Posted by medusamorlock on October 31, 2011
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, capitalizing 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.)
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