Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

I cannot confirm whether he's actually wearing tennis shoes

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (Disney, 1969). Dean Higgins of Medfield College (Joe Flynn) has a bit of a money problem.

It's actually unknown whether the college is low on funds or if Higgins is just a skinflint.

So when the much more likable Professor Quigley (William Schallart) comes by proposing the college purchase a computer for its highly dubious student body led by the plucky (yet dense) Dexter Riley (a young Kurt Russell), well that's just ridiculous!
Pictured: The only altruistic adult in the film.

Dexter Riley isn't just likeable, he's a monster.

Undeterred, Dexter uses his inside connection to local businessman and secret criminal A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero, who some might recognize as the first actor to take up the mantle of Batman villain "The Joker") to convince him to donate the $10,000.00 computer to the college… Which Arno does, after withholding his annual Medfield endowment of $20,000.00, much to the chagrin of Dean Higgins.
"But what if... I didn't shave my mustache before putting on white makeup?"

After installing the room-sized computer and giving a brief demonstration of its capabilities, Professor Quigley is mortified when it almost immediately breaks down (as they tend to do). While trying to repair the machine, Dexter is zapped, causing the computer to bond with his mind, creating a human capable of almost infinite learning potential.
Pictured: Actual X-ray from the film, in case you were curious how serious it is.

With his new super-brain, Dexter becomes a national celebrity that everyone wants a piece of. Will he remember who his friends are, or will he fall prey to the newfound confidence his abilities bring?

Some details:

This is the first film in Disney's oft-forgot trilogy of Dexter Riley films (the other two are 1972's "Now You See Him, Now You Don't" and 1975's "The Strongest Man in the World"), and sets the tone for each of these goofy and lighthearted family friendly college films. There's no strong language, no nudity, and the only real adult themes explored are A.J. Arno's heavy-handed criminal underpinnings which are, expectedly, played for laughs.

Also, one scene of VERY distracted driving with no consequences. Dexter is a monster.

Problems, or just modern context?

Now, the obvious question is, had it aged well? And the obvious answer is, well… No. Most kids today cannot fathom having to switch a home computer on and off just to change programs (like we did back in my day) let alone that a computer with such limited functionality would cost the equivalent of a used Miata and take up an entire room. Of course, this too can be charming in and of itself, but the real appeal of this film are the incredibly silly character performances by the likes of Joe Flynn as Dean Higgins and his rival, state college Dean Collingsgood played with villainous aplomb by Alan Hewitt.

He's depicted as the bad guy, but Collingsgood is really just a more successful version of Dean Higgins.

The dopey college students provide a lot of the laughs, and there's a fair amount of slapstick and minor action sequences (including a memorable dune buggy chase near the end of the film).
Despite the goofy nature of this film, these stunts look awfully dangerous.

Side note:

If you see a particularly weird-looking kid in Dexter's friend group with an odd straight but not-quite-bowl-cut hairdo, that's an early and rare live-action appearance of Frank Welker, who many people will know as the modern voice of Scooby-Doo and Fred Jones from "Scooby-Doo" cartoons, Megatron and Soundwave from the original "Transformers" cartoon, Curious George, various "Gremlins," and any of the other nearly 900 voice and acting credits he has on IMDB.

"Jeepers, gang!"

Basically, if you've seen a movie, played a video game, or watched TV in the last 50 or so years, you've either seen or heard him at some point. Just worth noting.
"Ruh-roh, Raggy!"

My thoughts:

I like this film, but primarily because it falls into that time in my life when we would have movie days at my elementary schools, when the teachers would herd us into the cafeteria/gymnasium/auditorium room and show us a film that they ordered with the school's limited budget on an old reel-to-reel projector. They were always films like this (and indeed this exact film), which were old back when I was going to school but still felt fresh in our young minds. Its actual modern entertainment value is wholly debatable, and may not play with today's more sophisticated and special-effects hungry children.

Where can you see it?

"The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" is currently streaming on Disney+. Its sequel, "Now You See Him, Now You Don't" is not, however, but it's sequel, "The Strongest Man in the World," (oddly) is.

No comments: