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  Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Attaboy, Luther!
Year: 1966
Director: Alan Rafkin
Stars: Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, Dick Sargent, Skip Homeier, Reta Shaw, Lurene Tuttle, Philip Ober, Harry Hickox, Charles Lane, Jesslyn Fax, Nydia Westman, George Chandler, Robert Cornthwaite, Jim Begg
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Typesetter on the small town of Rachel's local newspaper, Luther Heggs (Don Knotts) harbours dreams of being one of the reporters, and tonight it looks as if he could be in luck. Driving past the old Simmons mansion, he notices a man being clonked on the head by a plank of wood wielded by an unseen assailant, and there's another witness too, a lady who cries "murder" afer seeing the incident from an upstairs window. Excited, Luther tells her to call his editor while he drives off to the police station where he tries to blurt out his story, but by the time his editor, Beckett (Dick Sargent) and the paper's real top reporter Ollie (Skip Homeier) arrive, so does the supposed victim who isn't dead after all. Now Luther is a laughing stock...

Now, you'll have noticed by the opening plot outline there that nobody in this film is called Mr Chicken, but that's who Knotts plays all the same, and you'll also draw from that information that this isn't the subtlest of comedies. It was one of a number of light hearted movies Knotts made after leaving The Andy Griffith Show to highlight his nervous act, and probably the most celebrated, such as it is. Obviously the best way to exploit his talent for displaying cowardice is to put his character in a haunted house, and in this script, written by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum, does just that. Unfortunately it doesn't do it for long enough.

In fact, most of the humour is akin to the television sitcom style audiences would have been familiar with, and the scary stuff is disappointingly kept to a minimum. After seeing Luther being humiliated by his understandable error, we are offered the history of the Simmons mansion from his fellow boarders at the guest house where he stays, and it turns out that there was a bloody murder and suicide there almost twenty years ago to the day. Spurred on by the caretaker at the newspaper offices, Mr Kelsey (Liam Redmond), Luther writes an article about the event which gets the townsfolk tremendously interested.

So interested that when Beckett finds out that Luther was the author and not Ollie, he has a brainwave and invites Luther to write a follow up article. Not because of his skills ("The horribleness and awfulness of it will never actually be forgotten") but because of of his overactive imagination. So it is that Luther swallows his nerves and on the night of the twentieth anniversary he makes his way to the mansion, which has been ordered to be demolished by the nephew of the murderer. This bit is the film's strongest suit, with Knotts overreacting amusingly to the creaks and cobwebs, and then driven into a panic when he discovers a secret staircase that leads to a bloodstained organ - which plays itself on the stroke of midnight.

Luther's resulting story is a huge success and he is now a local celebrity, but there are complications. The nephew (Philip Ober) takes him to court over the story and the film is transformed into an improbable courtroom thriller, which is fine as far as it goes, but wouldn't you have rather seen a Scooby Doo type of chiller instead? There are also romantic complications in the shape of Ollie's girlfriend Alma (Joan Staley), and naturally for Luther to admit to her that he is secretly in love with her is as daunting to him as spending time in the haunted mansion. It all ends up with a twist with Luther saving the day and getting the girl, the smalltown eccentricities are nicely observed (especially the psychic society) and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken sees Knotts at somewhere near his best, meaning it's much loved by his fans. It's just that more could have been made of the scares in light of its star's talents. Music by Vic Mizzy.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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