Next to flying and super strength I’d say the power of invisibility ranks up there as one of the more popular power sets people would pick if given the chance but it’s also the one power that easily opens up the avenue of abuse. I myself would never wander into a woman’s locker room while invisible but the world isn’t full of people with my sterling character, so it’s a very valid concern. In the original H.G. Wells classic The Invisible Man it’s the invisibility formula itself that drives the central character mad but could the power alone corrupt a man? Walt Disney’s Now You See Him, Now You Don’t of course does not delve into such heady ideas instead it works mostly as a mild anti-establishment teen comedy.
This is the second of the Dexter Riley movies that deals with the shenanigans of a group of misfit kids at Disney’s fictional Medfield College, which first appeared in the film The Absent Minded Professor in 1961 and is a direct sequel to 1969’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Once again Kurt Russell returns as the science minded Dexter Riley, a man whose passion for science is unfortunately exceeded by his abilities, and along with his friends he will find himself pitted more against Cesar Romero’s villainous A.J. Arno and his henchman Cookie.
The movie opens much as the first one did with Medfield student Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) and his compatriots; including best friend Richard Schuyler (Michael McGreevey) and the lovely Debbie Dawson (Joyce Menges), eavesdropping on a college staff meeting being held by Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) where they learn of the schools dire financial situation. Later Professor Lufkin (William Windom) shows Dean Higgins around the “Creative Lab” where his science students work on various experiments in the hopes of convincing the Dean that someone in this group could possibly land a $50,000 cash prize, given to the winner of the Forsythe Science Award, and thus keep the school afloat for another year. The sight of Schuyler’s tinker-toy display doesn’t boost the Dean’s confidence much and even though he does seem to like honor student Druffle’s (Ed Begley Jr.) work with bumblebees it’s Dexter’s “nitwit” experiments on invisibility that has Dean Higgins convinced that the school’s money has been wasted on the sciences.
You can tell science is going on here by the beakers full of colored liquids and the Jacob’s ladder.
That night a thunderstorm builds up over Medfield and the roof of the lab is struck by lightning; now if you remember in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes a storm flooded the computer lab which in turn led to Dexter getting jolted with electricity and being gifted with the brain of a computer, so it’s clear that weather and scientific breakthroughs go hand-in-hand. It’s this particular accident that somehow turns Dexter’s failed invisibility formula into a working one, and after watching this movie I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the United States government covered up the fact that Benjamin Franklin developed superpowers after his experiment with a key and lightning.
Random lightning strikes isn’t the only storm to worry about as our heroes run into A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero), who they had all assumed was in jail after the events of the previous movie, heading into the school for a meeting with Dean Higgins. When Dexter questions Arno about not being in jail the smooth criminal explains to them, “Oh, that. That was a mistake. You know, the police, the judges, they all make mistakes. But I forgive them. I don’t hold any grudges against anyone.” Now being that some of the charges involved racketeering and kidnapping, in front multiple witnesses, one must assume that the Medfield justice system is a hotbed of corruption and or incompetence. Of course Dexter and company know he must be up to no good and when the gang later learn that Arno took over the mortgage on the college they know they must stop whatever nefarious plans he has in mind. Lucky for our scrappy gang of students they have an invisibility formula that allows them to sneak right into Arno’s head office and uncover these evil plans.
Science Note: Dexter’s invisibility formula works on the principle of bending light around an object but the human eye requires light to bounce of an object and into your cornea, but if your cornea was invisible the light would pass straight through and not continue through to the optic nerve thus an invisible man would also be a blind man.
Turns out that Arno plans to foreclose on the college and make-over the whole place into a gambling establishment due to an old 1912 law that allows gambling on the property that Medfield College currently sits on. When they inform Dean Higgins of this discovery things look rather bleak, but Dexter ensures him that their science project is a shoe in to win the Forsythe Award, even though he refuses to divulge the nature of the project fearing the Dean has too big a mouth. They do run into another snag when they find out that Medfield has been dropped from the contest for being too insignificant. Dean Higgins calls up Mr. Forsythe (Jim Backus) to see about getting their school back into the contest but only manages to get a meeting on the golf course, which is not good as Higgins is a terrible golfer, but with the aid of an invisible Dexter Dean Higgins is able to impress Forsythe with some amazing golf skills which include numerous unbelievable hole-in-one-shots. Forsythe agrees to include Medfield in the contest but Dean Higgins isn’t just satisfied with that and so he accepts an offer to enter an exclusive golf tournament in nearby Ocean City that has a $50,000 dollar prize. Unfortunately Dexter hears about the contest too late and misses the flight to Ocean City and poor Dean Higgins and his caddy Schuyler fail miserably without their invisible guardian.
Things get even more complicated when Arno starts noticing the strange goings on; like seeing a towel float into the Country Club’s shower and then a damp Dexter Riley stepping out, and with the aid of his chief goon Cookie (Richard Bakalyan) they discover and steal the invisibility formula. This of course leads to a humiliating moment when Dexter and Schuyler go to demonstrate their formula before the Forsythe Science Committee to only discover that it had been replaced with colored water. After quickly deducing that Arno is behind the theft of the formula the gang plant a bug in Arno’s office and soon discover that the crook is planning on using the invisibility formula to rob the local bank. Unfortunately neither the bank manager nor the police place any credence in tails of invisible crooks so it’s up to our heroes to thwart the villains and save the college.
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t does nothing to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the invisible man premise but it does offer some good laughs as Dexter and company use the invisibility formula in a variety of fun ways, chasing an invisible car being the highlight here, yet as cool and fun as this film is there is a downside as the optical effects are fairly poor across the board. The special effects used to make someone’s hand invisible would barely pass muster for televisions show of the time and certainly more is expected from theatrical released movie from a major studio, but on the plus side the mechanical effects to depict things like shoes walking on their own work really well. Once again it’s Kurt Russell’s indefatigable charm that makes these movies work despite the “science” and the premise of the film’s being fairly ridiculous. The movie does end with a bit of a self-aware joke; after winning the Forsythe Science Award, which they do by accidentally spraying Dean Higgins during the award’s ceremony, Debbie brings up a very salient point…
Debbie: “He was able to come up with $50,000 this year because you invented invisibility, but next year he’s got to come up with $50,000 again.”
Dexter: “Yeah, plus, I discovered invisibility by accident. How many times is something like that going to happen?”
Well the answer to that is at least one more time as Dexter Riley becomes The Strongest Man in World when Schuyler’s vitamin cereal mix gives Dexter super-strength.
Now director Robert Butler is a deft hand at these types of comedy and a viewing of the Dexter Riley comedies is something I can recommend to anyone, but if you ever think about applying to Medfield College at give it some serious second thoughts as their science curriculum is certainly suspect and the criminal element in that town is way out of control.
• The formula is water soluble so when Schuler walks through a puddle his shoes become visible but later during a chase involving an invisible car it drives through a puddle and busts open a fire hydrant without it making any part of the car visible.
• It’s clear that that invisibility formula was created by accident, Dexter having no clue as to how it was achieved, and as I’m pretty sure being able to verify your discovery is a key component to winning the science contest I don’t think they could claim the prize money.
• Strangely no one in the government shows up to investigate this invisibility formula in the name of national security.
• Ed Begley Jr. who plays Druffle would later play “The Son of the Invisible Man” in the spoof Amazon Women on the Moon.