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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Stand-In (1937)

ATTERBURY DODD (dictating): I am honoured by your invitation to address my alma mater. In the past, however, I have encountered difficulties persuading my hearers that the science of mathematics is not one of mere figures and geometrical designs,…
CLERK: 3 o’clock, Mr. Dodd.
DODD: One minute past, you are late… but a science more important to life than food and drink, a science…(to another clerk) that account should have been out last night… without which there could be no music, no poetry, no art…
CLERK shows Dodd a balance: This balance, Mr. Dodd.
DODD: There is an error in the addition. The total should be 1296321.… the flight of the bird,
CLERK: The adding machine…
DODD: Have the adding machine fixed….the leap of the salmon, the rhythm of the dance, all are mathematical.

DODD: Two and two make four, Mr Pettypecker, whether they are fish, apples, or human beings.
PETTYPECKER: You are a pigheaded young man, Atterbury.
DODD: You mistake confidence for stubbornness, Mr. Pettypecker, confidence based on mathematics, the science which has never failed, and never will fail. I stake my future on it. Good day, sir.

MS PLUM: When that picture was taken I was getting $4000 a week.
DODD: 4000 a week?!
PLUM: Umhmm, I was the Shirley Temple of my day.
DODD: I’ve heard that name several times today, Ms. Plum. Who is Ms. Temple?
PLUM: Skip it (in disbelief).
DODD: Well, it is not important. Tell me, Ms. Plum, what is your present remuneration?
PLUM: Well, if you mean wages, I make $40 a week, when working.
DODD: It’s entirely wrong, Ms. Plum.
PLUM: You are telling me.
DODD: I mean the ratio of 4000 to 40. An inventory taken today would show that you have the same assets that you had as a child. Your mind is mature, above average, if I may say so.
PLUM: You may.F
DODD: Please don’t interrupt Ms. Plum.
PLUM: Ok, teach.
DODD: Yes, physically you are stronger. Potentially, if you were worth 4000 a week then you should be worth 8000 a week now, it’s simple mathematics.

Dodd learns to dance.
PLUM: Well, come on, don’t you know how?
DODD: No, if you just do it by yourself first.
PLUM: Ok, you mind if I use a stand-in (uses a hat on a pole and starts dancing).
DODD: Stop, stay right there. On the fourth beat your foot was here, on the third here (marks the positions of her feet).
PLUM: Oh, you can’t learn dance by mathematics. It’s rhythm.
DODD: Rhythm is based on mathematics.

45:56 (screenshot of Dodd dancing according to numbered markings)

THELMA (the movie star): Mr. Dodd, how do you occupy your leisure?
DODD: Ms. Cherie, all the excitement, the romance, the adventure that I want I find in my own way.
THELMA: Your own way?
DODD: Well, if you must know, in the science of mathematics.
THELMA: How, fascinating.
DIRECTOR: How dull, how deadly dull, Mr. Dodd.
DODD: That’s a perfectly normal reaction, Mr. Koslovsky, because you don’t know the science of mathematics. It’s more important to life than to eat and drink. Without it there could be no music, no art, no poetry. The flight of the bird, the leap of the salmon, the rhythm of the dance.

Ms. Plum demonstrates JuiJitso.
DODD: Why, Ms. Plum, you’re wonderful.
PLUM: I don’t see anything wonderful about it, it’s just plain JuiJitso, a trick of leverage.
DODD: Leverage, the principle of Archimedes, the Greek mathematician.

Dodd makes the following remark before he knocks somebody out.
DODD: Mr Potts. In my youth I learned an axiom. That the straight line is the shortest distance between two points.