Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Ghost And Mr. Chicken

Don Knotts is at his wound-up finest in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, his first film after leaving THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. He’s a cornucopia of fidgets and shakes that pushes his physical comedy skills to the limit. Even when he isn’t saying anything, Knotts is a delight to watch.

As written by GRIFFITH vets Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum and directed by the Griffith show’s Alan Rafkin, THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN is one of the most quotable comedies of its era: “Bang! Right on the head!”, “Mister Boob. That’s me. B-Double-O-B. Boob!”, “When you work with words, words are your work,” and, of course, “Attaboy, Luther!” Set in rural Rachel, Kansas, Knotts plays Luther Heggs, a meek, excitable typesetter at the local newspaper with dreams of becoming a reporter. Neither his editor (Dick Sargent, later the Fake Darrin on BEWITCHED) nor his reporter rival (Skip Homeier) takes him seriously, and Homeier isn‘t even particularly friendly, cutting Luther down like a grade school bully.

Luther’s big chance comes when he accepts a dare to spend the night in the creepy Simmons mansion, an abandoned old house rumored to be haunted since Old Man Simmons murdered his wife there 20 years previously and then committed suicide. Simmons’ nephew (Phil Ober) has returned to Rachel to demolish the place, but those plans are put on hold after Luther’s scoop the next day in which he describes encounters with hidden staircases, a pipe organ that plays by itself, and a portrait of the late Mrs. Simmons with bloody shears protruding from it.

Since you and I don’t believe in ghosts, it’s easy to guess that human hands might be behind Luther’s apparitions. The journey to the mystery’s solution is a pleasing one, particularly because of the delightful supporting cast Rafkin assembled. TV Land fanatics will undoubtedly smile at Reta Shaw, Charles Lane, Ellen (“Grandma Walton“) Corby, Robert Cornthwaite, Cliff Norton, and Burt Mustin, just to name a few. However, the movie's secret weapon is the amazing jazz score by Vic Mizzy, whose jaunty main theme is later rearranged as a spooky organ tune Luther hears in the mansion. It's hard to get the tune out of your head once you've heard it, and it‘s one of the finest comedic scores of the 1960s.


August West said...

A Classic! "Attaboy,Luther."
and wasn't Joan Staley gorgeous.

Grant said...

Another great character actor in it is Herbie Faye. He plays the man who's trying to eat his lunch while Luther tells a gruesome news story he covered.