Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action Edition. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We’ve done all the animated films, so we have moved on to the live action ones. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

Year: 1969

Box office: $5.5 million

Plot: Dexter Riley and his friends attend small, private Medfield College, which cannot afford to buy a computer. The students persuade wealthy businessman A.J. Arno to donate an old computer to the college. Arno is the secret head of a large illegal gambling ring, which used the computer for its operations.

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While installing a replacement part during a thunderstorm, Riley receives an electric shock and becomes a human computer. He now has superhuman mathematical talent, can read and remember the contents of an encyclopedia volume in a few minutes and can speak a language fluently after reading one textbook.

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His new abilities make Riley a worldwide celebrity and Medfield’s best chance to win a televised quiz tournament with a $100,000 prize. Riley single-handedly leads Medfield’s team in victories against other colleges. During the tournament, a trigger word causes Riley to unknowingly recite on television details of Arno’s gambling ring.

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Arno’s henchmen kidnap Riley and plan to kill him, but his friends help him escape. Arno’s home is being painted and in the rescue effort, Riley’s friends put paint in the gas tanks of the henchmen’s cars, causing them not to start, and following a brief chase in his own car, Arno ends up in a pile of hay.

During the escape, Riley suffers a concussion which, during the tournament final against rival Springfield State, gradually returns his mental abilities to normal; one of his friends, however, is able to answer the final question. Medfield wins the $100,000 prize. Arno and his henchmen are arrested when they attempt to escape the TV studio and crash head-on into a police car.

Background: The trilogy is a part of the Medfield Cinematic Universe.

Cast: Kurt Russell returns as Dexter Riley, Joe Flynn returns as Dean Higgins, and Alan Hewitt returns as Dean Collingsgood.

Cesar Romero as A.J. Arno. He is best known for playing the Joker in the Batman series. He starred as the Cisco Kid in six westerns. He appeared in films such as Week-End in Havana, Springtime in the Rockies, Orchestra Wives, The Thin Man, Wee Willie Winkie, The Little Princess, Ocean’s 11, 15 Maiden Lane, Frontier Marshal and Castile. William Schallert as Professor Quigley. Schallert was probably best known as Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show. He also appeared as Mr. Leander Pomfritt, on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and as “The Admiral” on Get Smart. He played the role of Nilz Baris in the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”; and much later he portrayed Varani, a Bajoran musician, in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Sanctuary”. Film roles include The Reckless Moment, The Man from Planet X, The Tarnished Angels, Blue Denim, Pillow Talk, Speedway, The Jerk, Teachers, Innerspace, and Them! He was a founding member of the Circle Players and was president of SAG.

Richard Bakalyan as Chillie Walsh. His film roles include The Delinquents, The Bonnie Parker Story, Up Periscope, The Cool and the Crazy, Never a Dull Moment, Return from Witch Mountain, The Fox and the Hound, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Robin and the 7 Hoods, None but the Brave, Express, Chinatown, and Pressure Point. Michael McGreevey as Schuyler. He also appeared in the Disney films Snowball Express and The Shaggy D.A. McGreevey appeared as guest star in numerous television series, such as The Virginian, Bonanza, and Route 66. McGreevey subsequently wrote episodes of TV series such as The Waltons, Quincy, M.E., and Fame.

Jon Provost as Bradley. He is best known for his role as young Timmy Martin in the series Lassie. As a child actor, he appeared in Back from Eternity and Escapade in Japan. Bing Russell 1 as Angelo. Best known as Deputy Clem Foster on Bonanza and Robert in The Magnificent Seven. He guest-starred in episodes of many television series, including Playhouse 90, Highway Patrol, Wagon Train, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Loretta Young Show, Johnny Ringo, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Rifleman, Maverick, Zane Grey Theater, Route 66, Rawhide, Ben Casey, The Untouchables, Hazel, The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone, The Donna Reed Show, The Munsters, Combat!, Branded, The Fugitive, The Monkees, I Dream of Jeannie, Ironside, The Big Valley, Death Valley Days, Adam-12, The Virginian, Alias Smith and Jones, The Mod Squad, Mannix, The Rockford Files, The Streets of San Francisco, Emergency!, and Little House on the Prairie.

Fritz Feld as Sigmund van Dyke. Film and television roles include Bringing Up Baby, At The Circus, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Lost In Space, History of the World-Part One, and Hello Dolly! His trademark was to slap his mouth with the palm of his hand to create a “pop!” sound that indicated both his superiority and his annoyance. David Canary 2 as Walski. Canary is best known for his role as ranch foreman Candy Canaday in Bonanza and as Adam Chandler on All My Children, for which he received sixteen Daytime Emmy Award nominations and won five times. Canary appeared on Broadway in Great Day in the Morning, Clothes for a Summer Hotel, Kismet, Man Of La Mancha, The Fantasticks, The Seagull and Macbeth. Television appearances include Law & Order, Touched by an Angel, S.W.A.T., Primus, Alias Smith and Jones, Police Story, Kung-Fu, Hawaii Five-O, Remember WENN, and Cimarron Strip.

Frank Welker makes a rare on-screen appearance as Henry and Ed Begley Jr. makes an uncredited appearance as a Springfield State panelist.

Critical Reception:

  • A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote, “This ‘Computer’ isn’t I.B.M.’s kind but it’s homey, lovable, as exciting as porridge and as antiseptic and predictable as any homey, half-hour TV family show.”
  • Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune reported, “I rather enjoyed ‘The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,’ and I suspect children under 14 will like it, too.”
  • Arthur D. Murphy of Variety praised the film as “above-average family entertainment, enhanced in great measure by zesty, but never show-off, direction by Robert Butler, in a debut swing to pix from telefilm.”
  • Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that “Disney Productions latched on to a terrific premise for some sharp satire only to flatten it out by jamming it into its familiar ‘wholesome’ formula. Alas, the movie itself comes out looking like it had been made by a computer.”

Sequels:

  • Now You See Him, Now You Don’t Dexter experiments with invisibility and a bolt of lightning causes his experiment to turn him invisible. Recently released prisoner Arno attempts to steal the formula.
  • The Strongest Man in the World This time Dexter and the gang, accidentally create a formula to give someone temporary super-strength, and once again Arno attempts to steal it. Dexter is able to use the formula to win a contest and save Medfield.

Legacy: This film was remade as the television film The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes in 1995 starring Kirk Cameron as Dexter Riley.

My take: These movies are goofy fun. It’s worth it just for the late 60s fashion. I think this would be a fun property to bring back for the Disney Channel: The further adventures of Medfield College’s student body

Next Week: Bednobs and Broomsticks