Beep-boop, it’s Burl, here to make remarkable progress on reviewing one of those very special Disney pictures you might recall from some Sunday night of your youth! It’s the first in a small series of films featuring Kurt Russell, whom we know from The Thing and Breakdown and so many more, in the role of Dexter Riley, an averagepants student at good old Medfield College! Yes, as you’ve no doubt figured out, the movie is The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes!
Dexter is none too smart a fellow – ha ha, he’s meant to be average, as I say, but in fact he comes off as a bit dim, which gives the story more of a Flowers For Algernon feel than the makers maybe intended! He’s an amiable sort though, and he hangs out with a group of pals whose favourite gang activity is, for some reason, listening in on Medfield College administrative meetings! They overhear pennypinching Dean Higgins, played by Joe Flynn from The Rescuers, telling their beloved science professor Professor Quigley, essayed by William Schallert from Matinee and The Man from Planet X, that the college can under no circumstances afford a computer!
But the students have an idea: hit up local gangster and occasional philanthropist A.J. Arno, played by Cesar Romero from Springtime in the Rockies, for the donation of his own slightly used concubator! Well, he goes for it and the next thing you know, Dexter gets electrocuted by the room-sized device and, by a well-known scientific process, himself becomes as smart as a computer! He instantly becomes a world celebrity who does well on quiz shows and will, Dean Higgins hopes, help Medfield cruise to victory in an intermural trivia contest sponsored by Encyclopedia Britannica! But he’s not counting on the predations of a rival dean, nor Dexter’s own equivocal feelings about his downmarket alma mater!
On the downside, so far as Arno and his bumbling lieutenant Dick Bakalyan, whose mug we know from The Errand Boy and Von Ryan’s Express, are concerned, is that Dexter’s vast new knowledge includes leftover codewords, facts, and figures from the numbers racket in which they trade! So pretty soon the gangsters are after Dexter, and, rather strangely for a Disney picture of this era, make plain that they intend to violently murder him, stuff his corpse in a trunk, dump it into a lake, and then take the opportunity to go fishing on that lake while they’re there! Ha ha, yikes!
But of course there are
plenty of monkeyshines involving Dexter’s friends posing as house painters to
rescue him from his predicament – though they can't do this without causing our collegiate Charly a head bonk that
dwindles his brain wizardry! Then there's a big car chase with flying bullets and rolling paint cans, and the pals take all these risks despite the fact that, thanks to his
incredible world fame, Dex gets a bit full of himself and forgets his old friends! Ha ha, there’s the moral lesson for you, kids - friends who are friends are real friends!
But we don't watch these pictures for moral lessons, but rather the cozy, homely feeling they radiate and the shenanigans they promise! Both of these qualities are present in the picture, but not in any great quantity I’m afraid! The storytelling is slapdash, and there’s a feeling of opportunities missed – why have a character become the smartest guy in the world and then waste his talents on a quiz contest? The picture would have benefitted from a lot more pep and energy and a tighter, funnier script! Ha ha, this was the first of the Dexter Riley trilogy, so maybe they get better as they go along – I’ll have to watch Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World to find out, I suppose, though I’m not especially anxious to, ha ha! I guess this one is not without its pleasures, but I still can’t get too enthusiastic about it! I give The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes one and a half applejacks!