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Film / The Absent-Minded Professor

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"I said it's Neddy the Nut flying his... old Model T."

The Absent-Minded Professor is a 1961 live-action Disney comedy film directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Fred MacMurray as Prof. Ned Brainard, the eponymous Absent-Minded Professor, who teaches chemistry at Medfield College.

One day, while forgetting his own wedding—not for the first time—Brainard nonetheless succeeds in inventing a substance which has mysterious properties, such as the ability to add kinetic energy with every bounce and flight. Using this substance, which he dubs "flubber", Brainard proceeds to foil the attempts of a rival English professor to woo his fiancée, help Medfield's basketball team to unexpectedly win their Big Game, and win back his girl. Unfortunately, the only person who seems interested in giving Brainard any money for his invention is Corrupt Corporate Executive Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn), who is also threatening to foreclose on the college...

Based on a 1943 short story ("A Situation of Gravity") by Samuel W. Taylor, the film was followed by the 1963 sequel Son of Flubber. Remade twice, first in 1988 as a TV film shown on The Magical World of Disney and starring Harry Anderson as Prof. Henry Crawford (and introducing the idea of a computer sidekick), and then in 1997 as Flubber.

This film provides examples of:

  • '50s Hair: As the majority of filming took place between 1959 and 1960, many of the characters, even the college students, bear this, mixed with early '60s hairdos like the beehive, crew cuts, bouffants, and flips.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Naturally!
  • Ain't No Rule: How Medfield wins against Rutland. Technically, there's no rule that says that one team can't jump higher than the other (even when said leaps are so high the Medfield students are almost hitting the ceiling).
  • Artistic License – Sports: In reality, there is no way the Professor's basketball team could have played with those flubber enhanced shoes for long before a competent, level-headed referee would have them off the court for cheating, let alone excess travelling.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Lovable Jock Biff comes up with a scheme to steal Brainard's technology by switching cars after his father tricks him into thinking that doing so is the only way to save Medfield from closure.
  • Career Versus Man: I'm just tired of having a spinster for a secretary.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The "Shelby Stomp", which ultimately results in a...
  • Chronically Crashed Car: In both movies, police officers Hanson and Kelly's police car keeps getting crashed into by other cars, thanks to Brainard in his Flying Car performing his "Shelby Stomp".
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Brainard, to an extent, whom Biff Hawk calls "Neddy the Nut".
  • Conversation Cut: The ending uses one to transition from Brainard giving a press conference on Flubber, to Brainard finally marrying Betsy.
    Reporter: Professor, with this great breakthrough in science, do you feel you still have other worlds to conquer?
    (cut to wedding)
    Brainard: I do.
  • Cool Car: It's a Model T! With no engine!
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The main Big Bad, Alonzo Hawk, president of the Auld Lang Syne Loan Company.
  • Crossover: Alonzo Hawk appears as the same character in both this movie and Herbie Rides Again.note  Officers Hanson and Kelly reprise their roles from The Shaggy Dog. The fictional Medfield College was also featured as the location of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and its sequels.
  • Delayed "Oh, Crap!": When Alonzo Hawk sees Brainard flying his car and asks his son Biff what he sees.
    Biff: Oh, it's just Neddy the Nut out flying his old Model T.
    Hawk: Say that again.
    Biff: I said it's Neddy the Nut flying his—(finally gets it).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Betsy, of all people, gives this zinger when Brainard is attempting to explain how the properties of Flubber led to him missing their wedding:
    Professor Brainard: That's why we call it repulsive energy!
    Betsy: That's exactly the way I feel about it.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Filmed and released in black-and-white to better hide any flaws in the special effects.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Brainard.
  • Driving a Desk: Each driving scene, whether set on land or in the air, was filmed via rear-projection.
  • Dumbass No More: In the first movie, Biff Hawk gets every question on Brainard's exam wrong, but he's working as the professor's lab assistant in the sequel and is pretty adept at the job.
  • Dumb Jock: Biff Hawk flunks Brainard's chemistry class, disqualifying him from the big game and making his father upset—at Professor Brainard, not his son.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hawk, the greedy Big Bad, is horrified when Brainard jumps out the window before realizing he's just demonstrating his bouncing shoes.
  • Flying Car: If you bombard Flubber with gamma rays it levitates, even if it's attached to a Model T!
  • Follow in My Footsteps: Hawk clearly expects his son Biff to turn out just like him. He doesn't.
    Hawk: (in "Son of Flubber", after the fact) If you weren't deductible, I'd disown you!
  • Football Fight Song: “The Medfield Fight Song”, the first of many, many songs The Sherman Brothers wrote for Disney.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: As was common at the time, Disney would release a colorized version in The '80s.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: Both invoked and parodied in the opening scene of the first movie. It features Professor Brainard attempting to demonstrate this with a trumpet and a glass placed on the table. His playing fails to crack the glass but manages to shatter every other glass object in the room, including beakers full of chemicals that fill the room with smoke as the opening credits roll. He also manages to shatter one student's pair of glasses.
  • Goomba Stomp: The "Shelby Stomp", a.k.a. Brainerd damaging someone else's car by bringing his Flying Car down on them repeatedly.
  • Hello Again, Officer: Shelby Ashton and later Alonzo Hawk and his henchmen are all constantly foiled whenever their car crashes into a cop car, which always causes the same two cops in question to spill "BOILING HOT COFFEE!!" in their lap. Needless to say, they promptly arrest them.
  • Informed Ability: Biff Hawk is apparently a good enough basketball player that he could have singlehandedly won the Medfield-Rutland game, but he's never actually seen on the basketball court, and therefore never gets to demonstrate that level of skill.
  • Inter-Service Rivalry: The Army, the Navy, and the Air Force all squabble to get their hands on the rights to flubber.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: In the sequel, Affably Evil IRS Agent Harker gives the Brainards a tax bill for far more money than they have and refuses to cut them any slack, even though the federal government has unjustly confiscated the source of income they based that tax estimate on. He also fondly recalls that he arrested his own mother for not reporting bake sale money and makes a note to tax a preadolescent paperboy.
    Betsy: But Joey's only seven years old! You can't take money from a child.
    Harker: You know, Professor, your wife has a remarkable sense of humor. We don't run into it often in our line of work, and that's a fact.
  • Jerk Jock: The ridiculously tall Rutland basketball players are quite petty, as shown when they go out of their way to smugly hold the basketballs just out of the Medfield players' reach and condescendingly pat their heads.
  • Loan Shark: Alonzo Hawk is president of the Auld Lang Syne Loan Company. An important scene takes place in his warehouse full of repossessed items. This is lampshaded by Biff in Son of Flubber:
    "Pop's the biggest loan shark in the state, and he's proud of it."
  • Loophole Abuse: When the Rutland coach in the basketball game calls shenanigans over Medfield's Flubber-enhanced jumping abilities, the referee points out that there's no rule that says one team can't jump higher than the other.
  • Lovable Jock: Biff Hawk is the star player of the basketball team, but is actually quite a nice kid - especially when his father's not badgering him to help with the family business.
  • Meaningful Name: BRAINard.
  • Miraculous Malfunction: The creation of Flubber. Brainard's lab explodes, which was clearly not what he intended - but the Flubber turned out great!
  • Mood Whiplash: In "Son of Flubber", as Brainard is carted off by the police after Medfield wins the football game against Rutland, a bunch of Spinning Papers appear, headlining Brainard's trial. The music sobers up dramatically, too.
  • Nepotism: Alonzo Hawk is irate at Professor Brainard for flunking his son Biff, making him ineligible to play in the big basketball game, and threatens to pull funding from the college because of it. Brainard points out in his defense that Biff not only answered every question wrong but misspelled the name of the college.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The government official stops listening to Brainard when he's listing all the areas of government could help when he gets to Agriculture and transfers him to the agriculture department, where another official starts listing off a series of questions without even listening to what Brainard is saying.
  • Pass the Popcorn: After Brainard and Betsy trick Hawk into wearing a pair of Flubber-shoes and set him bouncing outside, a larger and larger crowd begins to watch him, until there are snack vendors selling their wares, and even reporters commentating. Even Biff enjoys the show, even as he is trying to call on others to help get his father down safely.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: Flubber is a perpetual motion substance.
  • Pink Elephants: The police officer assumes that Shelby was drunk and hallucinating when he describes the unseen flying car that gave him the "Shelby Stomp."
    Officer: Oh, that kind of a thing! Well, why don't you just blow into this tube and we'll see if we can't find out where that thing came from.
  • Pom-Pom Girl: The Medfield cheerleaders seem genuinely impassioned and excited by their basketball team doing well and manage to maintain an encouraging spirit even when their team is forty points behind.
  • Portmanteau: "Flubber" is a mashup of the words "flying rubber."
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Brainard is shown stalking his jilted ex-fiancee who currently wants nothing to do with him and also terrorizing the man that she's now dating; a character mind you that hasn't really done anything that bad except currently be the main character's romantic rival. Also, basketball players putting flubber in their shoes to make them jump extra high and win the game? Since the audience is on their side, it's a Moment of Awesome. However, if the Opposing Sports Team did it, it would surely be seen as blatant cheating.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Subverted. Brainard tries to sell flubber to the government, but all he talks to are uninterested bureaucrats who don't understand or care. By the time he manages to get someone to come down to check out his invention, it's already been stolen and replaced with a fake by his rival, making him look like a fool. Things work out for the best in the end, however, when he actually flies the car to Washington.
  • Rule of Three: The guests of Brainard's and Betsy's third wedding express hope that he'll finally show up, when they remind Betsy that "Third Time's The Charm." When Brainard misses the wedding, Betsy cries, "three strikes, and you're out!" Their fourth wedding goes off without a hitch, though.
  • Runaway Groom: Brainard skips his own wedding three times— not on purpose, mind you, but because he was too preoccupied with research and just forgot. His poor fiancée is understandably upset.
  • Smug Snake: Shelby, to Brainard's disgust. Also, Alonzo Hawk.
  • Take That!: At the US government. When the military officer is about to fire missiles at the flying car, he hears that it went on the other side of the capital building, but keeps counting down. He is told that Congress is in session, and he keeps counting down. He hears the building just got remodeled, and finally decides to hold his fire.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Even Brainard's Kindly Housekeeper tells him that Betsy is too good for him and its surprising she stayed around after missing their wedding two times.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Kindly Housekeeper Mrs. Chatsworth is prominent early on but disappears in the second half of the movie and doesn't return for the sequel.