Reviews

The Strongest Man in the World (1975)

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We finally arrive at the third film in Disney’s “Dexter Riley” trilogy, The Strongest Man in the World! This one, directed by Vincent McEveety, deals with super strength (in contrast to the previous two films which dealt with computer-like brains and invisibility, respectively). Is this film as good as its predecessors? Read on to find out!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

The film begins at Medfield College where we see the dean, Dean Higgins, played again by the always enjoyable Joe Flynn (who sadly passed away about six months prior to the film’s release). Dean Higgins is receiving a visit from a member of the school board, Regent Dietz, played by Harold Gould. The board is upset at the expenditures of running the college and are planning to make some cuts, including firing Dean Higgins.

“But I’m an essential worker; I can’t be fired! I’ve been vaccinated and everything!”

Dumbfounded by the suggestion, Dean Higgins convinces Regent Dietz to let him fire the science teacher, Professor Quigley, played by William Schallert, instead. He convinces Regent Dietz that most of the extra costs of the college are due to the professor’s students’ wacky science experiments.

Dean Higgins heads to the science lab and fires Professor Quigley on the spot, much to the dismay of all his students. When he leaves, he slams the door behind him causing two experiments to mix together unbeknownst to anyone else. One of the experiments is a vitamin formula created by the student, Richard Schuyler (played by Michael McGreevey), that he’s been trying to mix into a cereal to boost the productivity of a cow they’ve acquired to experiment on.

Don’t ask.

The other experiment is a liquid created by the student, Dexter Riley, played again by Kurt Russell. When the two experiments mixed into the cereal, the cow eats it and later that night, Dexter receives a phone call from the farmer they borrowed the cow from saying that the cow has been producing milk nonstop ever since she returned from the science lab!

Dexter doesn’t pay much heed to it and the next day, he eats some of Richard’s cereal for breakfast. He feels funny afterwards though and begins to notice he now has superhuman strength when he accidentally pulls off a doorknob from a door, bends a metal pole, and breaks a basketball hoop after slam dunking.

He comes to the conclusion that Richard’s vitamin formula in the cereal is a success and demonstrates his newfound powers to Dean Higgins, Professor Quigley, and his fellow classmates. Seeing this demonstration, Dean Higgins gets an idea. He rehires Professor Quigley and then makes an appointment with the board of directors of the Crumply Crunch cereal company, the cereal that Richard was using for his experiment.

The board comprises many character actors of the time including Larry Gelman and Fritz Feld. They are headed by the company’s president, “Aunt” Harriet Crumply, played by Eve Arden. Dean Higgins eats their cereal mixed with Richard’s formula in front of them and then demonstrates the effects thereafter.

Higgins: 1
Table: 0

Amazed at the results, Aunt Harriet challenges their rival cereal company, Krinkle Krunch, to a weight-lifting competition. Crumply Crunch will sponsor Medfield College’s weight-lifting team and Krinkle Krunch will sponsor the weight-lifting champions, State College. If Medfield College wins the competition, their financial troubles will be over for good!

Krinkle Krunch’s president, Kirkwood Krinkle, played by Phil Silvers, immediately accepts the challenge assuming that it will be a walk in the park. However he is informed by a spy that he’s placed in Crumply Crunch, Harry, played by Dick Van Patten, that they will lose since they don’t have the secret super-strength formula. Mr. Krinkle orders Harry to obtain that formula so that they can win.

Harry hires the two criminals from the previous two films, Mr. Arno and Cookie, for the job. Played again by Cesar Romero and Richard Bakalyan, respectively, they have just been set free after completing their prison sentences. Cookie is hesitant to return to a life of crime, but Mr. Arno convinces him to change his mind even offering Cookie a chance to lead the operation to obtain the secret formula.

Later that night, Mr. Arno and Cookie head to Medfield College which has been heavily guarded so that nobody can break into the science lab and steal the formula. As Cookie is in charge at the moment, his plan involves him and Mr. Arno climbing up to the roof and lowering themselves down to the science lab via a window-washing scaffolding. As you can imagine, this plan proves almost disastrous due to their being out-of-sync.

Characters on the brink of death is always hilarious!

Eventually they make it into the science lab with Mr. Arno retaking command of the operation. He and Cookie try to find the secret formula, but are discovered by security guards and have to hurriedly make a break for it through the window.

They sure left quite the impression!

Their next plan is to kidnap Richard and make him confess to them his secret formula. As he won’t tell them willingly, they take him to Chinatown where they hire a Chinese hypnotist, Ah Fong, played by Benson Fong, to hypnotize him to reveal his secret formula.

Of course a Chinatown scene would incorporate something stereotypical like this!

After getting the formula, they hypnotize Richard again so that he can’t remember anything that has happened. While under hypnosis, Richard leaves Chinatown by stealing the police car belonging to the police chief, Chief Blair, played by James Gregory. Chief Blair sends all his policeman after Richard and they end up tackling him to the ground when they catch up with him. Fortunately, Professor Quigley and Dean Higgins bail him out, but he still has no idea what’s happened, where he’s been, or why he stole the police car in the first place.

Meanwhile Mr. Krinkle attempts to demonstrate the effects of their cereal with the formula to his board of directors (which also comprises many character actors such as Gordon Jump and Ned Wertimer). This doesn’t go well when he breaks his hand after trying to break the table in half.

The formula hasn’t worked and Mr. Krinkle berates Harry for this. But Harry reassures Mr. Krinkle that this is a good sign because if the formula doesn’t work for them, then it won’t work for Medfield College either. Soon enough, the day of the competition has arrived and Dean Higgins is confident about it whereas his board of directors isn’t.

There sure are a lot of board members in this movie!

It’s not long before Dexter (oh yeah, he’s in this movie) realizes that there is something wrong with the cereal and Richard’s formula. Dexter comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t Richard’s formula alone that gave them super strength, but also his experiment from the science lab that day when Dean Higgins slammed the door. He rushes to Medfield College to obtain his experiment only to find Mr. Arno and Cookie there as well. After drinking his formula, he fights them off and escapes to head back to the weight-lifting competition. He even has to speed away from a police car to reach the competition in time.

Fortunately, he returns in time to find his team losing (of course). It’s up to him to lift 1,111 pounds in order to beat State College. Fortunately with the help of the correct formula, he does! Medfield College wins, Dean Higgins is happy, Crumply Crunch is happy, and everyone else is happy except for Mr. Krinkle and the crooks.

I wouldn’t expect Phil Silvers to react in any other way!

And that was The Strongest Man in the World! Honestly, it was really enjoyable and funny like the previous two films! This is an example of a trilogy wherein every film is actually pretty good! This film is distinct though in that Dexter Riley is barely in the film and takes a back seat to other characters like Dean Higgins, Mr. Arno, Cookie, and even Richard.

Hence the writing can seem a bit padded and odd (such as Mr. Arno allowing Cookie to lead the operation, albeit briefly). Nevertheless, the acting is incredibly good by all, but especially by the character actors.

This was also the first film without Frank Welker. Maybe he was too busy with voiceover work to return?

If you haven’t checked this film out yet, I “strongly” (see what I did there?) suggest that you do!

So, my final score for this film is 27/35 = 77.14% (C+) !

The next review will be posted on January 25, 2022.

2 thoughts on “The Strongest Man in the World (1975)

  1. I guessed this film from your quote last week. I think it’s the best of the Dexter Riley films despite its plot being as implausible as the others. Joe Flynn was great in his last live-action Disney film appearance. (His voicework for “The Rescuers” came out a couple years later.)
    A couple “nitpicks”: Richard Schuyler, as in the other films, is called by his last name “Schuyler”, exclusively in the film, though Richard is his first name. Also Phil Silvers (not Silver) played Krinkle. I don’t remember seeing Gordon Jump (or seeing him credited) in this film, but in such a large cast he could be easy to miss. I noticed legendary elder actor Burt Mustin as a regent in your picture of the regents. He continued acting until shortly before his death early in 1977 at age 92!
    From the long opening credits (w/ a great cartoon & theme tune, IMO), 57 people were credited. many by their real names, as though the screenwriters didn’t have time to think up names for them. It’s a shame that Barry Greenberg, who’d played Albert the young Santa would-be in the 1973 “Miracle on 34th St.” remake, was left uncredited in his short but important part as the portly Elmer, whom Dexter picked up by his chair leg while Elmer was being reprimanded for eating in class. I thought Mayfield must be a very tiny school for its Dean to be taking time to do this scolding, and referring to classroom numbers where Elmer was engaged in this behavior made Mayfield sound like a high school.
    All-in-all I thought this film made a great conclusion to the Dexter Riley trilogy, and Disney has it included in a 4-pack of Kurt Russell films on DVD, which I bought years ago.

    1. Thank you for the comment! I have updated my typo and changed “Silver” to “Silvers”. I will keep Richard Schuyler as Richard just for ease in reading.
      Yeah, Gordon Jump was uncredited (he didn’t even have any lines if I remember), but he is seen in the scenes with Krinkle’s boardroom.
      Yep, that was Burt Mustin, alright! I was gonna mention him, but decided against it.
      Now You See Me, Now You Don’t is my fave of the three, but this was still good.

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