The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

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In 1969, the first film in what would later become a trilogy of films involving a student undergoing an incredible scientific metamorphosis was released. It was called The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Was this film good enough to warrant two further theatrical sequels? Let’s find out!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

The film takes place at Medfield College (the same college from The Absent-Minded Professor and its sequel and remake), a small, private college headed by Dean Higgins, played by Joe Flynn. Dean Higgins is the type of dean who tries his best to spend as little money as he can. So when the college professors such as Professor Quigley, played by Williams Schallert, try to convince him to purchase anything for the college, such as a computer, it’s like pulling teeth!

Really? In 1969, a computer wasn’t a luxury? What year did computers start becoming commonplace in colleges and the like?

A group of Medfield College students led by Dexter Reilly, played by Kurt Russell, happen to be listening in on this conversation via a walkie-talkie and are disappointed that Dean Higgins won’t give in.

This film happens to be one of the few live-action roles that veteran voice actor, Frank Welker, has done. He plays one of Dexter’s college friends and I swear his regular voice is EXACTLY like Fred’s from the Scooby-Doo franchise!

They decide to go to a wealthy businessman named A.J. Arno, played by Cesar Romero, to try to persuade him to donate a computer to their college. After all, he is the biggest private donor to the college anyway! Fortunately, he listens to the students’ pleas and donates one of his computers to the college with the understanding that he won’t be donating any further money this year. As you can imagine, Dean Higgins is upset about this, but Professor Quigley does his best to convince the dean that it’s a good thing and then starts teaching his students about how the computer works.

This is like my CDA 3103 class all over again!

After a computer part malfunctions, Dexter offers to get the replacement part from the store and install it later that night. Interestingly enough, that night happens to be a stormy one and Dexter gets a shock through his body while trying to replace the part.

The birth of a new Marvel superhero…or supervillain?

The computer seems to be damaged from the shock, but it doesn’t seem to have affected Dexter at all. Well, the next day, when Dexter completes an exam in a few minutes that should have taken him a couple of hours, Professor Quigley gets suspicious. He takes Dexter to a doctor along with Dean Higgins and together they discover that Dexter’s mind is now a computer! The shock manipulated his brain and he’s now able to retain tons and tons of information quickly and effectively!

They decide to put Dexter to the test and have a panel of professors test his knowledge on various subjects.

As opposed to the geographical subject of calculus?

It’s not long before Dexter becomes a worldwide sensation going on tours, visiting Kennedy Space Station launches, and even assisting the United Nations. Even Mr. Arno wants Dexter’s help! You see, Mr. Arno secretly runs multiple illegal gambling dens and wants Dexter’s help in picking the winners of the horse races.

Meanwhile, there is a College Knowledge program going on: a sort of quizzing competition between different colleges where a panel of four students from each college battle to answer questions. The winning college of the competition would receive $100,000! As you can imagine, Dean Higgins wants to get Dexter to be on the Medfield College panel, but Dexter hasn’t signed up yet for the following semester. So the dean tries to persuade Dexter to sign up while also trying to beat a rival college from enrolling Dexter on their team first!

All this attention goes to Dexter’s head and he starts to become arrogant and ignoring his college friends. But when he gets arrested at one of Mr. Arno’s illegal gambling dens and his friends bail him out, he realizes what’s really important and changes for the better.

“And Dexter learned his lesson. Thanks for watching!”

No, that’s not the end! He decides to re-enroll at Medfield College and starts reading as many encyclopedias as he can to prepare for the College Knowledge program. As you can imagine, Medfield College wins most of the rounds due to having the “computer who wore tennis shoes” on their team!

During one of the rounds, Dexter correctly answers a question with “Applejack”. However, saying this puts him into a mechanical trance where he starts spouting out apparently random words and figures. You see, “Applejack” was the code name Mr. Arno used in reference to his multiple gambling dens. The computer that he donated to Medfield College had all this information in it and when Dexter got shocked, that information went into his mind as well. And the word, “Applejack” triggered the spouting of the private information related to Mr. Arno’s gambling dens. As this program was televised, Mr. Arno is fearful of his life and reputation when he sees this and orders one of his henchmen, Chillie Walsh, played by Richard Bakalyan, to kidnap Dexter so they can kill him afterwards.

“I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse: you die for us now and I’ll join you in The Fox and the Hound. What do you say?”

When Dexter’s friends notice him missing the next day, they get worried and start to wonder where he is. They soon conclude that Dexter’s disappearance has something to do with the words he spoke the day before. After thinking for a while, they conclude that Mr. Arno has something to do with this as it was his computer anyway that shocked Dexter in the first place!

One of the students goes to the police station with this news, but the police, of course, don’t believe him as Mr. Arno is man of high repute. So it’s up to the students to rescue Dexter themselves. They pose as painters and go to Mr. Arno’s house saying that they’ve been commissioned to paint it. While there, they get to snoop around the house and soon find Dexter and take him away in their painting truck. When Mr. Arno notices this, he and his henchmen give chase to stop the students and get Dexter back!

The result of this car chase is that Mr. Arno and his men get arrested by the police after the truth is revealed and Dexter winning the $100,000 for Medfield College in the College Knowledge program before going back to his regular human-brained self after suffering a concussion during the climax.

All’s well that ends well!

And that was The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes! So, did this film deserve two theatrical sequels? You know what? I think it did! It’s a very straightforward comedy with a simple plot, but it lends itself to a lot of creativity with the whole “computer knowledge” aspect! The acting is really great, overall, especially that of Cesar Romero and Joe Flynn. I wasn’t too fond of the acting by the actress who played Dexter’s girlfriend, but that’s more the script’s fault than hers.

The pacing of the movie felt just right, the humor felt just right, and the lessons learned felt just right. I can see why people wanted to see more adventures with the students of Medfield College! Who can blame them?

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

So, the final score for this film is 29/35 = 82.86% (B-) !

The next review will be posted on November 21, 2017.

13 thoughts on “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

  1. Actually….Computer were common place in science projects earlier than you might think. So yeah, by the late 1960s an university with a technical leaning should have had one. Not necessarily a state of the art one, but how are you supposed to teach higher level technical knowledge without having at least some machinery for the promising students to work on. If a college would necessarily have one, well, that is another question…..

    I am not sure if I have seen this movie…it’s sequel is actually better known in Germany because it has the most catchy title (Es kracht, es zischt, zu seh’n ist nischt). I think I have seen all the Disney crazy invention movies at least once, but they kind of blur together the same way the German school movies do.

    1. Yeah, I think it’s because that I haven’t studied the history of the computer between the ENIAC and the personal computers of the 1980s that I never really thought how commonplace were computers in academic environments during those years.

      We does Es kracht, es zischt, zu seh’n ist nischt translate as?

      1. It bangs, it fizzes but nothing is visible. It’s memorable in German because of the rhyme created by changing “nicht” (not) to “nischt”, which sounds like a German dialect, and makes it quite fun to say the sentences….and you can use it in all kinds of situations involving machinery not doing what it is supposed to do for an unknown reason.

  2. I can hear Fred’s voice at the end when Welker says “Higgins wants to spend the dough on plumbing!”. Jon Provost played another one of the college kids.

      1. Jon Provost played Bradley in this film. He’s probably best-known for having played Timmy Martin for 7 years in the LASSIE tv series.

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