Spy Games – International espionage in… Nashville?!

One of the strangest spy spoofs to emerge from the sixties has got to be HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. This oddball musical comedy arrived in drive-ins in 1967 accompanied by the tagline, “If you’re a chicken come with plenty of feathers and a 0-0-0h-7 get-away car!” HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is part espionage farce, part sitcom style comedy and a full-blown musical featuring performances from the movie’s three stars (Joi Lansing, Ferlin Husky and Don Bowman) along with appearances by popular country & western performers such as Merle Haggard, Molly Bee and Sonny James.

Today it might be hard for modern audiences to understand how a movie like this ever got made but in James Bond’s heyday country & western music was gaining a growing audience thanks to increased radio play and popular programs like THE PORTER WAGONER SHOW. At the same time rural television comedies including THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, PETTICOAT JUNCTION and GOMER PYLE competed with spy themed shows such as I SPY, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, THE PRISONER, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and GET SMART for ratings. B-movie producing brothers Bernard, Larry and David Woolner were eager to cash-in on this strange hodgepodge of pop culture trends and they must have thought they had a surefire moneymaker on their hands with HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. To seal the deal they gave their movie some extra drive-in appeal by setting the story in a haunted mansion and hiring three horror film legends (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone) to co-star.

I stumbled on this unusual movie while doing some background research on director Jean Yarbrough a few weeks ago. Yarbrough was an interesting character who began his career in Hollywood as a chauffeur for producer Hal Roach. He managed to convince Roach to find him a job as a prop man and a few years later he was directing short films for RKO. In the late 1930s Yarbrough’s name became synonymous with Hollywood’s Poverty Row when he started directing assembly line low-budget movies for companies such as Monogram Pictures and the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). Yarbrough was known for his ability to finish movies on time and under budget but this came with a price. He often only shot one take so if an actor flubbed their lines or some prop was out of place it went uncorrected. Things like plot continuity apparently didn’t matter much to Yarbrough but he still managed to shoot a number of successful pictures in the 1940s for Universal. Some of the highlights from Jean Yarbrough’s filmography include the Abbott and Costello comedies IN SOCIETY (1944), THE NAUGHTY NINETIES (1945) and JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (1952) as well as horror movies such as THE DEVIL BAT (1940), KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941), SHE WOLF OF LONDON (1946) and THE BRUTE MAN (1946). In the sixties Yarbrough turned his attention to television because he liked the fast pace of production and devoted most of his time to directing episodes of THE ABBOT AND COSTELLO SHOW, GUNSMOKE, THE ADAMS FAMILY, BONANZA, MICHALE’S NAVY, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, DEATH VALLEY DAYS and PETTICOAT JUNCTION.

Looking at Yarbrough’s directing credits it’s easy to understand why he might have been interested in making HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. This variety show inspired movie follows the OLD DARK HOUSE formula but takes place in the backwoods of Tennessee where two country music entertainers, Woody (Ferlin Husky) and his “occasional lady friend” Boots (Joi Lansing) are making their way to Nashville for a music jamboree accompanied by their manager Jeepers (Don Bowman). Their road trip comes to an abrupt halt after they find themselves involved in a shootout between the local sheriff and some enemy spies. When the sun starts to set they ask the local gas station owner if there are any motels in the area where they can spend the night but there’s nothing available so he suggests they sleep at an abandoned old mansion in town. Of course the gas station owner neglects to tell our three hapless heroes that the mansion is haunted by civil war era ghosts and overrun by spies. The aforementioned spies include an evil female mastermind named Madame Wong (Linda Ho in typical Dragon Lady mode) along with her three henchmen (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone) and a nameless man in a gorilla suit. The spies are using the old mansion as a hideout while they trade secrets with American double agents but their plans keep getting interrupted by country music interludes. The group of meddling bumpkins naturally pose a problem for the spies so they try to frighten them away in typical SCOOBY DOO fashion. In the end everyone discovers that the house is truly haunted and the ghosts don’t exhibit any kind of southern hospitality.

This quickly cobbled together movie was a sequel to THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS (1966), which was also a showcase for various country music performers eager to sell records. I haven’t had a chance to see THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS yet but by most accounts it was a more straightforward comedy that didn’t feature spies or ghosts but it did star blond bomsbshells Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren.

HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is about as well-written and directed as an episode of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES or PETTICOAT JUNCTION and the stereotypical characters (country bumpkins, evil Asians, etc.) can grate on your nerves but the tongue-in-cheek banter shared between costars John Carradine and Basil Rathbone made it a treat for this classic horror movie fan. Spy spoof enthusiasts should also appreciate the chemistry these two old pros share. It’s easy to imagine Carradine or Rathbone playing ominous villains in a James Bond film and I wish they had been given the opportunity. Unfortunately HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE would be one of Basil Rathbone’s last movies before he passed away from a sudden heart attack on July 1, 1967 just two months after HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE debuted.

I’ve always liked Joi Lansing and she almost manages to steal the show from the rest of the cast as a beautiful blond country singer with a heart of gold. The abysmal script gives her very little to do but she still acts convincingly frightened when she’s attacked by a man in an ape costume. You’ve got to give the woman credit for that! Besides Lansing, Carradine, Rathbone and Chaney, the other star of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is the music. I must confess that I don’t care for country & western music. In fact, I tend to run for the hills as soon I hear the name Merle Haggard but I could still appreciate the talent on display in the movie. I was particularly impressed by Sonny James when he belted out his rendition of “The Cat Came Back.” I think many country & western fans would probably enjoy seeing these music artists perform some of their early songs and that’s what these types of films are all about. They were a creative advertising ploy designed to sell records and I’m sure that more than a few teenagers became Merle Haggard or Molly Bee fans after watching HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE.



If you’re looking for a fright free movie to watch this Halloween with the whole family and you happen to like country music you could do worse than HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. It is by no means a great movie or even a really good one but it still might appeal to young audiences who enjoy modern shows like GLEE and some classic horror and spy spoof fans could find that HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE has its own kind of antiquated charm. Due to my strong dislike of country music I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to make it through the entire movie but the songs and the stars kept my attention so I’m glad I set aside some time to watch it. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is one of the worst movies ever made but if you visit imdb.com you’ll discover that it’s been given a measly 1.8 star rating by a lot of folks who don’t seem to like country & western music or spy spoofs of any kind. Your own enjoyment will vary so please approach this movie with caution but it just might surprise you as much as it surprised me.

0 Response Spy Games – International espionage in… Nashville?!
Posted By ratzkywatzky : October 11, 2012 1:05 pm

I thought this was a lost film! So glad to discover its available.

Posted By ratzkywatzky : October 11, 2012 1:05 pm

I thought this was a lost film! So glad to discover its available.

Posted By Gildersleeve : October 11, 2012 8:01 pm

Junk is still junk, and this movie epitomizes it, especially with how the great Basil Rathbone is wasted in this (it was his last movie too).

As for hating C&W, the people that hate this movie don’t hate C&W, they just hate junk, and that’s what this movie was.

Posted By Gildersleeve : October 11, 2012 8:01 pm

Junk is still junk, and this movie epitomizes it, especially with how the great Basil Rathbone is wasted in this (it was his last movie too).

As for hating C&W, the people that hate this movie don’t hate C&W, they just hate junk, and that’s what this movie was.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 11, 2012 8:25 pm

Ratzkywatzky – It’s still out there… gathering dust!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 11, 2012 8:25 pm

Ratzkywatzky – It’s still out there… gathering dust!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 11, 2012 8:44 pm

Gildersleeve – As I made clear above, the movie no worse and no better than an episode of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLES (one of the most popular TV shows of all time) or GLEE for that matter but your own tolerance for that kind of thing will vary. What it does have is some great actors (including a 75-year-old Rathbone – a working actor who was getting no respect in Hollywood at the time and needed a job & this movie put food on his table). I tend to appreciate a movie for what it gives me instead of what I expect from it. I expected nothing from this and I got to see Rathbone & Carradine clearly having fun with their roles and I enjoyed imagining them playing Bond villains. I’m sorry you couldn’t appreciate that.

In the end the movie is just a glorified music video or commercial for selling some records – much like the Beach movies with Annette & Frankie. If you actually take the time to read the reviews at imdb (and elsewhere) you’ll discover countless comments about how awful the music is so I stand by my observation.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 11, 2012 8:44 pm

Gildersleeve – As I made clear above, the movie no worse and no better than an episode of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLES (one of the most popular TV shows of all time) or GLEE for that matter but your own tolerance for that kind of thing will vary. What it does have is some great actors (including a 75-year-old Rathbone – a working actor who was getting no respect in Hollywood at the time and needed a job & this movie put food on his table). I tend to appreciate a movie for what it gives me instead of what I expect from it. I expected nothing from this and I got to see Rathbone & Carradine clearly having fun with their roles and I enjoyed imagining them playing Bond villains. I’m sorry you couldn’t appreciate that.

In the end the movie is just a glorified music video or commercial for selling some records – much like the Beach movies with Annette & Frankie. If you actually take the time to read the reviews at imdb (and elsewhere) you’ll discover countless comments about how awful the music is so I stand by my observation.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 11, 2012 9:32 pm

I have long heard about this movie but I have not yet seen it. Though these types of movies are not “good” as determined by mainstream aesthetic values, they are often rich in reflecting the trends and fads of an era. That is what I like about them. And, you are right, everyone’s tolerance for watching them differs.

I have to stand up a little for c/w music. I was raised on it, and I grew up listening to Merle Haggard, Ferlin Husky, and Molly Bee, among others. The c/w music of the era was much purer and therefore richer than in other era’s, particularly now. Though the c/w stars chose to sing c/w, many were more than capable of singing or performing other styles. Molly Bee had an afternoon variety show at the time, cohosting with Roy Clark and one other person whose name escapes me. It was called SWINGIN COUNTRY, or something like that. She was very personable and could sing more than c/w as she proved on the show. I am betting she was tapped for the movie because of her popularity on this show.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 11, 2012 9:32 pm

I have long heard about this movie but I have not yet seen it. Though these types of movies are not “good” as determined by mainstream aesthetic values, they are often rich in reflecting the trends and fads of an era. That is what I like about them. And, you are right, everyone’s tolerance for watching them differs.

I have to stand up a little for c/w music. I was raised on it, and I grew up listening to Merle Haggard, Ferlin Husky, and Molly Bee, among others. The c/w music of the era was much purer and therefore richer than in other era’s, particularly now. Though the c/w stars chose to sing c/w, many were more than capable of singing or performing other styles. Molly Bee had an afternoon variety show at the time, cohosting with Roy Clark and one other person whose name escapes me. It was called SWINGIN COUNTRY, or something like that. She was very personable and could sing more than c/w as she proved on the show. I am betting she was tapped for the movie because of her popularity on this show.

Posted By Doug : October 12, 2012 9:23 am

For those that grind their particular axe about ‘hating’ country music, you wouldn’t have ‘rock music’ if it hadn’t come out of gospel music by way of country.
I admit that there are some terrible cliche`d songs in C/W…but ‘rock’ music isn’t any better.
I also grew up on country music, and, though I don’t listen to it much anymore, I still appreciate that there is some gold among the dross.
I would watch “Hillbilly s in a Haunted House” just to see the young Merle Haggard before he became…well, haggard.
Kimberly mentions the Frankie and Annette beach movies-I loved them growing up because you could tell they were having fun, which made them fun to watch.

Posted By Doug : October 12, 2012 9:23 am

For those that grind their particular axe about ‘hating’ country music, you wouldn’t have ‘rock music’ if it hadn’t come out of gospel music by way of country.
I admit that there are some terrible cliche`d songs in C/W…but ‘rock’ music isn’t any better.
I also grew up on country music, and, though I don’t listen to it much anymore, I still appreciate that there is some gold among the dross.
I would watch “Hillbilly s in a Haunted House” just to see the young Merle Haggard before he became…well, haggard.
Kimberly mentions the Frankie and Annette beach movies-I loved them growing up because you could tell they were having fun, which made them fun to watch.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 12, 2012 2:20 pm

Susan wrote: “Though these types of movies are not “good” as determined by mainstream aesthetic values, they are often rich in reflecting the trends and fads of an era.”

Well said! I hope some folks will come away from the review with a better understanding of why the film was made and why it might have held some appeal back in ’67.

After coming across many reviews online and in print that dismissed it due to “bad music” and “horrible performances” I honestly felt the need to defend it a little. As I said, I’m not a country music fan myself but I could appreciate the talent on display and I think any music fan – no matter what their personal tastes are – should be able to. A lot of reviews aggressively dismissed country singer Ferlin Husky as a drunk in the movie with a big red nose whole flubs all his lines, which is just plain untrue. He’s a singer so acting isn’t exactly his first talent but he’s just fine in it and never came across as some out of control drunk. He also has a very nice singing voice.

These types of low budget B-musicals were made in a couple of days on a dime for an audience of teenagers who went to the drive-in. They were not made to win awards or get critical approval. They were made to sell records and they undoubtedly did that.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 12, 2012 2:20 pm

Susan wrote: “Though these types of movies are not “good” as determined by mainstream aesthetic values, they are often rich in reflecting the trends and fads of an era.”

Well said! I hope some folks will come away from the review with a better understanding of why the film was made and why it might have held some appeal back in ’67.

After coming across many reviews online and in print that dismissed it due to “bad music” and “horrible performances” I honestly felt the need to defend it a little. As I said, I’m not a country music fan myself but I could appreciate the talent on display and I think any music fan – no matter what their personal tastes are – should be able to. A lot of reviews aggressively dismissed country singer Ferlin Husky as a drunk in the movie with a big red nose whole flubs all his lines, which is just plain untrue. He’s a singer so acting isn’t exactly his first talent but he’s just fine in it and never came across as some out of control drunk. He also has a very nice singing voice.

These types of low budget B-musicals were made in a couple of days on a dime for an audience of teenagers who went to the drive-in. They were not made to win awards or get critical approval. They were made to sell records and they undoubtedly did that.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 12, 2012 2:31 pm

Doug – The origins of rock-n-roll are complicated and owe much more to the blues than country or folk music. But American music history is a rich tapestry with many different overlapping threads.

I think it’s important no matter what your musical preferences are to keep an open mind (or ear) and be able to appreciate artists of all strips. As I mentioned to Susan, I was bothered by some of the outright criticisms of the music in HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE so I honestly felt the need to defend it a little. Anyone who enjoys ’60s era country music should be able to appreciate the musical numbers in this movie. It really is a historic treat for that reason alone, much like the Beach movies.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 12, 2012 2:31 pm

Doug – The origins of rock-n-roll are complicated and owe much more to the blues than country or folk music. But American music history is a rich tapestry with many different overlapping threads.

I think it’s important no matter what your musical preferences are to keep an open mind (or ear) and be able to appreciate artists of all strips. As I mentioned to Susan, I was bothered by some of the outright criticisms of the music in HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE so I honestly felt the need to defend it a little. Anyone who enjoys ’60s era country music should be able to appreciate the musical numbers in this movie. It really is a historic treat for that reason alone, much like the Beach movies.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 12, 2012 4:55 pm

Forgot to bring this up in my last comment, but you have to see FAT SPY from this era, also with Jayne Mansfield, if you haven’t already seen it. It is horrible, but so interesting for those reasons mentioned above. It’s a crazy spoof of beach movies and spy movies. And, it was shot in Coral Gables, Florida!!!!

Posted By Susan Doll : October 12, 2012 4:55 pm

Forgot to bring this up in my last comment, but you have to see FAT SPY from this era, also with Jayne Mansfield, if you haven’t already seen it. It is horrible, but so interesting for those reasons mentioned above. It’s a crazy spoof of beach movies and spy movies. And, it was shot in Coral Gables, Florida!!!!

Posted By darkamor : October 13, 2012 12:13 pm

Oh how I <3 films like these & thanks to SOMETHING WEIRD, people have been able to enjoy these lost gems again (this film deserves to be on TCM UNDERGROUND double billed with 1966's THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS ! :)

C J aka darkamor

Posted By darkamor : October 13, 2012 12:13 pm

Oh how I <3 films like these & thanks to SOMETHING WEIRD, people have been able to enjoy these lost gems again (this film deserves to be on TCM UNDERGROUND double billed with 1966's THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS ! :)

C J aka darkamor

Posted By Morlockjeff : October 14, 2012 10:33 am

Great title but I always suspected that the actual movie could never match the crazy film I imagined in my head. Still, as a fan of Merle Haggard, Sonny James and Ferlin Husky AND the horror stars of my childhood, I think I might have to give this a try based on your post. It looks like good, dumb fun.

Posted By Morlockjeff : October 14, 2012 10:33 am

Great title but I always suspected that the actual movie could never match the crazy film I imagined in my head. Still, as a fan of Merle Haggard, Sonny James and Ferlin Husky AND the horror stars of my childhood, I think I might have to give this a try based on your post. It looks like good, dumb fun.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 14, 2012 9:34 pm

If you approach it with the right mindset (realize it’s a sort of C&W Beach Party movie) and you appreciate Haggard, James, Husky and of course the horror stars, I think you’d find some things to enjoy in it, Jeff. Good, dumb fun is exactly what it is. But it’s also an interesting time capsule that could have only been made in the drive-in era.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 14, 2012 9:34 pm

If you approach it with the right mindset (realize it’s a sort of C&W Beach Party movie) and you appreciate Haggard, James, Husky and of course the horror stars, I think you’d find some things to enjoy in it, Jeff. Good, dumb fun is exactly what it is. But it’s also an interesting time capsule that could have only been made in the drive-in era.

Posted By swac44 : October 16, 2012 4:44 pm

Like Stan Freberg once said, you need to get more husky in yer ferlin.

I love vintage C&W, and it’s great to see footage of stars like Merle Haggard (who I saw about a decade ago, and still enjoyed every second of his performance) and Husky in their prime. Maybe I’ve got a bit of country music in my blood, since I hail from Atlantic Canada, which gave us three important country music figures, Sons of the Pioneers’ Bob Nolan, Wilf “Montana Slim” Carter and Hank Snow, who had an enviable run of country hits in the 40s-60s, and is also the man who introduced Elvis Presley to Col. Tom Parker (and was later edged out of co-managing the former by the latter). Makes me wonder if we should call it “country & eastern” up here.

Snow can be seen in a film that’s worse that this one (and I say this as a proud owner of Hillbillies in a Haunted House on DVD), called The Road to Nashville, which has a threadbare plot involving Doodles Weaver trying to round up enough talent to make a film with, and besides Snow the film also has turns by Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, the Carter Family, Porter Wagoner, Marty Robbins and many others. Pierce might have been on the decline by this point, but many of the featured stars are at their peak. I think Rhino put it out as a pan & scan title once upon a time, but it’s not like the film features Oscar-winning cinematography, the camera barely moves, but you can always fast forward through the pointless plot and get to the good stuff, the music.

Of course, it’s on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N241YJIZTP8&feature=relmfu

Posted By swac44 : October 16, 2012 4:44 pm

Like Stan Freberg once said, you need to get more husky in yer ferlin.

I love vintage C&W, and it’s great to see footage of stars like Merle Haggard (who I saw about a decade ago, and still enjoyed every second of his performance) and Husky in their prime. Maybe I’ve got a bit of country music in my blood, since I hail from Atlantic Canada, which gave us three important country music figures, Sons of the Pioneers’ Bob Nolan, Wilf “Montana Slim” Carter and Hank Snow, who had an enviable run of country hits in the 40s-60s, and is also the man who introduced Elvis Presley to Col. Tom Parker (and was later edged out of co-managing the former by the latter). Makes me wonder if we should call it “country & eastern” up here.

Snow can be seen in a film that’s worse that this one (and I say this as a proud owner of Hillbillies in a Haunted House on DVD), called The Road to Nashville, which has a threadbare plot involving Doodles Weaver trying to round up enough talent to make a film with, and besides Snow the film also has turns by Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, the Carter Family, Porter Wagoner, Marty Robbins and many others. Pierce might have been on the decline by this point, but many of the featured stars are at their peak. I think Rhino put it out as a pan & scan title once upon a time, but it’s not like the film features Oscar-winning cinematography, the camera barely moves, but you can always fast forward through the pointless plot and get to the good stuff, the music.

Of course, it’s on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N241YJIZTP8&feature=relmfu

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