatula said...

"I would say the best movie I saw in 1961 was The Guns of Navarone."

I seem to remember that there was an episode of the 'Dick Van Dyke' show that revolved around people's disbelief that Dick fell asleep while seeing this movie.

A little bit of a memory tickle going on.

I am Laslo.

Rory said...

"Do you watch Bugs Bunny mentally counting the torts"

This is the surest sign a law student gets that he or she is going to pass the bar exam.

rcocean said...

"Where Eagles Dare" is another epic.

Clint Eastwood said he loved making that movie. Burton had all the lines, and all Clint had to do was hold a sub-machine gun and kill Germans. Easiest paycheck - ever.

Burton/Taylor liked Eastwood AND Brando. "Two mules for sister Sarah" was supposed to be a Eastwood-Liz Taylor movie but she got sick or whatever and Shirley MacLaine too over. Did Clint like that? Well, there weren't anymore Clint-Shirley movies.

Openidname said...

“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
"If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
"Till she cry, 'Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
"I must have you!'"

wwww said...

If you're talking 1961 what about "The Parent Trap"?

My parents showed me & my siblings both versions. Good movie. I wish they would make more like this for kids. The movie in the post sounds good for young kids. Less so for adult Althouse.

Lately I've been thinking about Dunkirk. Quite good. Not appropriate for young children. Believe today is the anniversary of Waterloo.

Openidname said...

"Heel." Such a great word, but nobody uses it anymore.

I was well into adulthood before I realized it was short for "s**theel."

eddie willers said...

I was well into adulthood before I realized it was short for "s**theel."

Oh jeeze, do I feel like a chump!

Earnest Prole said...

I think this may have been the first movie I saw in a theater, perhaps eight years after its release, at a matinee that charged two plastic bread bags from the local bakery as admission. In 1969 it seemed like something from a previous century.

rcocean said...

Did you hear about the fire at the shoe factory?

No.

It was terrible. 200 Soles were lost.

Yeah, I heard some heel started it.

Badaboom.

rcocean said...

heel
( n ) A loser, a jerk. What a heel! He left is wife and kids for the circus.

rcocean said...

heel = hound ; cad ; blackguard ; bounder; rat; blighter; rotter

For our English Friends.

Ken B said...

The IMDb score is surprisingly high, 6.8. My memory of this is that it’s a silly thing for little kids. Perhaps little kids, who have not yet realized that a super bouncy basketball is a fraud upon bettors, still like it. The tsk-tsk reflex is so underdeveloped in 6 year olds.

Mr. Forward said...

Flubber
The Jetsons
Superman
Sky King
Witches on brooms
Roller Coaster Hill
On a one speed
Even Manfred the Wonder Dog
Got air time.

Rusty said...

The thing about movies, Althouse, isyou have to suspend belief, Otherwise the horseshit doesn't work.
There is some terrible political posturing in the recent movie, "The Dead Don't Die"
Yeah. We get it, Jatrmouch, orange man bad, but the cast is so good and the premise so absurd you can overlook most of the politics. Bill Murry is fun to watch.

Ann Althouse said...

"So our Hostess can't suspend disbelief and try to enjoy a movie made in the early 60s for kids? What a grump. Get offa her lawn!"

You're missing the point of this project!

Ann Althouse said...

"If you're talking 1961 what about "The Parent Trap"?"

Not only didn't I see it in the theater when it came out — which is the concept of the project — I have never seen it. I've seen the remake with Lindsay Lohan.

SF said...

101 Dalmatians is one of the best Disney animated movies. Also a fine (but somewhat weird, though not nearly as weird as the sequel) kids' book.

MadisonMan said...

I liked both Parent Traps, but Brian Keith was kind of a dud for the Dad role in the first one. I guess Fred McMurray was busy.

ndspinelli said...

Fred McMurray is a tightwad from Beaver Dam.

Unknown said...

Should have watched Mysterious Island instead. You could have listened to Joan Greenwood's plummy British pronunciation, seen Herbert Lom in a non-comedic role, and best of all, had fun watching Ray Harryhausen's stop motion animation -- the giant crab is terrific!

PM said...

1597: Romeo and Juliet
1961: West Side Story.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

In so many ways Disney taught kids to hate the 50s, businessmen in charge etc. (even though of course the Disney brothers were businessmen). Doesn't the power of Flubber anticipate the power of drugs? In the 60s teenagers would expect to do a lot better than their parents in the sexual satisfaction department. Bambi taught environmentalism. The princess stories taught feminism: even if the Establishment is mean to you--and even if no one is meaner than women in the Establishment--you can stand up for yourself, discover nature, etc.

Bilwick said...

I saw the movie in the theaters when I was a little kid. I mainly recall the flying car and the bouncy basketball game; but mostly I recall my brother pointing out that I did not laugh once in the whole movie. True, I was a serious-minded kid; but I think even back then I was drawn more to "sick" humor. It may have been true that reading MAD magazine "rotted" the mind.