Thursday, September 6, 2018

Fred MacMurray and a Double Dose of Flubber

MacMurray in the lab.
Following the success of 1959's The Shaggy Dog, Walt Disney re-teamed Fred MacMurray and Tommy Kirk for The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). This time around, Fred got most of the screen time with Tommy in a supporting role as the villain's son.

Fred plays Ned Brainard, a brilliant professor at Medfield University, who tends to forget everything when conducting his experiments. Having missed his wedding to fiancee Betsy two times, Ned relies on his housekeeper to get him to his latest scheduled nuptials. That turns out to be a poor plan when Ned leaves Betsy waiting for the third time!

Nancy Olson as Betsy.
To make matters worse, his current experiment literally blows up--but in the aftermath, Ned discovers a strange gooey substance. He rolls it into a ball and discovers that it gains energy with every bounce. It's like flying rubber, so Ned dubs his invention "flubber." Unfortunately, no one takes Ned and flubber seriously until the despicable Alonzo P. Hawks (Keenan Wynn) learns of the new invention's potential.

The Absent-Minded Professor is a first-rate family film bolstered by a bevy of wonderful supporting players. In addition to the aforementioned stars, the cast includes: Nancy Olson (Sunset Boulevard) as Betsy, Leon Ames (Mr. Ed) as the college president, Elliott Reid (Inherit the Wind) as a rival for Betsy's affections, Edward Andrews as a government bureaucrat, David Lewis as a general, Ed Wynn as a fire chief, and many others. My wife and I think we recognized almost everyone in the movie.

What a way to score!
Almost as important as the cast is Disney's special effects department, which earned an Oscar nomination for its work. The film's highlight is a basketball game in which Medfield is being crushed by its nemesis Rutland University.With the score 46-3 at halftime, Ned hatches onto a scheme to help Medfield and demonstrate flubber. He irons the gooey substance on the soles of the Medfield players' shoes. He then encourages them to bounce! The result is one of the most memorable basketball games in the history of cinema!

The Absent-Minded Professor was the fourth highest-grossing film of 1961 (Disney's 101 Dalmatians and The Parent Trap were also in the Top Ten). Thus, Walt Disney, who allegedly abhorred sequels, agreed to make Son of Flubber in 1963. It returns most of the original film's cast, although Tommy Kirk, still playing the same character, has now become Professor Brainard's assistant.

Joanna Moore as Desiree.
Having sold flubber to the government, newlyweds Ned and Betsy have yet to see any money from Ned's promising invention. That doesn't matter to the IRS, which wants them to pay over $600,000 in taxes due to projected earnings. Things get rockier when Ned's old flame, the vivacious Desiree de la Roche (Joanna Moore) returns to Medfield. Meanwhile, Ned has harnessed flubber gas, which he plans to use to control the weather.

Son of Flubber is a spotty follow-up that feels hastily put together. The highlights are an educational film on the commercial uses of flubber in the home and a football game with Paul Lynde as the announcer. In the latter, Biff employs flubber gas to give Medfield an edge against an undefeated Rutland team. However, since flubber gas can become unstable, it's not used to inflate the football--but rather a running back who is then thrown by his teammates!
A Medfield player--with ball--is hurled through the air.
Although Son of Flubber was a big hit, too, no further sequels were made. Medfield College popped up later, though, as the setting for the Dexter Riley film trilogy starring Kurt Russell: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969); Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972); and The Strongest Man in the World (1975). The Disney Studios remade The Absent-Minded Professor twice, first as a 1988 made-for-TV movie with Harry Anderson and then as the 1997 theatrical film Flubber with Robin Williams.


  1. Son of Flubber isn't the greatest sequel of all-time, but it is my favourite title to a sequel of all-time.

    MacMurray's performance as "Neddy the Nut" is one I one of the best comic leading roles in history. Look at that man's face. He invented flubber and he is so proud!

  2. I haven't seen "Son of Flubber", but I adore "The Absent-Minded Professor". Like you pointed out, the special effects are impressive, and the cast is terrific. I love Keenan Wynn as the Bad Guy but, then again, I always like him as the bad guy.

  3. Flubber is fascinating! It sounds like something that should be invented. And it is always fun to see Fred.