This pleasant, undemanding Disney comedy from the reliable director of The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) was originally made with plans to broadcast it as two hour-long Disney TV shows, but then re-edited for theatrical release.
College genius Merlin Jones (Tommy Kirk) accidentally develops a means of reading minds and eavesdrops on Judge Holmby (Leon Ames) who, it turns out, is plotting a robbery.
Merlin tries to tell the police but they don’t believe him, so he sets out with his girlfriend Jennifer (Annette Funicello) to foil the judge in his dastardly plot.
It transpires that the judge has been leading a double life as a mystery novelist and what Merlin heard was the plot of his new book! End of part one . . .
The second half of the film has Merlin running headlong into thick-witted Norman (Norman Grabowski), a school lunkhead who has charge over the science department’s chimpanzee.
Merlin is experimenting with hypnotism and wants to use the animal as a guinea pig, but he is ordered to stay away by the judge after causing considerable havoc in the science lab.
The judge asks Merlin to come and see him one night as he wants to be hypnotised himself. So Merlin mesmerises the judge into going to the school and stealing the chimp.
The next day, Merlin is held responsible and the judge has no recollection of the hypnotic trance. Finally, in private, Merlin explains what happened and all ends happily. End of part two.
The plot elements are really too thin for a feature film, and the movie features the stupidest collection of characters ever devised for one film.
So little of consequence happens in Merlin Jones and virtually the entire film takes place indoors on studio sets. Reviewers were thoroughly perplexed by the film but it grossed $4 million in its domestic release. Not bad for a movie that cost considerably less to make than most other Disney films.
The characters were stretched a little too far for a 1965 sequel, The Monkey’s Uncle.
Judge Holmby/Lex Fortas
Police Captain Loomis