Reviewed on 2010 August 8
This is one of the two comedies that William Castle made in his entire career, and for a guy who specialized in rubber skeletons and adrenaline-snarfing monsters being created out of fear, it’s surprisingly Disney-esque. If you watched Tom Poston in “Newhart”, it’s entertaining to see him as an intellectual goofball.
Professor Jonathan Jones (Poston) is a professor of ancient Eastern languages at a stuffy university, where his eccentricity is tolerated because of his wealth of knowledge. Jones is a health nut, drinking sauerkraut juice and eating wheat germ before such things were trendy, and scolding his niece Cynthia (Zeme North) for eating a more typical diet. His big worries in his dull life are her cholesterol and a smug rival, Professor Kellgore (Jim Backus), and that’s fine with him. One day his mundane world is turned upside-down when Cynthia’s boyfriend sends her a present from an archeological dig: a coin inscribed, in an ancient tongue, with more instructions than a DMV form. Jones deciphers the thing and finds out he’s unleashed quite a weapon: whoever has the coin has great powers if he just speaks the magic word…ZOTZ!
Castle got right down to being his larger-than-life self when he directed this thing, starting with his opening credits prank with the Columbia Torch Lady. This was based on Walter Karig’s novel, and from what I hear it’s darker (and funnier). I wish he’d been more caustic here — the scene with Backus making a speech at the farewell dinner was great — but I think he decided to defang the thing in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.
Two chocolate morsels. Dated and too silly, but there’s nothing else like it.