The Face of Fear — Don Knotts in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”

I really wanted to contribute something to this Halloween blogfest, so I offer a little nonsensical coda about a movie I’m sure a lot of us have seen many times and probably enjoy.  Funny + spooky has been a movie tradition forever, and nobody did it quite as well as the limber-limbed and rubber-faced actor/comedian Don Knotts in his 1966 feature film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Though it wasn’t his first solo feature film after his big TV success as Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show – that was 1964′s lavish live action/animated WWII comedy The Incredible Mr. Limpet — it was his first after he had more-or-less officially left TAGS (though he would return for guest appearances).  It was a gentle transition from Mayberry to The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, though; veteran TAGS writers James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum penned TGaMC, along with other Knotts big-screen starrers The Reluctant Astronaut and The Shakiest Gun in the West.  Director Alan Rafkin came from TV comedy directing, and later went back to it on many of the small screen’s biggest hits like Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, Sanford and Son, Laverne and Shirley, One Day at a Time, It’s Gary Shandling’s Show and many others.   Composer Vic Mizzy — we all remember his theme from The Addams Family — contributed one of terrific jaunty scores for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, including a truly malevolent roiling haunted organ solo that can never be forgotten. 

But was really made The Ghost and Mr. Chicken work was Don Knotts himself in all his jittery glory, capitalAnother "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" posterizing on Barney Fife’s “Nervous Nellie” personality, but not full of Fife’s often self-deluding notions of grandeur.  TGaMC‘s Luther Heggs was a properly cautious newspaper typesetter with dreams of becoming a reporter, browbeaten terribly by his bullying co-worker and fellow boarding-house roomer Ollie (played very well by Skip Homeier) and unfortunately harboring a crush on Ollie’s lovely sometimes-girlfriend played by Joan Staley.  Never mind the plot, really; suffice it to say that a house with a bloody past needs investigation and Luther is the man for the job.  What makes The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is Don Knotts and also a great cast of veteran characters actors who turn up all through the movie as his fellow townspeople.  You’ll be able to see familiar faces like Burt Mustin, Charles Lane, James Milhollin, Reta Shaw, Lurlene Tuttle, Hal Smith, Phil Ober, Hope Summers and many more.  (In fact, Milhollin gets one of the most “boy, have expressions changed!” lines when, in discussing the psychic palpitations of his ghost-loving wife played by Reta Shaw, tells someone “She came home and vibrated for an hour!”.  Whooee!) 

Here are some choice screengrabs of Knotts and the cast, with special attention paid to the myriad “Faces of Fear” from Knotts, all of which elicit a laugh and make The Ghost and Mr. Chicken such a delight to watch.  (If you mouse each one over you’ll get some additional info.)

Attaboy, Luther!

24 Responses The Face of Fear — Don Knotts in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”
Posted By Susan : October 31, 2011 6:17 pm

The first thing I thought when I saw this post was “it was in color?” We used to watch it on our old b&w TV.

Posted By Susan : October 31, 2011 6:17 pm

The first thing I thought when I saw this post was “it was in color?” We used to watch it on our old b&w TV.

Posted By Whitcomb Mercer Rummel : October 31, 2011 6:23 pm

Wow, does this bring back memories. I remember attending the world premiere of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken in New Orleans in early 1966. How and why it got to open there, who knows, but it sure was exciting for a young kid to meet the amazing Mr.Knotts in person!

Posted By Whitcomb Mercer Rummel : October 31, 2011 6:23 pm

Wow, does this bring back memories. I remember attending the world premiere of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken in New Orleans in early 1966. How and why it got to open there, who knows, but it sure was exciting for a young kid to meet the amazing Mr.Knotts in person!

Posted By medusamorlock : October 31, 2011 6:26 pm

I don’t think you’re alone, Susan! Glorious color, in fact! And Widescreen!

I also meant to mention that it’s on Netflix streaming! (I also tried to publish this post a little later tonight and it didn’t work!). It’s a Halloween curse, obviously!

“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” has been a TV staple for years, first appearing on primetime network in 1969 and of course then syndicated ever since then. It used to be big ratings-getter whenever we ran it on KTLA in Los Angeles in the late 1970s- 1980s!

Posted By medusamorlock : October 31, 2011 6:26 pm

I don’t think you’re alone, Susan! Glorious color, in fact! And Widescreen!

I also meant to mention that it’s on Netflix streaming! (I also tried to publish this post a little later tonight and it didn’t work!). It’s a Halloween curse, obviously!

“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” has been a TV staple for years, first appearing on primetime network in 1969 and of course then syndicated ever since then. It used to be big ratings-getter whenever we ran it on KTLA in Los Angeles in the late 1970s- 1980s!

Posted By franko : October 31, 2011 9:24 pm

I saw this movie at our local small-town movie house when I was in the sixth grade. Walking home that night, I found myself busting out laughing as I ran some of the choice scenes through my head. Then I started humming that “truly malevolent roiling haunted organ solo.” I double-timed it the rest of the way home. Always one of my favorite movies, and I still bust out laughing at it 45 years later. Thank you! :o )

Posted By franko : October 31, 2011 9:24 pm

I saw this movie at our local small-town movie house when I was in the sixth grade. Walking home that night, I found myself busting out laughing as I ran some of the choice scenes through my head. Then I started humming that “truly malevolent roiling haunted organ solo.” I double-timed it the rest of the way home. Always one of my favorite movies, and I still bust out laughing at it 45 years later. Thank you! :o )

Posted By dukeroberts : October 31, 2011 11:42 pm

I have always loved this one, The Incredible Mr. Limpet and Private Eyes with Don and Tim Conway. Don was a unique talent, on the big screen and the small screen.

If I turn on the TV and see that an Andy Griffith episode is in color I will turn it right away, because I know that Barney is gone and it ain’t worth watchin’. That show was not nearly as good after he left.

Posted By dukeroberts : October 31, 2011 11:42 pm

I have always loved this one, The Incredible Mr. Limpet and Private Eyes with Don and Tim Conway. Don was a unique talent, on the big screen and the small screen.

If I turn on the TV and see that an Andy Griffith episode is in color I will turn it right away, because I know that Barney is gone and it ain’t worth watchin’. That show was not nearly as good after he left.

Posted By Medusa : November 1, 2011 8:10 am

I’m so happy that others remember this really adorable movie — and the greatness of Don Knotts — with the same affection that I do.

I’m with you, duke, about not wanting to watch “The Andy Griffith Show” if it’s a color episode. I’m just like you — don’t like those color ones except if by some miracle it’s one of the ones where Barney visited. I always turn the channel, too!

Franko, I saw this when it first came out so I would have been about twelve, and it’s still funny to me, too. Definitely saw it at the theater several times, and of course Knott’s “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”, too.

Watch his movies again now that they’re looking beautiful on DVD or streaming. Really crisp and Knotts looks great. He was a tremendous talent in everything he did.

I also LOVE him in his little bit in Griffith’s “No Time for Sergeants”.

Attaboy, Don!

Posted By Medusa : November 1, 2011 8:10 am

I’m so happy that others remember this really adorable movie — and the greatness of Don Knotts — with the same affection that I do.

I’m with you, duke, about not wanting to watch “The Andy Griffith Show” if it’s a color episode. I’m just like you — don’t like those color ones except if by some miracle it’s one of the ones where Barney visited. I always turn the channel, too!

Franko, I saw this when it first came out so I would have been about twelve, and it’s still funny to me, too. Definitely saw it at the theater several times, and of course Knott’s “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”, too.

Watch his movies again now that they’re looking beautiful on DVD or streaming. Really crisp and Knotts looks great. He was a tremendous talent in everything he did.

I also LOVE him in his little bit in Griffith’s “No Time for Sergeants”.

Attaboy, Don!

Posted By Morlock Jeff : November 1, 2011 10:08 am

I’ve always felt there is some family resemblance between Don Knotts and Mick Jagger, especially in this movie.

Posted By Morlock Jeff : November 1, 2011 10:08 am

I’ve always felt there is some family resemblance between Don Knotts and Mick Jagger, especially in this movie.

Posted By DBenson : November 1, 2011 3:42 pm

Intriguing thing about Don Knotts is that he’s always a comic actor as opposed to a comedian. He’ll take old sitcom-level material and make it funnier than it has any right to be, but he always makes that character real. Half the joke in the “Apple Dumpling Gang” movies is how Knotts’ mangy outlaw seems convinced he’s really Clint Eastwood.

Posted By DBenson : November 1, 2011 3:42 pm

Intriguing thing about Don Knotts is that he’s always a comic actor as opposed to a comedian. He’ll take old sitcom-level material and make it funnier than it has any right to be, but he always makes that character real. Half the joke in the “Apple Dumpling Gang” movies is how Knotts’ mangy outlaw seems convinced he’s really Clint Eastwood.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 1, 2011 5:09 pm

Great movie & fun post! And I’m glad you got the chance to join in the Halloween fun here at the Morlocks, Medusa.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 1, 2011 5:09 pm

Great movie & fun post! And I’m glad you got the chance to join in the Halloween fun here at the Morlocks, Medusa.

Posted By Jenni : November 1, 2011 8:34 pm

Wonderful choice to end the blog-a-thon Medusa! I use to tivo the old Andy Griffiths, favoring the black and white ones over the color episodes, and my kids would sometimes watch the ones with Barney in them. One of my twins, when she was 7(she’s now 11), wanted to see The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and it was at our local video store, so we rented it. I had never seen it myself, only had heard my mom say how enjoyable a movie it was. So, we watched it and it was a darling movie, quite funny, and my daughter loved it. She still asks for us to re-rent it. I should just go ahead and buy it. My husband really liked The Incredible Mr. Limmpet, which we’ve also rented, but Ghost and Mr. Chicken is the fave of the two.

Posted By Jenni : November 1, 2011 8:34 pm

Wonderful choice to end the blog-a-thon Medusa! I use to tivo the old Andy Griffiths, favoring the black and white ones over the color episodes, and my kids would sometimes watch the ones with Barney in them. One of my twins, when she was 7(she’s now 11), wanted to see The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and it was at our local video store, so we rented it. I had never seen it myself, only had heard my mom say how enjoyable a movie it was. So, we watched it and it was a darling movie, quite funny, and my daughter loved it. She still asks for us to re-rent it. I should just go ahead and buy it. My husband really liked The Incredible Mr. Limmpet, which we’ve also rented, but Ghost and Mr. Chicken is the fave of the two.

Posted By swac : November 3, 2011 9:15 am

Definitely a childhood favourite, but eventually I grew up and moved on to harder stuff, like The Love God.

Posted By swac : November 3, 2011 9:15 am

Definitely a childhood favourite, but eventually I grew up and moved on to harder stuff, like The Love God.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : November 5, 2011 1:56 am

My wife and I took the kids to the El Capitan on Halloween Eve to see The Nightmare Before Christmas and the preshow was an organist, who worked the theme to The Ghost and Mr. Chicken into his set. Respect!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : November 5, 2011 1:56 am

My wife and I took the kids to the El Capitan on Halloween Eve to see The Nightmare Before Christmas and the preshow was an organist, who worked the theme to The Ghost and Mr. Chicken into his set. Respect!

Leave a Reply

Current day month ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art in Movies  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies