The Absent-Minded Professor

The Absent-Minded Professor is a 1961 American comic science fiction family film produced by Walt Disney Productions based on the short story "A Situation of Gravity" by Samuel W. Taylor originally published in the May 22, 1943 issue of Liberty magazine. The title character was based in part on Hubert Alyea, a professor emeritus of chemistry at Princeton University, who was known as "Dr. Boom" for his explosive demonstrations. Directed by Robert Stevenson, the film stars Fred MacMurray as Professor Ned Brainard.

The Absent-Minded Professor
1961 theatrical poster
Directed byRobert Stevenson
Produced byBill Walsh
Written byBill Walsh
Based onA Situation of Gravity
1922 short story
by Samuel W. Taylor
StarringFred MacMurray
Nancy Olson
Music byGeorge Bruns
CinematographyEdward Colman
Edited byCotton Warburton
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
March 16, 1961[1]
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$25.4 million

The film was a huge success at the box-office, and two years later became the first Disney film to have a sequel, 1963's Son of Flubber.

The original 1961 film was one of the first Disney films to be colorized (for the 1986 video release), and, along with 1959's The Shaggy Dog and 1963's Son of Flubber, it is one of Disney's few black-and-white films to be produced after 1941.


Professor Brainard (Fred MacMurray) (pronounced BRAY-nard) is an absent-minded professor of physical chemistry at Medfield College who invents a substance that gains energy when it strikes a hard surface. This discovery follows some blackboard scribbling in which he reverses a sign in the equation for enthalpy to energy plus pressure times volume. Brainard names his discovery Flubber, which is a portmanteau of "flying rubber." In the excitement of his discovery, he misses his own wedding to Betsy Carlisle (Nancy Olson), not for the first time, but his third. Subplots include another professor wooing the disappointed Miss Carlisle, Biff Hawk's (Tommy Kirk) ineligibility for basketball due to failing Brainard's class, Alonzo Hawk's (Keenan Wynn) schemes to gain wealth by means of Flubber, the school's financial difficulties and debt to Mr. Hawk, and Brainard's attempts to interest the government and military in uses for Flubber. Shelby Ashton (Elliott Reid), who was interested in Betsy, is given his revenge by the Professor, who keeps on jumping on the top of Shelby's car, until it crashes into a police car, where he is given a field sobriety test.

Looking for backers, he bounces his Flubber ball for an audience, but his investment pitch proves so long-winded that most of the crowd has left before they notice that the ball bounced higher on its second bounce than on its first. For a more successful demonstration, he makes his Model T fly by bombarding Flubber with radioactive particles. Other adventures and misadventures result as Flubber is used on the bottoms of basketball players' shoes (in a crucial game) giving them tremendous jumping ability; Brainard (at a school dance) making him an accomplished dancer, and the scheming businessman Alonzo Hawk, who switches cars on the professor, with a car containing a squirrel and pigeons. Hawk then must be tackled by a full football team to bring him down after Brainard tricks him into testing Flubber on the bottom of his shoes. The Professor retrieves the old Model T from the warehouse, and Hawk is arrested for having a gun in his possession, when the car crashes into a police car. Eventually, Brainard shows his discovery to the government, after being scared by a missile in flight, and also wins back Miss Carlisle, culminating in a wedding at last.


Actor Role
Fred MacMurrayProfessor Ned Brainard
Nancy OlsonBetsy Carlisle
Keenan WynnAlonzo P. Hawk
Tommy KirkBiff Hawk
Leon AmesPresident Jeffrey Daggett
Elliott ReidProfessor Shelby Ashton
Edward AndrewsDefense Secretary
David LewisGeneral Singer
Jack MullaneyAir Force Captain
Belle MontroseMrs. Chatsworth
Wally BrownCoach Elkins
Wally BoagTV Newsman
Don RossLenny
Forrest LewisOfficer Kelley
James WesterfieldOfficer Hanson
Gage ClarkeReverend Bosworth
Alan HewittGeneral Hotchkiss
Raymond BaileyAdmirial Olmstead
Ed WynnFire Chief

Production notes

The aforementioned Prof. Alyea (1903–1996), professor of chemistry at Princeton University, earned the nickname "Dr. Boom" from Russian observers of his demonstrations at the International Science Pavilion of the Brussels World's Fair in the 1950s, which had Walt Disney in attendance. Disney told Alyea that he had given him an idea for a movie, and invited Alyea to California to give a demonstration for actor Fred MacMurray, who later mimicked Alyea's mannerisms for the film. MacMurray would later state that he had never understood chemistry until his meeting with Alyea.[2]

The special effects were created by Robert A. Mattey and Eustace Lycett, who were nominated for an Academy Award, and included the sodium screen matte process, as well as miniatures and wire-supported mockups. The film's "Medfield Fight Song" was written by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, their first song for a Disney feature.

Keenan Wynn and his father Ed Wynn appear together in this film. Keenan also played Alonzo Hawk in Son of Flubber (1963) and again in Herbie Rides Again (1974). Keenan's son Ned also appears uncredited in a bit part. Ed Wynn also appeared in Son of Flubber. At this stage of his life, Ed Wynn's memory was fading and he couldn't remember his lines; but he retained his innate wit and invention, so he improvised much of his dialogue, while director Stephenson instructed his crew to "just let him go on and on. You see, he had the most wonderful imagination."[3]

Tommy Kirk has a small support role.[4]

Medfield College of Technology was used again as the setting for the sequel, Son of Flubber, as well as a later trilogy of Disney "Dexter Riley" films: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972), and The Strongest Man in the World (1975), each starring Kurt Russell and Cesar Romero. Budget: $2,000,000 (estimated)


The film was nominated for three Academy Awards:[5]


The film was reissued to theaters in 1967 and 1975, and released to video in 1981, 1986, and 1993. It was released as a pan and scan print on VHS in black and white in 1981 and 1993, and in a colorized version in 1986, after successful airings on the Disney Channel in March of that year. In 2003, the film finally got a widescreen treatment: The Walt Disney laserdisc #028AS is letterboxed to produce a 1.85:1 aspect ratio format. In 2008 the film was released in the United States as part of a two-disc set with its sequel, Son of Flubber.


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "remarkably bouncy entertainment ... the grown-ups should find it entertaining for the silly shenanigans it contains and for the simple satisfaction of noting the pleasure it gives the kids."[6] Variety described it as "a comedy-fantasy of infectious absurdity" with MacMurray "ideally cast."[7] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film, "for all that it happens to be a one-joke picture, is good AND funny ... while its satire should be at least as sharp as its slapstick but isn't, the novelty of the gimmick will carry the picture to popularity."[8] Edith Oliver of The New Yorker called it "a funny and unpretentious piece of slapstick that cannot fail to please children and all the rest of us who are fans of the Keystone Cops."[9] The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "agreeable and entertaining," but "the comedy doesn't bounce enough. It is really a one-joke story, and could have done with more invention, more unpredictability; the humorous possibilities of the admirable flubber are not explored sufficiently."[10]

Despite the number of positive reviews, some critics disparaged the film on its release, causing considerable pain to Walt Disney, who couldn't understand why anyone would dislike such a light-hearted picture, leading composer Richard Sherman to comment: "Don't let anybody ever tell you Walt was immune to a bad review. It bothered him! The good reviews never went to his head, but the bad reviews went to his heart."[3]

The film holds a rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3 out of 10.[11]

Comic book adaption



MacMurray, Olson, Reid, and Kirk reprised their roles in Son of Flubber, a sequel released less than two years later in 1963. Hewitt also returns (now as District Attorney), as well as the two Wynns (Keenan reprising his Alonzo Hawk role).


The Absent-Minded Professor has been remade twice, once as a 1988 television version with Harry Anderson and Mary Page Keller as the renamed characters Prof. Henry Crawford and Ellen Whitley; and once more as a 1997 theatrical film titled, Flubber, with Robin Williams as the renamed Prof. Philip Brainard, with Marcia Gay Harden as his love interest, Dr. Sara Jean Reynolds (Nancy Olson appears in a cameo). Neither remake was as successful or is as highly regarded as the original, but the Robin Williams version was still a considerable success. Both remakes were made in color.


Several rubbery chemical compounds are named Flubber in honor of the Absent-Minded Professor's substance.[14]

See also


  1. "Absent-Minded Professor, The (film)". Disney A to Z. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  2. Official Princeton Obituary: Hubert Alyea, Innovator in Science Teaching, Dies at 93
  3. Tranberg, Charles (2007). Fred MacMurray - A Biography. Duncan, OK: BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1593930998. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  4. Vagg, Stephen (9 September 2019). "The Cinema of Tommy Kirk". Diabolique Magazine.
  5. "NY Times: The Absent-Minded Professor". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-24.
  6. Crowther, Bosley (March 17, 1961). "Screen: 'Absent-Minded Professor'". The New York Times: 25.
  7. "The Absent Minded Professor". Variety: 6. February 22, 1961.
  8. Scheuer, Philip K. (March 5, 1961). "Hilarity Rides High in a Flubber Flivver". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 3.
  9. Oliver, Edith (April 1, 1961). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 126.
  10. "The Absent-Minded Professor". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 28 (330): 91. July 1961.
  11. "The Absent-Minded Professor". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  12. "Dell Four Color #1199". Grand Comics Database.
  13. Dell Four Color #1199 at the Comic Book DB
  14. Parratore, Phil. Wacky Science: A Cookbook for Elementary Teachers. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt. p. 26. ISBN 0-7872-2741-2.
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