In The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Luther Heggs (played by Don Knotts), is a typesetter for his small town newspaper, the Rachel Courier Express. He aspires to be a reporter however and gets his big break when the editor (played by Dick Sargent of Bewitched fame) asks him to spend the night at the old Simmons mansion that, 20 years before, was the site of a now-famous murder-suicide. The case has aroused local interest not only because of the anniversary but because the nephew of the murdered couple, Nicholas Simmons, has returned to Rachel aiming to tear the mansion down. Luther’s night in the mansion is nothing less that spending the night in a haunted house, complete with ghostly organ music (with bloody fingerprints on the organ keys), a sliding bookshelf that reveals a hidden staircase, and a painting of the murdered woman with a pair of garden shears stabbing the painting in the neck. Luther writes his first-person account for the newspaper, and has the respect that he longed for — and helps with his romance with his would-be girlfriend, Alma (played by the beautiful Joan Staley).
Luther’s account of his wild, ghost-ridden night in the house leads Nicholas Simmons to sue for libel. In the courtroom, Luther is made to look the fool, but the judge orders the courtroom to the Simmons House at midnight to allow Luther to prove his story. Nothing happens, of course, but after everyone except Luther and Alma leave, the old organ begins to play and he finds Mr. Kelsey, the newspaper’s janitor, playing the keys. With the aid of Mr. Kelsey, they reveal what really happened that night many years ago, and Luthor, with Don Knott’s trademark nervous bravery and inept attempt at judo, rescues the girl and reveals the identity of the real killer. All ends well, with the confident Luther strutting like a peacock and demonstrate to the police what happened, and why Nicholas Simmons wanted to destroy the old house. The movie ends with the marriage of Luther and Alma (“Atta boy, Luther!”) and with the organ at the wedding playing the theme music .. all by itself.
(Editor’s note: Don Knotts’ The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is available as part of the Don Knotts Reluctant Hero Pack)
In this film, Don Knotts is clearly playing a variation on his Barney Fife character from “The Andy Griffith Show.” In fact, this was the first movie that Don Knotts made after leaving that landmark TV series. A very funny film, complete with the running joke of someone from the audience shouting out “Attaboy, Luther!” whenever Don Knotts starts a speech.
I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.
Trivia from Don Knotts’ The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
- According to Don Knotts ‘ autobiography, the off-screen voice yelling, “Attaboy, Luther!” belongs to screenwriter Everett Greenbaum.
- This film inspired a short-lived craze for yelling out “Attaboy, (name)” during speeches and other situations. This came from a running gag used in this film.
- Released in the U.S. in mid-summer 1966, this film was frequently double-billed with the similarly themed Munster, Go Home (1966)
- One of the few American films shot in the Technicolor Corporation’s Techniscope widescreen process. The wide screen effect was achieved by essentially splitting the usual film frame horizontally into two smaller frames with a greater width to height ratio. It was inexpensive but yielded a grainy image, which probably explains why it was seldom used in Hollywood.
Editorial Review of Don Knotts’ The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, courtesy of Amazon.com:
Remember watching this silly little comedy from your childhood? It may not have aged all that well, but is still goofy, good fun. Okay, so you can spot the stunt double, and Don Knotts’s twitches are a little more obvious. Still, fans of his familiar routines will be comforted in knowing they can again watch their skinny underdog hero solve the ghost story while winning the prettiest girl in town. Knotts plays a trembling typesetter hoping to become a reporter by cracking the mystery of the local haunted house. To do so, he must spend a night there. Good-hearted, non-threatening, and completely gooey, this is the equivalent of light-weight cinematic junk food. — Rochelle O’Gorman