Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween !! THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN 1966

Monster kid classic as Don Knotts (along with able assistance from Playboy 
Playmate Joan Staley !!) solves gruesome goings on at "the old Simmons's place" !

     This perennial Halloween season classic served as a "gateway" horror movie for many a monster kid back in the 60's as after successful theatrical run in 1966 it showed up constantly on T.V. throughout the coming decade or so (usually on rainy Sat. afternoons as I remember).  Anchored by a Barney Fife amped up to about "11" performance by Don Knotts and a supporting cast filled with an almost who's who of 60's TV character actors (several carried over from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) all set among the familiar surroundings of the Universal back lot THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN feels like old familiar friend each time you revisit it.
      After 5 seasons on the highly successful TV show that bore his name Andy Griffith decided he was leaving the show and co-star Don Knotts seeing an end to the series signed a multi-picture deal with Universal on the strength of his 1965 hit THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET. Griffith was offered a salary increase by CBS whereupon he decided to continue with the series while Knotts went to his successful movie career.
     Putting Knotts in a haunted house would seem to the makings of comedy gold (and it surely is as this plot was explored a bit before with Barney Fife investigating a spooky house in the "Haunted House" episode). Featuring a "G" friendly plot with some surprisingly gruesome bits as throat stabbings are openly discussed along blood dripping portraits, its filled with catch phrases ("Atta boy Luther !","And they used Bon Ami","The horribleness and awfulness of it will never be actually forgotten") that become ingrained in popular culture.

    As mentioned Knotts plays here the same character that he perfected over 5 seasons - the bumbling lovable schmuck who's constantly huffing & puffing to inflate his own self confidence. Here playing type setter of a local paper ("The Rachel Courier Express") in small town Kansas, he a little too eagerly dreams of being a reporter and secretly pines for local all-American hometown girl Alma "Above Average" Parker (Joan Staley Playboy Mrs. Nov. 1958). Beset by his co-worker and rival for Alma in the form reporter Ollie Weaver (Skip Homeier THE TALL T) he jumps at the chance to prove his worth by spending the night in an infamous local haunted house (ominously refereed to throughout as "the Simmons's House") at the urging of Ollie and his editor George Beckett (Dick Sargent - Darren # 2 on BEWITCHED).
     The house was the site of murder/suicide twenty years ago and also lurking about the proceedings is the heir and current owner of the house Nicolas Simmons (booming voiced character actor Phil Ober NORTH BY NORTHWEST). Spending the night in house on the anniversary of the crime in order to write a story Luther uncovers much more going on than originally thought, but not before having to prove his narrative of the night in typical Knotts fashion.
     It's not surprising that the film bares a nodding resemblance to Knotts recent series as director Alan Rafkin (SKI PARTY) along with writers James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum were all veterans of the THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Filmed in all that 1960's widescreen technicolor glory its a ravishing film to behold (especially on the new blu-ray just released by Universal) with some excellent a creepy set design work by Oliver Emert with the standout  being the cobweb and bric-a-brac festoon interior of the old mansion. And who can ever forget that Vic Mizzy score ??

    Featuring a cornucopia of well known nosy maids, daffy neighbors and officious business types its literally packed to gills with folks who have popped up in hundreds of TV shows including Reta Shaw,Harry Hilcox, Hope Summers, Eddie Quillan, Philip Ober, Harry Hines, James Millhollin, Herbie "I'm almost up to my jello" Faye, stock busybody Lurene Tuttle and the wonderful Al Checco (whose president of the"International Conclave for UFOs).  There are so many faces hereabouts that you got both Charles Lane AND Bert Mustin who between the two of them played the grouchy old guy in every TV show in the 1960's.
     Knotts gets put down occasionally for being a one trick pony, but what a trick it is and he was truly an American treasure. Watching him here you really realize just how great his timing is. Just check out the sequence during the speech at the park and its pure comic gold. Whether frantically pushing the buttons on his Edsel push button transmission car ("So I whipped the Edsel on around") or engaging in karate ("Turned my whole body into weapon") he's a larger then life comedic force here.

    Joan Staley appeared in Nov. 1958 Playboy and although a blonde she appears here in a short brunette wig in order to project a more wholesome image. She had a pretty impressive career appearing in CAPE FEAR and the "ratpack lite" sans Frank & Dino gangster film JOHNNY COOL. She's very beguiling here emoting both a small town girl next door vibe with just a hint of flirty playfulness.
    Although often mistakenly identified as the Munster House from the popular TV show or the gaunt Victorian from Hitchcock's PSYCHO the house in question stood on the Universal back lot and was right next door to the Munster house. 


  1. One I often enjoyed on TV as a kid... Great post and fond memory... Thanks
    Hope that you and yours had a great Halloween...

    1. Thanks ! This one of my required viewings each October. Hope you had a great Halloween too !