Professor Ned Brainard (Fred MacMurray) teaches physical chemistry at Medfield College. In his spare time he can be found in his garage working on his invention. He is trying to develop a new form of energy. On the night when he is supposed to marry Betsy Carlisle (Nancy Olson) he has a breakthrough that just about blows up his garage. He names his substance Flubber which is an amalgam of Flying Rubber.
Having missed his wedding for the third time Betsy, who is the secretary to the school president Rufus Daggett (Leon Ames), is not talking to him. Daggett is pissed at him because he flunked the basketball team’s star player Biff Hawk (Tommy Kirk), which means Biff can’t play in the big game with rival Rutland College. Biff happens to be the son of the college’s biggest lender Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn). Hawk wants to foreclose on the college and turn it into tract housing.
With Biff off the team Medfield is sure to lose to Rutland in the big game. To try to get on everyone’s good side Brainard puts Flubber on the team’s shoes at half time. With the Flubber advantage Medfield wins the game by one point. Hawk, having bet heavily against Medfield is pissed. At least until he sees Brainard and his dog Charlie flying through the night in a Model T that Brainard fueled with his Flubber.
Hawk, a con man, attempts to ingratiate himself with Brainard. It doesn’t work. Brainard decides to call the US Government himself and try to get them to use his invention. Not to be outdone Hawk sabotages Brainard’s plans by stealing the Model T and substituting it with another car. Unless he can get his car back and demonstrate to the government that his invention really works Brainard’s plans of saving the college will fail.
“The Absent-Minded Professor” was released in 1961 and was directed by Robert Stevenson. It is science fiction/comedy produced by Walt Disney Productions. It is based on the short story "A Situation of Gravity" by Samuel W. Taylor that was originally published in the May 1943 issue of Liberty magazine. The film was followed by a sequel in 1963 called “Son of Flubber”. It was the first film Disney made a sequel for. The film was colorized in 1986 for the video release.
The story is standard Disney fare but the film is loaded with a string of sight gags. The family film is something that everyone can sit around and watch without worrying about language or any objectionable scenes. It’s a great popcorn movie for everyone.
The title character was based in part on Hubert Alyea, a professor of chemistry at Princeton University. Professor Alyea was known as "Dr. Boom" due to his explosive experiments demonstrated in class. The professor earned the nickname from Russian observers of his demonstrations at the International Science Pavilion of the Brussels World's Fair in the 1950s. Walt Disney had attended the fair. 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. MacMurray used the opportunity to study Alyea and later mimicked Alyea's mannerisms for the film. MacMurray would later state that he had never understood chemistry until his meeting with Alyea.
Three generations of the Wynn family are in the film: Ed Wynn; his son Keenan Wynn; and Keenan's son, Ned Wynn.
Several rubbery chemical compounds are named Flubber in honor of the Absent-Minded Professor's substance.
A toy version of Flubber was sold courtesy of "Disney", licensee Hassenfeld Bros., Inc. of Rhode Island. The Flubber was made from mineral oil and butadiene. The substance was sold to children, but due to health issues it was discontinued. Butadiene is a known cancer causing substance. The Flubber would also ruin clothing and rugs because it would "melt" into fabrics.
The formula for Flubber was never revealed. Time magazine published a tongue in cheek recipe in conjunction with release of the movie: To one pound of saltwater taffy add one heaping tablespoon polyurethane foam, one cake crumbled yeast. Mix till smooth, allow to rise. Then pour into saucepan over one cup cracked rice mixed with one cup water. Add topping of molasses. Boil until it lifts the lid and says, ‘Qurlp.’