|The Ghost and Mr. Chicken|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alan Rafkin|
|Produced by||Edward J. Montagne, Jr.|
|Written by||Jim Fritzell|
|Music by||Vic Mizzy|
|Edited by||Sam E. Waxman|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a 1966 American comedy-drama film starring Don Knotts as Luther Heggs, a newspaper typesetter who spends a night in a haunted house, which is located in the fictitious community of Rachel, Kansas. The working title was Running Scared. The title is presumably a humorous variation of the film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).
Luther Heggs is a typesetter for the Rachel Courier Express in Rachel City, Kansas who lives at the Natalie Miller boarding house and aspires to be a reporter. But Luther is not taken seriously, being mocked by his peers when an assumed murder near the supposedly haunted house known as the Simmons Mansion was actually a local drunk who had merely been knocked unconscious by his irate wife. The next morning, Heggs overhears full-time reporter Ollie Weaver making light of his mistake. Ollie happens to be dating Alma Parker, a young woman Luther has a crush on. While at work, asked to add some "filler" to the paper, Luther learns from the newspaper's janitor Mr. Kelsey, who was a gardener at the Simmons Mansion, that the haunted house was the site of a murder-suicide committed by Mr. Simmons who killed his wife with a bladed instrument before jumping to his death from the organ loft. Legend has it that the ghost of Mr. Simmons can still occasionally be heard playing the organ at midnight.
Luther is encouraged by Kelsey to write about the Simmons Mansion with his article a hit with the public, resulting in him being assigned to spend the night in the manor on the 20th anniversary of the murder-suicide. Luther musters the courage to enter the mansion, finding a hidden passage in the book shelf leading to the organ loft. At midnight, Luther runs down stairs when the old organ begin to play by itself, finding pruning shears stabbed in a portrait of Mrs. Simmons. His eerie story gets the town abuzz and causes a delay in the agenda of Nicholas Simmons, the nephew of the deceased couple who intends to demolish the mansion. With the bank unable to complete the arrangements due to his spiritualist wife, Nicholas decides to discredit Luther by taking him and Rachel Courier Express to court for libel. Luther's credibility is questioned when Nicholas's attorney brings in the former's grade school teacher as a character witness, Luther's testimony then twisted to make it appear that he concocted the story in the Simmons Manor to win a job as a full-time reporter.
Luther's dramatic denial prompts the judge to order the jury and all interested parties to reconvene at the Simmons house before midnight to confirm the story. But nothing happens with everyone concluding that Luther made it all up, Alma having separated from the group prior to them reaching the organ loft. Everyone leaves the mansion, with Luther about to walk home when he hears the old organ and finds it played by Kelsey. Kelsey confesses of being responsible for the mysterious happenings Luther witnessed, unable to help Luther confirm his story as he was kept out of the mansion by officer Herkie taking his job as security seriously. Kelsey explains that he needs Luther's help to expose the true case of Mr. Simmons's death before they hear a scream from the secret passage, finding Nicholas holding Alma captive.
Kelsey confronts Simmons for his attempt of implicating him in the murder of the Simmons couple, the murder weapon used to killed Mrs. Simmons revealed to be Kelsey's shears. Nicholas is revealed to be tearing down the Simmons Mansion to destroy the hidden passage he used as his alibi. Luther rescues Alma by knocking Nicholas unconscious with a full body lunge from behind, the murderer is tied up to be arrested by the police with Kelsey explaining everything. Alma takes Luther's hand, grateful for his heroic act in saving her as they later marry at a small ceremony. At the end of the wedding, the wedding's organ music suddenly changes to the spooky organ music of the Simmons' mansion. Everyone turns to see the small organ's keys moving by themselves, hinting that there really is a ghost after all.
This film was produced by Universal Studios, which produced countless classic horror films. Knotts was best known at the time of the film's production for his Emmy Award-winning five seasons on the sitcom The Andy Griffith Show as small town deputy sheriff Barney Fife. Andy Griffith, Knotts' co-star on The Andy Griffith Show, suggested expanding on an episode from the television series involving a deserted house (the old Rimshaw house in the episode "Haunted House" aired October 1963) in which Barney, Gomer, and Andy retrieve a baseball of Opie and his friend from the house. Another Andy Griffith Show connection is a small role played by Hal Smith, who had a recurring role on the show. Knotts left the television series at the end of the 1964-65 season in order to pursue a film career. He had already starred in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). Knotts' popularity prompted a multiple-movie deal with Universal, starting with this movie, and followed by The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), The Love God? (1969), and How to Frame a Figg (1971). The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was directed by Alan Rafkin with a screenplay by Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum; all three men had been associated with the success of The Andy Griffith Show. Several players from the television series also appear in the film including Lurene Tuttle, Burt Mustin, Hal Smith and Hope Summers. Viewers will also recognize several actors and actresses who had appeared or were then appearing on other sitcoms of the time. The movie boasts one of the largest collection of character actors/actresses assembled in a single movie.
Universal contract star Joan Staley was known by Alan Rafkin from their work together on the sitcom Broadside. Normally a blonde, she had to wear a dark wig because the producers felt she was "too sexy" as a blonde (she was actually Playboys "Miss November" 1958, but was photographed very modestly, being only partially nude) and the role called for a brunette. She wore the same wig previously worn by Claudia Cardinale in Blindfold (1966). Al Checco, Knotts' Army-days comedy partner, had an uncredited appearance in the film.
The "Simmons Mansion", a three-story Second-Empire Victorian house, stands on Colonial Street on the Universal Studios lot in California and was built for the film So Goes My Love (1946). It appeared as the Dowd house in the film Harvey (1950), and, with several alterations to the architecture, served as the home of Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives (2004-2012).
The Mr. Chicken mansion is actually not the Munster house, although they are next door to each other on the new Colonial street, with the Munster house on the right. Originally they were on the old Colonial street, near New York street and Courthouse square, with the Munster house to the left of the Mr. Chicken mansion, which is where this movie was filmed.
The original cut of the film included a scene where the portrait stabbing was explained. Kelsey had printed a copy of the portrait and placed on the back side of the one on the landing of the staircase. When pressing a secret button, the portrait turned to reveal the shears stuck in the throat with red paint. This scene was cut from all other prints and has only been seen a few times in theaters and on some television showings.
On July 12, 2005, Percepto released the soundtrack on Compact Disc. Composer Vic Mizzy used the old tune Mr. Ghost Goes to Town as his main theme. Mizzy's haunted house organ theme also appeared in the film Games (1967).