The Misadventures of Merlin Jones
Official theatrical poster
Directed byRobert Stevenson
Screenplay by
Story byBill Walsh
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyEdward Colman
Edited byCotton Warburton
Music byBuddy Baker
Production
company
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • February 11, 1964 (1964-02-11) (Los Angeles)[1]
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$4,000,000 (US/ Canada)[2]

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones is a 1964 American science-fiction comedy film directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by Walt Disney Productions. The film stars Tommy Kirk as a college student who experiments with mindreading and hypnotism, leading to incidents with a local judge. Annette Funicello plays his girlfriend and sings the film's title song,[3] with Leon Ames, Stuart Erwin, Alan Hewitt, Connie Gilchrist and Dallas McKennon in the film's supporting cast.

The film was originally intended as a two-part production for the NBC television show Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color but received a theatrical release.[4] It was followed by a sequel titled The Monkey's Uncle the following year.[5]

Plot

Midvale College student Merlin Jones (Tommy Kirk), who is always involved with mind experiments, designs a helmet that connects to an electroencephalographic tape that records mental activity. He is brought before Judge Holmsby (Leon Ames) for wearing the helmet while driving and his license is suspended. Merlin returns to the lab and discovers accidentally that his new invention enables him to read minds.

Judge Holmsby visits the diner where Merlin works part-time, and Merlin, through his newly found powers, learns that the judge is planning a crime. After informing the police, he is disregarded as a crackpot. Merlin and Jennifer (Annette Funicello), his girlfriend, break into Judge Holmsby's house looking for something to prove Holmsby's criminal intent, but are arrested by the police. Holmsby then confesses that he is the crime book author "Lex Fortis", and asks that this identity be kept confidential.

Merlin's next experiment uses hypnotism. After hypnotizing Stanley, Midvale's lab chimp, into standing up for himself against Norman (Norm Grabowski), the bully student in charge of caring for Stanley, Merlin gets into a fight with Norman, and is brought before Judge Holmsby again. Intrigued by Merlin's experiments, the judge asks for Merlin's help in constructing a mystery plot for his next book.

Working on the premise that no honest person can be made to do anything they would not do otherwise – especially commit a crime – Merlin hypnotizes Holmsby, and instructs him to kidnap Stanley. Shocked when the judge actually commits the crime, Merlin and Jennifer return the chimp, but are charged for the theft themselves. The judge sentences Merlin to jail, completely unaware of his own role in the crime. Livid at the injustice, Jennifer persuades Holmsby of his own guilt, and the good judge admits that a little dishonesty might exist in everybody.

Cast

Production

Filming took place in January 1963.[6] Originally titled simply Merlin Jones, the film was intended as a two-part production for the 1963-64 season of the NBC television show Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.[4] In March 1963, NBC was so pleased with Annette Funicello's performance in the film that it asked Disney to produce two more films with her character, and the film was released theatrically rather than airing on television.[7]

Although the film credits writers Tom and Helen August, the names are pseudonyms for Alfred Lewis Levitt and Helen Levitt, who were blacklisted in Hollywood.[8]

Reception

Critical

In a contemporary review for The New York Times, critic Eugene Archer wrote:

Movies made for television are commonplace these days, but the idea of screening television shows in movie theaters is still farfetched. Who is expected to spend the $2? Strange as it sounds, this seems to be the explanation behind Walt Disney's latest miss, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. It is a pastiche of two separate stories with the same set of characters, each running less than an hour (leaving time for commercials), abruptly and pointlessly stitched together in the middle ... Were they intended as the first two parts of a series? Or was the series rejected by the networks and siphoned off to unsuspecting paying customers? The latter possibility seems more likely, since the quality is low even by television standards. ... It's the kind of picture usually dismissed by shrugging, 'Well, at least the kids will like it'. Unless, that is, your children happen to be bright.[9]

Eugene Archer of The New York Times panned the film as "cheap situation comedy" and "the kind of picture usually dismissed by shrugging, 'Well, at least the kids will like it'. Unless that is, your children happen to be bright."

Critic Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "It belongs on television rather than in multiple theaters—but here, nevertheless, it is, all over town."[10]

Box office

The film grossed more than $4 million in North America.[11] E. Carton Walker, Disney's vice president in charge of advertising, commented that "nobody knows what a picture will do. Merlin Jones grossed $4 million ... and surprised everybody".[12]

The film earned enough money to encourage a sequel in 1965.[13]

References

  1. ^ "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones – Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  2. ^ "Updated All-time Film Champs", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60. Please note figure is rentals accruing to distributors.
  3. ^ "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 31 (368): 136. September 1964.
  4. ^ a b "Ames, Erwin Join 'Merlin Jones' Cast". Anaheim Bulletin. 1963-02-09. p. D18.
  5. ^ Funicello, Annette; Bashe, Patricia Romanowski (1994). A dream is a wish your heart makes: my story. Hyperion. p. 135.
  6. ^ "Filmland Events: Miss Pickford, Lloyd Will Receive Honor". Los Angeles Times. Jan 3, 1963. p. C7.
  7. ^ "ABC Planning the Shocker of All Time". Chicago Tribune. Mar 16, 1963. p. d19.
  8. ^ Variety, April 3, 1997
  9. ^ Archer, Eugene (1964-03-26). "'Misadventures of Merlin Jones' Opens". The New York Times. p. 40.
  10. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (1964-02-13). "Merlin Jones: Misadventures". Los Angeles Times. p. 9, Part II.
  11. ^ Vagg, Stephen (9 September 2019). "The Cinema of Tommy Kirk". Diabolique Magazine.
  12. ^ VanderVeld, Richard L. (July 18, 1965). "Disney: Self-Perpetuating Money Machine: 'Mary Poppins' Works Her Magic for Happy Shareowners". Los Angeles Times. p. h1.
  13. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Jan 4, 1965). "Disney Announces Diverse Schedule: Doris Day Winner (Again); Ill Wind a Boon to Actors". Los Angeles Times. p. B7.