The Misadventures of Merlin Jones

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones is a 1964 Walt Disney production starring Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello. Kirk plays a college student who experiments with mind-reading and hypnotism, leading to run-ins with a local judge. Funicello plays his girlfriend (and sings the film's title song, accompanied by Disneyland's very own harmony quartet, The Yachtsmen, written by brothers Robert and Richard Sherman).[3]

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones
Directed byRobert Stevenson
Produced byWalt Disney
Ron Miller
Written byStory:
Bill Walsh
Alfred Lewis Levitt
Helen Levitt
StarringTommy Kirk
Annette Funicello
Leon Ames
Music byBuddy Baker
CinematographyEdward Colman
Edited byCotton Warburton
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • February 11, 1964 (1964-02-11) (Los Angeles)[1]
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,000,000 (US/ Canada)[2]

This film led to a 1965 sequel called The Monkey's Uncle.


Midvale College student Merlin Jones (Tommy Kirk), who is always involved with mind experiments, designs a helmet that connects to an electroencephalographic tape that records mental activity. He is brought before Judge Holmsby (Leon Ames) for wearing the helmet while driving and his license is suspended. Merlin returns to the lab and discovers accidentally that his new invention enables him to read minds.

Judge Holmsby visits the diner where Merlin works part-time, and Merlin, through his newly found powers, learns that the judge is planning a crime. After informing the police, he is disregarded as a crackpot. Merlin and Jennifer (Annette Funicello), his girlfriend, break into Judge Holmsby's house looking for something to prove Holmsby's criminal intent but are arrested by the police. Holmsby then confesses that he is the crime book author "Lex Fortis," and asks that this identity be kept confidential.

Merlin's next experiment uses hypnotism. After hypnotizing Stanley, Midvale's lab chimp, into standing up for himself against Norman (Norm Grabowski), the bully student in charge of caring for Stanley, Merlin gets into a fight with Norman, and is brought before Judge Holmsby again. Intrigued by Merlin's experiments, the judge asks for Merlin's help in constructing a mystery plot for his next book.

Working on the premise that no honest person can be made to do anything they wouldn’t do otherwise – especially commit a crime – Merlin hypnotizes Holmsby and instructs him to kidnap Stanley. Shocked when the judge actually commits the crime, Merlin and Jennifer return the chimp, but are charged for the theft themselves. The judge sentences Merlin to jail, completely unaware of his own role in the crime. Livid at the injustice, Jennifer persuades Holmsby of his own guilt, and the good judge admits that there might be a little dishonesty in everybody.


Production notes

The screen credit for writing reads, "Screenplay by Tom and Helen August", which were the pseudonyms for Alfred Lewis Levitt and Helen Levitt, two writers who were blacklisted.[4]

Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello had previously starred in two films for Disney made for US television but released theatrically in other markets, The Horsemasters and Escapade in Florence. This was originally made for television but Disney decided to release it theatrically.[5]

To date Disney has not officially stated whether or not this film was actually two episodes of a planned television series, but this has long been suspected to be the case,[6] with at least one critic, Eugene Archer, of The New York Times, writing upon its release:

"Movies made for television are commonplace these days, but the idea of screening television shows in movie theaters is still farfetched. Who is expected to spend the $2? Strange as it sounds, this seems to be the explanation behind Walt Disney's latest hit, "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones." It is a pastiche of two separate stories with the same set of characters, each running less than an hour (leaving time for commercials), stitched together in the middle and released yesterday in neighborhood theaters." [7]

Filming took place in January 1963.[8]

In March 1963 it was reported NBC were so pleased with Annette Funicello that they wanted Disney to make two more films with the same character.[9] It appears that Disney then decided to release the movie theatrically.



Eugene Archer of The New York Times panned the film as "cheap situation comedy" and "the kind of picture usually dismissed by shrugging, 'Well, at least the kids will like it.' Unless that is, your children happen to be bright."[7] A review in Variety declared, "Sad to say, it just doesn't come off ... As it plays out, there's little high voltage in the misadventures of the title character, Tommy Kirk."[10] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The yarn leans toward science-fiction (I suppose we might call it semi-fantasy) but it isn't nearly as funny as 'The Absent-Minded Professor' or the 'Flubbers.'"[11] The Chicago Tribune called it "a kooky comedy of the type young people will enjoy thoroughly... good natured nonsense."[12] The Monthly Film Bulletin stated, "Robert Stevenson makes heavy weather of this comedy—virtually two stories in one—which attempts without success to repeat the formula of Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor: both parts are disappointingly developed and singularly unfunny."[3]

Box office

Although critics were not impressed, audiences seemed to love it, as the film grossed over $4 million in North America, surprising even Disney.[13] "Nobody knows what a picture will do," said E. Carton Walker, Disney's vice president in charge of advertising. "Merlin Jones grossed $4 million... and surprised everybody."[14]

It made enough money to encourage a sequel in 1965.[15]


  1. "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  2. "Updated All-time Film Champs", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60. Please note figure is rentals accruing to distributors.
  3. "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 31 (368): 136. September 1964.
  4. Variety, April 3, 1997
  5. TV at Bottom of Movie Barrel, Makes Own Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 27 Mar 1966: b5.
  6. Archived 2010-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Archer, Eugene (March 26, 1964). "'Misadventures of Merlin Jones' Opens". The New York Times p. 40.
  8. Filmland Events: Miss Pickford, Lloyd Will Receive Honor. Los Angeles Times 3 Jan 1963: C7.
  9. ABC Planning the Shocker of All Time Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill.] 16 Mar 1963: d19.
  10. "Film Reviews: Misadventures of Merlin Jones". Variety. January 15, 1964. 18.
  11. Scheuer, Philip K. (February 13, 1964). "'Thousand Clown' A Hit at Hartford". Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 9.
  12. "Disney Film Good Fun for Family: "THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES" TINEE, MAE. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 14 Feb 1964: b16.
  13. Vagg, Stephen (9 September 2019). "The Cinema of Tommy Kirk". Diabolique Magazine.
  14. Disney: Self-Perpetuating Money Machine: 'Mary Poppins' Works Her Magic for Happy Shareowners VanderVeld, Richard L. Los Angeles Times 18 July 1965: h1.
  15. Disney Announces Diverse Schedule: Doris Day Winner (Again); Ill Wind a Boon to Actors Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 4 Jan 1965: B7.
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