The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

As part of my ongoing tribute to fun and spooky classic films throughout October, today I present to you my offering of Alan Rafkin’s THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966). Yes, this family classic is the perfect addition to my line-up of what reflects my childhood favorites and I continue enjoy with my family.

After a successful run on the popular TV series, “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-1968), Don Knotts who played the bumbling, high-strung deputy Barney Fife decided to branch out on his own in a film career. Knotts left at the end of the 1964/1965 season. By the time he made the decision to leave the show, he had already been working in supporting roles on several TV series and a few bit parts in films like Stanley Kramer’s IT’S A MAD, MAD WORLD (1960) and Michael Gordon’s MOVE OVER, DARLING (1963). Then came the chance to show his ability to play a headliner in Arthur Lupin’s THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET (1964). It validated his name could bank at the box office.

So, with Alan Rafkin in the director’s chair and Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum writing the screenplay, the successes this trio experienced at “The Andy Griffith Show”, they brought to THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966). In addition to “The Andy Griffith Show”, Emmy award winning Alan Rafkin also directed episodes from over 80 TV series of the cream of the crop in successful sitcoms like “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “M*A*S*H,” “Murphy Brown,” “Get Smart,” and “Coach.” In addition, the supporting cast in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966) included some of the most active and popular characters actors (including many Andy Griffith Show alumni) working in television at that time:

Joan Staley… Alma Parker
Liam Redmond… Kelsey
Dick Sargent… George Beckett
Skip Homeier… Ollie Weaver
Reta Shaw… Mrs. Halcyon Maxwell
Lurene Tuttle… Mrs. Natalie Miller
Philip Ober… Nicholas (as Phil Ober)
Harry Hickox… Police Chief Art Fuller
Charles Lane… Lawyer Whitlow
Jesslyn Fax… Mrs. Hutchinson
Nydia Westman… Mrs. Cobb
George Chandler… Judge Harley Nast
Robert Cornthwaite… Lawyer Springer
Jim Begg… Deputy Herkie (as James Begg)
Sandra Gould… Loretta Pine
James Millhollin… Mr. Milo Maxwell
Cliff Norton… Charlie, the Bailiff
Ellen Corby… Miss Neva Tremaine
Jim Boles… Billy Ray Fox

With a talented team both behind and in front of the camera, Knotts stars as our awkward, jittery unexpected hero of this family-fun ghost story- Luther Heggs. Luther is a typesetter for a small Kansas town’s newspaper but has ambitions of moving up to to the ‘big time’ of reporting. His chance comes when the editor tasks Luther to spend the night at the spooky, unoccupied Simmons mansion on the 20th anniversary of the infamous murder-suicide that took place there. Nick Simmons, family heir to the estate has returned with intent to demolish it. So Luther has little time to waste to sneak in a brave night at the eery home. The entire town buzzes with excitement as Luther reports tales of haunted sightings from his brave attempted sleepover. From strange organ music that plays by itself to garden shears stuck in a portrait painting dripping blood and other ghostly sightings, Luther witnesses first-hand the dusty dwelling having a creepy life of its own. His accounts of his scary night becomes his introduction to reporting and an instant town legend. Nick Simmons is less favorable than the rest of the town over this news, and takes Luther to court, suing him for libel. With some courtroom antics and a final trip to the Simmons’ mansion, the truth behind the strange happenings and even the identity of a real killer are finally revealed. In the beginning the community has very little confidence in our nervous-natured Luther, but he ultimately becomes the town hero, even winning the heart of the prettiest gal in town.

I won’t mislead you into thinking this movie is high level cinema nor even frightening, considering it centers on a haunted mansion with the word ‘ghost’ in it’s title. But it’s a ghostly classic family flick that even the younger members of the family can watch. That seems to be an exceedingly rare quality in starting a Halloween cinema tradition, with the current domination of bloody slasher films. Now mind you, my tastes are diverse within cinema and the horror genre is no exception. So, while my favorite shows on TV right now are F/X’s “American Horror Story” and AMC’s “Walking Dead” (both pretty scary stuff my younger kids’ are not allowed to watch), I admit still enjoy watching THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966), with or without my kids. I hope you enjoy tickling your funny bone with this family fun classic, too!

By the way, if that Simmons mansion looks familiar, it should. Filmed at Universal’s backlots, the street scenes were also used in Joe Dante’s THE BURBS (1989). And the opening shots of the mansion, also known as the Harvey House, was used in well-known TV shows like “Desperate Housewives” and the Munster house in “The Munsters.”

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