Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Whaaaaaaat? Kurt Russell got his start making a slew of live-action films for Disney in the 60's and 70's? Really? I thought he just busted onto the scene fully formed as Snake Plissken. I had to see this madness for myself, so I started with the first in a trilogy of family-friendly college comedies wherein he plays doofy student Dexter Riley: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. While stupidly trying to replace a part in the school's new room-size computer, Dexter gets a shock and finds all of the machine's data imprinted onto his brain. With his encyclopedic knowledge he becomes a worldwide sensation and also kind of a dick. He has to compete in a national college trivia contest to help his school, but also resident crime boss AJ Arno (Cesar Romero) wants the secret crime files he'd stored in the computer that are now sitting within Dexter.

Oh man you guys. This movie. What a weird time. So partly it's just a study of a doofy asshole who becomes a cocky overly-intelligent asshole and alienates all his friends. But also it's got science-fiction since his brain literally becomes a computer. BUT ALSO it's got like, criminal intrigue and action-y parts what with Cesar Romero's illicit dealings and eventual paint-laden high-speed car chase. And of course, it's a comedy. And a commentary on the sorry state of public undergraduate institutions. Some might say, "That's too much for one movie!" but I say, "It's got something for EVERYBODY." Including a goddamn stupendous theme song.

Naturally the main draw here is to see baby Kurt Russell in a silly comedy. He's about 18 and hasn't quite grown into his features yet, plus he's got a totally square haircut. Supporting performances from Cesar Romero and Joe Flynn are strong, though my favorite was William Schallert as Dexter's main professor. He just comes off as such a nice guy! Narratively and thematically the movie is all over the place, switching its focus every 10 minutes, but I can't say I wasn't entertained. And it certainly keeps you guessing what direction it'll go next!


Pair This Movie With: Presumably the others in the Dexter Riley saga, Now You See Him, Now You Don't and The Strongest Man in the World would make fitting follow-ups. I'll let you know. Alternatively, this is kind of the basic premise of Chuck- as I remember the first two episodes anyway.


  1. He'd done a lot of TV shows by this time (starring in a Western boy's TV show at age 12) but limited his appearances after that, into Jr High and High School. He did some films in summers (GUNS OF DIABLO then FOLLOW ME BOYS) but these Disney films with Joe Flynn were his film-kickoff points, I think. (He had a knee injury in high-school which prevented him from following a pro-baseball dream.)