Once the movie actually starts (the opening credits take long enough that we have to hear every bit of that horrible, horrible song sung by co-star Annette Funicello with the Beach Boys inexplicably backing her up) director Robert Stevenson (Jane Eyre, The Gnome-Mobile) slavishly hews to the same structure as its predecessor, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. That means there’s not so much an actual movie going on, but rather two more installments of the Merlin Jones TV show which never existed. Of course, when you’re dealing with a gizmo that lets you learn in your sleep and a flying machine you pedal yourself, this is a good thing.
When we last left Merlin Jones, he was embroiled in some legal controversy that ended up with his chimp Stanley having to testify on his behalf. Somehow that all worked out for him and now we find ourselves back in court with Merlin, his girlfriend Jennifer, Stanley, and Judge Holmsby.
This time Merlin is attempting to adopt Stanley as his kid. The judge won’t allow Merlin to adopt the chimp, but the judge isn’t the kind of heartless judiciary type to get in the way of some crazy-assed plot possibilities, so he does grant Merlin status as Stanley’s guardian, which I think means that Merlin can steal Stanley’s Social Security checks.
Merlin goes home and immediately begins his latest experiment on Stanley. He tries to get Stanley to brush his teeth. But after Merlin leaves Stanley alone to answer the door, somehow or other that rascally chimp knocks a bunch of bubble bath into the sink with the water running and the next thing you know there’s something like fifty thousand cubic feet of bubbles filling Merlin’s bathroom!
Merlin follows that blazing success up with a more involved experiment that has him hooking up curlers to Stanley’s head at night that are also connected to a record player. The record being played is the smah hit “Merlin instructs Stanley on his morning chores.”
Yes, Merlin has concocted a way to get people to learn by listening to instructional materials while they sleep. This dovetails nicely with the latest crisis that Midvale’s football team is experiencing. This time, their dire circumstance is that they have to pass their classes if they want to play football! Egads! This sounds like the machinations of some faculty member who hates football just because he didn’t make the team years ago!
Luckily, Judge Holmsby is an alum and football player and is determined to find an “honest way to cheat” so that his players can stay on the team. How ever will they get all that English literature into their stupid jock heads? If only there was a quick and easy way to upload it all into the smooth surface of their brains.
So Merlin hooks up two football players that need smartening up to his sleep-learning device, including the ape-like Norman from the previous movie, and it works! Of course everyone thinks they cheated and there’s a little drama where the board of regents has to decide whether to expel Merlin and the two football players.
It doesn’t take a Merlin Jones to know that the regents will somehow decide that “an honest way to cheat” is just fine, so long as it is all done in time for bowl season. The football team is saved!
But the football team is still in danger! You see, this guy who hates the team has come up with a donor who will donate a million dollars to Midvale, but only on the condition that they disband the football team. Can even the unholy alliance of Merlin Jones and Judge Holmsby figure a way out of this one?
They don’t have to because a guy shows up willing to donate ten million dollars to Midvale if someone can prove his grandfather wasn’t nuts when he wrote a children’s book about flying without mechanical assistance. I’m starting to think that in this case, screenwriters Alfred Lewis Levitt and his wife Helen Levitt weren’t using their pseudonyms Tom and Helen August just because they were blacklisted.
Merlin is put in charge of coming up with a contraption that he can pedal and fly and you get the added bonus of him inventing a drink that gives him a burst of adrenaline-fueled power. (Thankfully tried out on Stanley first who promptly goes ape and destroys the lab single-handedly.)
Merlin’s oblivious enthusiasm for every idiotic scheme he gets roped into carries the movie along which is really a credit to Tommy Kirk who has an ability to make swallowing all the poorly thought out and written material easier than it really ought to be.
Annette is still relegated to the role of flummoxed gal pal in this one, even more so than in the previous one. The Judge’s character though actually gets expanded and moves from grumpy establishment guy to Merlin’s partner in crime, his love for college football an understandable impetus for turning to outlandish pseudoscience.
If you’ve seen the first one, you know exactly what you’re getting this time around. Except less Stanley and more Beach Boys. Which is precisely the sort of experiment even Merlin Jones wouldn’t be gullible enough to undertake.
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