The Strongest Man in the World (1975) – Review

In this last installment of the Dexter Riley Trilogy we once again find Medfield College embroiled in financial problems and scientific shenanigans; it’s clear by this point that the formula is getting a bit tired and the studio wisely decided to end the madcap adventures of Dexter and friends here. At the end of Now You See Him, Now You Don’t the kids of Medfield College were wondering how they would be able to help their perpetually cash strapped school next year, with Dexter pointing out that he’d invented invisibility by accident, “How many times is something like that going to happen?” That’s a rather Meta line and kind of shows us that the studio was fully aware of the absurdity of these movies, and they knew it couldn’t go on indefinitely.

The movie opens with the always beleaguered Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) in a meeting with Regent Dietz (Harold Gould) where he learns due to the school’s financial mismanagement he is being fired, but fast talking and expert groveler Higgins is able to squeeze out a thirty day stay of execution by claiming he is in the middle of a promotional campaign to raise money. Higgins storms off to the “Creative Lab” to confront Professor Quigley (William Schallert) about the incredible waste in spending his science class is guilty of, but what he finds in the lab is a bunch of students working on ways to make a skinny cow into a fat one.  He is less than impressed, and when he learns that they are spending $15 dollars a day to rent said cow he explodes and fires Quigley. You would think that after the school had been saved from bankruptcy twice before by these kids he’d be a bit more understanding but Dean Higgins is not known for rational thinking.  It is his actions that lead to the day being saved for when he storms out of the lab, and slams the door, this causes a formula that Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) was working on to spill into a vitamin mix cereal that Richard Schuyler (Michael McGreevey) was developing. The effects of this super-charged cereal are impressive; the cow eats the cereal and that night it ends up producing 80 gallons of milk, the fraternity house’s pet dog eats some of it and chases a Doberman down the street, and after Dexter has a few spoonfuls he is able to bend steel lampposts and lift people into the air with ease.

Sadly this movie does not end with Kurt Russell becoming The Commander from Sky High.

As Dean Higgins is a complete idiot he believes that the financial answer to their college’s problems lies in selling this formula to the Crumply Crunch Cereal Company because why would the United States government be interested in a formula that could create super-soldiers? Higgins attends a board meeting at Crumply Crunch and impresses owner Harriet Crumply (Eve Arden) with his feats of athleticism; such as lifting weights, swinging from the light fixtures like a trapeze artist, and then karate chopping the boardroom table in half. The Board comes to the conclusion that the best way to advertise the powers of the formula cereal is by challenging Krinkle Krunch, a rival cereal company run by Kirwood Krinkle (Phil Silvers).  They come to the conclusion that the best way to show off this wonderful strength formula is in a weightlifting competition between perennial losers Medfield College and the well-funded State College, which also happens to be Krinkle’s alma mater. There is of course a fly in the ointment of this “brilliant idea” and that would be the company’s vice president Harry Crumply (Dick Van Patten) who though he is a nephew to owner Harriet Crumply he is also a spy working for Krinkle. Harry is given the job of stealing the formula from the Medfield kids and to accomplish this he approaches A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero) and his idiot sidekick Cookie (Richard Bakalyan) who were recently let out of prison.

The Axis of Comic Evil.

In the previous film Arno and Cookie were appended after robbing the Medfield Bank yet somehow they are being released just three years later; now I’m no legal expert but I’m pretty sure the sentence for bank robbery is a bit longer than that, even with a lenient parole board. I’d really love to meet Arno’s brilliant defense team that managed to pull this off.  Regardless of the inadequacy’s of 70s judicial systems it does lead to some brilliant comic bits with Arno and Cookie trying to break into the Medfield Lab via a window washing rig, with the bumbling idiots only being saved by landing in wet cement after their disaster theft attempt fails. Attempt number two involves the kidnapping of Schuyler and using the skills of Chinese underworld criminal Ah Fong (Benson Fong) to extract the formula’s ingredients from the poor kid via acupuncture and hypnotism. Of course the problem here is that Schuyler doesn’t actually know the real formula so when Kirwood Krinkle later tries out this particular formula, by attempting to karate chop a table in half, he is only rewarded with a nearly broken hand.

Question: Would you buy a cereal with a picture of that guy on the box?

Things look bad for Krinkle until the villainous snake Harry realizes that if the formula doesn’t work from them it won’t work for Crumply either and thus their hated rivals will be humiliated during the weightlifting competition. On the big day it looks like Krinkle and his band of toadies may just win the event hands down, the weightlifters from State College looking like an ad for steroids wile Medfield’s entries all resemble the before picture in those old Atlas ads, but when Dexter takes a spoonful of their cereal he quickly realizes it doesn’t have that same acidic taste as the cereal from from the original bowl that gave him super strength, that it must have been his formula that imparted strength and not Schuyler’s. With the contest underway Dexter races back to Medfield to find his formula, with Arno and his goons in hot pursuit to stop him, but while this is going on the Dexter’s friends quickly find out on their own that they don’t have super powers.

That looks a little worse than a strained muscle.

Will Dexter find the formula and make it back to the competition in time? Can Arno’s goons stand up to a super powered Dexter? Is Medfield College to be saved from financial disaster or will Dean Higgins soon be applying for work at the local Arbys? If you’ve seen the previous two entries in this series the answers to those questions should be crystal clear, but what is also clear is that the Medfield College comedies will not to remembered for their originality. This third and final entry is fun but not quite as good as the previous two and certainly not helped by the fact that star Kurt Russell has the least amount of screen time in this outing, with the focus more on idiot student Schuyler and the villains chasing after the formula than on Dexter. For what screen time he does have Russell is his ever charming self but it’s no surprise to learn that the actor was eager to leave life at Disney Studios far behind.

Kurt Russell is The Strongest Man in the World

Final Thoughts:

  • Professor Quigley is back with no explanation as to what happened to Professor Lufkin who took over the “Creative Lab” in Now You See Him, Now You Don’t.
  • Disney’s college comedies exist in a world devoid of sex as Dexter and his friends don’t seem to have time for romance of any kind.
  • James Gregory appears as a befuddled Chief of Police to add some racist schtick and a balloon gag that reeks of padding the film’s running time.
  • To make it back to the competition in time Dexter puts the strength formula into Dean Higgins’s old car to turbo charge it. I’m a bit fuzzy on the science here as a car doesn’t have muscles to be super-charged.

Yabba Dabba Doo!

Mike Brooks

Mike Brooks

Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.