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Monday, September 4, 2017

Son of Flubber (1963) – Review

With the success of The Absent Minded Professor a sequel was certainly not out of the question but Walt Disney himself abhorred sequels and despite the original making over $25 million dollars a sequel would never have been made if not for the fact that there were several unused Flubber gags sitting on the shelf. I’ve certainly heard worse reasons to greenlight a sequel but one must admit that this one is particularly lame.

The movie opens with absent minded Professor Ned Brainard (Fred MacMurray) flying to Washington DC in his Flubber powered Model T, along for the ride is Biff Hawk (Tommy Kirk) who though the son of the nefarious Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn) has become a kind of assistant to the Professor. We learn that Medfield College is in financial dire straits, with Alonzo Hawk ready to foreclose on their loan and bulldoze the place, but with the millions in revenue expected from Brainard’s invention they all assume the school will be saved. Unfortunately poor Ned is given the “Washington Two-Step” as his invention has been declared “Top Secret” by the Pentagon and is told that it will take time to move it through Congress and the appropriations committee, which means he won’t see a red cent for the foreseeable future. This moment in the film is sadly about the only believable one we get.


And I’m all for believing in flying cars.

From this moment on the film becomes just a collection of contrived conflicts to justify a series of those “Flubber Gags” left over from the previous film. Brainard’s new wife Betsy (Nancy Olson) is frantic over the fact that they have to search through couch cushions to pay the paperboy, and is almost in tears when she has to tear up a million dollar endorsement cheque because of Ned’s deal with the government. But wait, isn’t the Professor still taking in a salary from the college? Even if the college is strapped for cash don't they still have to pay their teachers? Added to the mess is a company that wanted Ned to sign with them to unleash a flood of “Flubber Products” that made little to no sense; they had mock-up ads for Flubber Enterprises that included such products as Flubbermint chewing gum, a Flubbercycle for exercise, Flubberdent toothpaste, and a Flubberin pain medication.


How would that even work?

Things get even worse when a man from the IRS shows up to hand them a $656 thousand dollar tax bill based on the estimated projected earnings from Flubber….wait, what? Now I may not be the most knowledgeable guy when it comes to the ins and outs of the tax system, and maybe in Canada it’s different, but I really can’t see how you can be on the hook for taxes on “potential” future earnings. That’s just ludicrous.

But money problems aren’t the only thing Ned has to worry about as Betsy has invited that, “Double-crossing, miserable, four-flushing snake Shelby Ashton!” over for dinner. I may know even less about love than I do about the American tax system but I must say that inviting your old flame, one who repeatedly tried to screw over your new husband mere days ago, has got to be the dumbest of dumb ideas. Yet that isn’t enough conflict so the script has Shelby (Elliot Reed) show up for dinner with Desiree de la Roche (Joanna Moore) who is an old school flame of Ned’s and who also seems to still be carrying a torch for him. Betsy moves straight into insanely jealous mode, you almost expect a catfight to break out at any moment, but then good ole Ned doubles down on that stupidity by declaring, “No wife of mine is going to work as long as I have a spark of life in my body” when Shelby offers a job to cash strapped Betsy. The love squabble that develops from this dinner plagues much of the film’s running time, it’s not original or all that funny, and isn’t this supposed to be a sci-fi comedy?


Enter the weather making machine.

The movie isn’t all financial and relationship problems, it just seems that way at times, but we do get Professor Brainard working on a new invention that stems from the gas that is a byproduct of Flubber. With the use of this Flubber gas he believes he can create and control weather, and he does manage to make the steam from a tea kettle turn into a small rain cloud in his kitchen with the resulting puddle being blamed on the poor dog, but when he tries to make actual clouds do the same not a drop of rain is to be seen. Though unbeknownst to him the weather ray did have an effect but instead of the desired effect of making clouds it instead caused every piece of glass in the beams radius to burst or shatter.


Unhappy Hour.

Aside from Ned’s experiments with Flubber gas we also have Biff Hawk working on a side project of his own that will allow the puny football players of Medfield College defeat the giant players of rival Rutland College. If you think that this will result in Flubber being used to cheat in a sporting event, as we saw in the last film, you are absolutely correct. *sigh*

When Alonzo Hawk discovers that Ned is responsible for all the town’s broken glass, which Hawk’s insurance company was on the hook for, he at first wants Ned to partner up with him in a glass smashing scam.  His plan is that they would quietly buy up stock in various glass companies and then Ned’s machine would smash people’s glass, they in turn would then supply the victims with new glass, which of course they would smash again, “We could even start up a quiet little corporation that just breaks church glass.” When Ned refuses to be part of this diabolical plan Hawk declares that he will see Brainard in jail for all the damage he caused, and as for Medfield College, “A year from now people will have forgotten there ever was such a punk little college.” What is Professor Brainard brilliant plan to stop this from happening?  Why its to get a hold of Biff and help the team win the big game so that even if the school is shut down it will never be forgotten.


So that justifies cheating?

The football game goes much the same way the basketball game did in The Absent Minded Professor with the superior Rutland team soundly trouncing the puny Medfield players until Brainard, Biff and their guinea pig student Humphrey Hacker (Leon Tyler) arrive with a football suit tricked out with inflatable Flubber pockets. This allows Biff to simply throw Humphrey down the field for a touchdown, or allows Humphrey to bounce past the opposing linemen, and they eventually win the game when a flubber injected football is kicked for a 98 yard field goal. This makes the whole Tom Brady Deflategate seem like a minor infraction. The whole scene is of course there just for some good laughs but when the referee blows off the Rutland coach’s protests stating, “Here’s the rule book. You think there’s something wrong, you find it.


"There's nothing in the rule book that says an elephant can't pitch."

But the whole world knows about Flubber and many of the same people here where ones who witnessed it in action at that notorious basketball game, so how could anyone not realize what was going on and call foul on Medfield’s cheating? Well the movie doesn’t have time to deal with that as Professor Brainard soon finds himself in police custody and off to court to face the consequences for his glass breaking/weather machine, but just before the court can throw the book at him a local agricultural official (Ed Wynn) shows up to inform everyone that Professor Brainard’s ray caused something he calls “Dry Rain” and has made the normally terrible Medfield soil into something supercharged that makes all crops grow to enormous sizes. This somehow results in him being acquitted and the damages he caused forgotten.

Note: The giant crops being paraded into the court as evidence is a complete lift from the letters to Santa scene in the A Miracle on 34 Street.

As sequels go Son of Flubber is a pale shadow of its predecessor, only the great stock of Disney character actors and the fun Flubber moments make it bearable, but as weak as it is there is still Fred MacMurray at the center and he manages to bring his affable charm to bear like no other actor before or since. There is a particularly great moment when in court and he explains to the prosecutor that making mistakes is actually a good thing, “The road to genius is paved with fumble-footing and bumbling. Anyone who falls flat on his face is at least moving in the right direction, forward. And the fellow who makes the most mistakes may be the one who will save the neck of the whole world someday.” That is a pretty great message in what most would call a rather "light and forgettable comedy" proving that even Disney fluff films are worth checking out.

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