The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)

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Before I get into the review, I firstly wanna apologize for how late this review is! I ran late on editing it.

Secondly, I wanna point out that this film was one of the few films that Disney made in black-and-white. However, it was later colorized and I happened to watch the colorized version. I would have preferred to see the original black-and-white version, but this was the copy that I got my hand on. So without further ado, let’s take a look at The Absent-Minded Professor!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

The movie opens to our main character, Professor Ned Brainard, played by Fred MacMurray. Professor Brainard is the titular “absent-minded professor”. He is passionate about science and loves teaching his pupils about it, even via experiments that many times go wrong!

Little Boy Blue, go blow your horn!

His character was actually based on that of a Princeton University chemistry professor, Hubert Alyea, who had the nickname, “Dr. Boom”.

See the resemblance?

So is Professor Brainard only “absent-minded” in regards to his work? Nope, he’s absent-minded in his personal life as well. You see, he’s getting married later today and almost forgot about it. Not that bad, you might say? Well, he forgot about his wedding TWICE before, so one more strike and he’s out, so to speak! At least, that’s the way his fiancée, Betsy Carlisle, played by Nancy Olson, sees it.


Later that night before the wedding, Professor Brainard is at home working in his garage laboratory on an experiment. His housekeeper, Mrs. Chatsworth, played by Belle Montrose, keeps reminding him that he’s getting married later and has his suit, ring, and everything else set out for him. Professor Brainard isn’t worried as he feels he has enough time to get ready as he’s just on the verge of a major breakthrough in his experiment. After Mrs. Chatsworth leaves for the night, Professor Brainard makes his breakthrough which results in an explosion rendering him unconscious.

Once he regains consciousness, he discovers that he has created a sort of anti-gravitational substance that causes things to levitate. He calls it “Flubber”, i.e. flying rubber. But his excitement is quickly diminished when he realizes that due to being unconscious, he’s missed his wedding for the 3rd time!

The next day, he goes to the university (where Betsy also works as a secretary to the university’s president) and tries to explain to her what happened. Betsy, however, wants nothing to do with Professor Brainard anymore much less care about any scientific breakthrough that he’s made.

I mean, how else would you react if someone told you that the reason they missed an important life event was due to something called Flubber?

Later that night is the university’s big basketball tournament though, so Professor Brainard decides to show Betsy the reality and power of Flubber there. He utilizes the Flubber to make his car fly and heads for Betsy’s house to pick her up, but she’s set to go to the game with another professor.

Professor Brainard nevertheless goes to the game and sits next to Betsy and her date trying to get a chance to talk with her. The basketball game turns out to be a failure with their university, Medfield, losing terribly especially since Professor Brainard had to flunk their star player. That’s when Professor Brainard gets an idea! He takes the players’ shoes from their locker room and applies Flubber to the soles of the shoes. Let’s just say that after halftime when the players change their shoes, they find there’s an added spring to their steps!

“Look Ma, no hands!”
“But Sonny, how do you play basketball with no hands?”

Everyone’s amazed at the Medfield’s team new dexterity and the referee doesn’t seem to think anything illegal is going on.

Mike the Cop seems to though! Let’s see if anybody will know this character.

Because of the Flubber, Medfield wins the basketball game! But, Professor Brainard isn’t able to explain things to Betsy that night though. As he flies home after the game, he is spotted by the greedy banker, Alonzo P. Hawk, played by Keenan Wynn. Mr. Hawk had been interested in tearing down Medfield College (as he has a lot of money invested it int), but now has a better idea. The next day, he visits Professor Brainard at his house and tells him what he saw. He suggests to the Professor to hand over the secret formula to him and together, they could make heavy financial gains, even if selling Flubber to enemy governments! Professor Brainard is offended by this and rejects Mr. Hawk’s proposal which, of course, makes Mr. Hawk quite angry.

“I tell you, I’m gonna get my hands on this car!”
“No, you’re not! I hope you get nightmares about cars trying to eat you!
“…what an odd thing to say.”

Afterwards, Professor Brainard tries contacting the US Government to inform them about Flubber so that they may use it for their military. The government, of course, thinks Professor Brainard is just a prankster quack, but the heads of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are interested and secretly fly to Medfield College to see Professor Brainard.

America’s disunited heroes, apparently…

They arrive at a dance where Professor Brainard is trying to woo back Betsy via Flubberized shoes that give him some kick when he dances.

“Let’s see Fred Astaire try this!”

When Professor Brainard sees the military men, he takes them outside to the parking lot to demonstrate his flying car to them, but Mr. Hawk has switched Professor Brainard’s car with another, so the car doesn’t fly resulting in the military men getting upset and going back to Washington DC.

Professor Brainard is depressed that the car didn’t work and Betsy’s heart opens up once again to the Professor and tries to console him. He finally gets to show her what Flubber is via a ball of it he has in his coat that he forgot to show the military men. She now realizes what an important invention it is, how Medfield won the basketball game that night, and how Professor Brainard was able to dance so wildly. That’s when Professor Brainard realizes that his car has been switched and he immediately suspects Mr. Hawk!

The next day, Professor Brainard and Betsy go to Mr. Hawk and pretend to be interested in going into business with him again regarding Flubber. They give Mr. Hawk some Flubberized shoes to test out. They trick him into jumping out a window to test the bounce, but when he’s unable to stop bouncing, they demand to know what happened to the car. Mr. Hawk divulges that he has  the Professor’s real car in his warehouse, so the Professor and Betsy head there to retrieve it.

They leave Mr. Hawk bouncing which turns out to become an attraction of sorts with townsfolk trying to figure out how to stop him!

Even his father, Ed Wynn, makes an appearance!

Once Professor Brainard and Betsy get the car, they fly it straight to Washington DC to show the military men. But when they get there, the government thinks that the car is a threat and readies an attack. Fortunately, the Professor lands the car safely on the ground below before anything bad can happen and everything is explained. The government is grateful to have the Flubber technology, Mr. Hawk is sent to prison, Medfield College is still intact, and the Professor and Betsy FINALLY get married!

Looks like the 4th time’s the charm!

And that was The Absent-Minded Professor! What can I say? It’s one of those classic Disney films from the ’60s and for a good reason. The story is very inventive and opens itself up to a lot of cool visual gags. The acting is overall great with the only exception being that of Tommy Kirk who plays Keenan Wynn’s son. Please don’t be absent-minded and check this film out if you haven’t seen it!

(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)

So, the final score for this film is 32/35 = 91.43% (A-) !

The next review will be posted on September 18, 2017.

8 thoughts on “The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)

  1. Flubber is purple??? Fred MacMurray is the unofficial Disney dad…love him in everything he’s done! Follow Me Boys and Happiest Millionaire are my two favorites. Shaggy Dog and the sequel to this, Son of Flubber are fun as well. Tommy Kirk is much better in these two as well. I agree, he was a little stale in this one. Overall though, it’s one of the best Disney live-action films ever made!!!

    1. Apparently, Flubber is purple, lol. That’s the problem with these colorized versions.

      And yeah, Fred MacMurray is the Disney dad and one of those guys that you’d love to hang out with! I love him in The Happiest Millionaire!

      Yeah, I’ve seen Tommy Kirk in better performances, so I know he can be good.

  2. Dang, why didn’t I recognize the teaser screencap?! Well, maybe it’s just because I only saw this film once (as far as I remember), long, long ago. If anything, I’m more familiar with SON OF FLUBBER.

    As a side note, as charming as the original may have been for its time, I’m much more of a fan of the 1997 remake (starring the ever-reliable Robin Williams). Maybe it’s my youthful sensibilities talking….

  3. Before watching this, I was only familiar with the 90s version, which I watched countless times as a kid, so there’s probably some childhood nostalgia bias towards it. Even still, as solid as this original is (and Fred MacMurray is the better professor IMO), there’s a lot of things here that are kinda clumsy and the remake did better. Story is nowhere near as tight here, the government subplot is pretty unnecessary, and they did not do as much with Flubber here, aside from the shoes and the car. Also, while watching this version, I kinda became convinced that this professor is aromantic and doesn’t actually need a love interest, he’s just pressured into it by society, yet another thing the remake tidied up and made much more sense and reasoning for it. Overall, still very good film, but I’ll stick to the 90s version.

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