MOVIE REVIEW: “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” stars Don Knotts (The Andy Griffith Show [TV series], Pleasantville), Joan Staley (Cape Fear , Roustabout), Liam Redmond (Barry Lyndon, The Diplomatic Corpse), Dick Sargent (Bewitched [TV series], Operation Petticoat), Skip Homeier (The Gunfighter, The Tall T), Reta Shaw (Mary Poppins , Picnic), Lurene Tuttle (Psycho , Ma Barker’s Killer Brood), Philip Ober (From Here to Eternity, North by Northwest), Harry Hickox (The Music Man , Cavalcade of America), and James Millhollin (No Time for Sergeants, The Twilight Zone [TV series]). It is directed by Alan Rafkin (The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Bob Newhart Show [TV series]), and written by James Fritzell (The Andy Griffith Show [TV series], MASH [TV series]) and Everett Greenbaum (The Reluctant Astronaut, The Real McCoys [TV series]).
In order to prove his worth at his local newspaper, typesetter and scaredy cat Luther Heggs (Knotts) spends a night in a haunted house in the neighborhood on the night a murder once took place inside.
What if we put Barney Fife in a haunted house? Wait, we did that on an episode of “Andy Griffith” already? Well… let’s do it again, but give Knotts less of an edge.
“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” is one of the handful of movies Don Knotts did in a film contract he made with Universal, which ultimately pushed him to depart from “The Andy Griffith Show” in 1965 (plummeting that series in quality for me, personally). We have a few of these flicks in our family movie book, and one night I thought I’d pop one in and see how it fairs. After all, who doesn’t love Don Knotts? The man is a comedy genius known for his physical humor that is both spastic and endearing. He is cemented in television history for his role of Barney Fife, and no matter what he is involved in, he manages to bring a smile to my face when I see him on screen.
As you can tell by the logline, this film’s story is simple: Knotts plays a chicken (metaphorically) who is forced to spend a night in a haunted house. Physical comedy ensues, jump scares are thrown, and entertainment is to be had. However, what I didn’t realize was that was only act one. The rest of the movie involves Knotts trying to prove that what he saw in the house was indeed true. Which… was kind of interesting if I’m being honest.
“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” has a few moving parts to it, outside of Knotts going into the house. There’s a love interest in Joan Staley’s Alma Parker, an evil old man looking to transfer the deed of the haunted house to himself (so he can tear it down), and a whole town to see either thrown into chaos or unity in deeming the haunted house as a place to be preserved. The direction of it all is akin to television or stage play, with many of the sets being shot in a soundstage and the blocking working in favor to turning out toward the audience. It’s what’s expected when you see a big comedy from television writers shot in the 60’s, and I enjoyed it. The sets were decorated wonderfully and the acting, while almost all caricatures, served the charm of this set-up well.
From start to finish, this was an easy watch. I loved the romance between Knotts and Staley, and the humor in many of the scenes is solid. Are they easy grabs when it comes to the physical comedy? Oh yeah. You can predict a few of the jokes that are going to unfold. But it’s still fun regardless because Knotts knows how to sell it. His character is essentially that of Barney Fife, though without the bulldog front. If you’re looking to see Knotts play around, you’ve come to the right place; this one managed to pull a few good laughs from me.
“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” is a fun family flick that mines the genius that is Don Knotts. It’s a good Halloween feature that could be played year-round, and goes the extra mile in making it not just about getting spooked in a haunted house, but how that affects the town in the grand scheme of things. It’s a harmless movie that doesn’t do too much unexpected, though I wasn’t really looking for anything experimental or crazy to begin with when I popped the disc in. Really, the only annoying thing about this one was Don Knotts’ flashlight (the light that shown from it lagged behind Knotts’ hand when he waved it around, because they were shining the light from a spotlight off-camera). Otherwise, I recommend sitting down to it if you’re looking for something light and entertaining. FINAL SCORE: 82%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer:
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