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  Misadventures of Merlin Jones, The Your Mind Is An Open Book
Year: 1964
Director: Robert Stevenson
Stars: Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Leon Ames, Stuart Erwin, Alan Hewitt, Connie Gilchrist, Dal McKennon, Norman Grabowski
Genre: Comedy, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Merlin Jones (Tommy Kirk) is the college's resident student boffin, always with some fresh line of experimentation to occupy his mind, when he's not spending time with his girlfriend, fellow student Jennifer (Annette Funicello). Though he clashes with football hero Norman (Norman Grabowski) who has his eye on Jennifer, Merlin feels confident that their relationship is a solid one, so when he invites her to try on his latest device, a helmet which registers brainwaves, he is dismayed to see that when he kisses her there's no response on the readout...

Of course, it would help if it was plugged in, thereby setting the tone, as the title suggested, for a series of mishaps as the budding scientist made his way through not one misadventure but two, as if the film had been manufactured to be split into two for easier television showings on the Disney shows of the era. This was a Disney film, as you may have guessed, with two of the studio's biggest stars well to the fore, though it did mark something of a swan song for Tommy Kirk - although he was allowed to return for a sequel when this was a surprise runaway success, Uncle Walt had terminated his contract when it was discovered Tommy was homosexual.

So began a downward spiral for poor Kirk, and you think you might be able to see something of his confusion in those watery eyes at times during his films, though he did finally get his life back on track after the movie career dried up. With his slight awkwardness and unadorned screen sincerity, he did make for a convincing young genius, yet much of that was down to the script which saw Merlin involved first with mindreading and then hypnotism, nothing too challenging for the audience which was doubtless why they found them so easy to watch; they practically defined "undemanding". After a power surge with his latest contraption, Merlin finds he has the ability to hear others' thoughts...

...which leads him to be convinced the judge (Leon Ames) who admonished him for poor driving is actually a master criminal. If you cannot work out why the judge is planning various crimes in his head before the twenty minute mark then hand in your deerstalker and magnifying glass because there's little about this which isn't blatantly obvious to all except the supposed genius Merlin, perhaps a subtle undercutting of the idea of intellectuals having all the answers, though Merlin is more misguided than the object of valid suspicion. Once he has the mindreading business sorted out by the halfway mark, it's time for the business with the hypnotism, though he doesn't try it out on Jennifer.

Funicello, here billed simply as Annette because she was so famous by this time that's all that was needed, was a Disney veteran too, though beginning to branch out with A.I.P.'s Beach Party movies; as with everyone here, there's nothing taxing for her to do, and though she returned for the sequel too (singing the theme song with The Beach Boys!) this was stock girlfriend stuff she was required for, get a bit jealous, chastely admire her beau, and help out with his harebrained schemes. That said, there was an interesting conspiracy angle to this movie's second part, as you may recall Robert F. Kennedy's supposed assassin was claimed to have been set up under hypnosis to commit the crime, which the common line would tell you is impossible because you cannot do anything against your will while mesmerised, but as Merlin proves here that just isn't true. Incidentally, Grabowski must have been one of those mature students, he doesn't look a day under forty. Music by Buddy Baker.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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