Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Sometimes, it's very easy to know ahead of time whether or not you're going to enjoy a movie. In the case of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), my hopes weren't high when I saw it starred Don Knotts.

Let me make one thing clear: I don't have anything personal against Knotts. He was just never my cup of tea. I was never a fan of The Andy Griffith show, but maybe if I was, I might have liked The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, which feels Knotts is once again playing Barney Fife in an episode that goes on way too long nor really capitalizes on its premise. I wasn't expecting a classic, but this is just too plain jane for me. I can't bring myself to bash it too badly; it's a wholesome, family-friendly, naive lark, and I'm just not in the target audience.

Knotts plays Luther Heggs a typist for a newspaper in the small town of Rachel, Kansas. He dreams of being a full-fledged reporter and gets his chance when his editor Mr. Beckett (Dick "The Other Darrin" Sargent) asks him to spend the night in the supposedly haunted Simmons House on the anniversary of a notorious murder. So Luther, spends the night at the Simmons House and has a paranormal encounter.

I'm reminded of the story of a writer who spends the night in a wax museum and becomes convinced the figures are alive. Naturally, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is not so morbid. The "horror" is about as frightening as an episode of Scooby Doo: secret passages, an organ that plays itself, etc. There is one dark image - a dagger in the neck of a woman in a portrait - but the movie does not linger on it.

In fact, the trip to the "haunted house" does not make up much of the movie. More of the movie deals with the aftermath. Luther publishes his article and is proclaimed a hero by the town for some reason. He gives a speech at the Chamber of Commerce picnic and is celebrated by the local paranormal society until he's sued for libel by the owner of the house (Phil Ober), and then the movie goes to court and later back to the house for Luther to prove it really is haunted. Meanwhile, he also tries romancing the girl he has a crush on (Joan Staley) and putting up with a rival (Skip Homeier).

So much of the plot I just didn't get. I don't understand why Luther becomes a town hero for writing an unsubstantiated ghost story or why his editor felt fit to print it on the front page. Plus, Luther didn't really write it; he, shellshocked and nervous, told Beckett and Ollie what he saw, and they wrote it. What did he accomplish?

I'm also not sure how libel is the charge. Simmons, the owner, is presented as grouch early on, so you'd think he'd be more concerned with Luther breaking and entering his property than writing about an organ that plays itself.

If the movie were funnier, I'd overlook this type of nonsense, but truth be told, I wasn't laughing. Knotts has all this dialogue I can tell is supposed to be funny, but I found it drawn out and just an excuse to ham it up. Most of his scenes go something like this: "Why am I upset? I'll tell you why I'm upset! I am upset because of you! You are the reason I am upset! That is why I am upset!" Other times, he scares himself, like when he spots his reflection in the mirror.

The movie is built around Knotts' schtick. Everyone is essentially a straight man to his antics. If you're a fan, you might enjoy it, but I found the whole enterprise silly without being very funny. I suppose if blood and hockey masks aren't your thing but you want something ghostly on Halloween, this will do, especially for little ones.

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