The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) starring Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Dick Sargent
Luther Heggs (played by Don Knotts), is a typesetter for his small town newspaper, the Rachel Courier Express. He aspires to being 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. For a preview, feel free to watch The Ghost and Mr. Chicken movie trailer.
Movie quotes from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
Man in audience: Atta boy, Luther!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): I guess if you cut me, I’d bleed ink.
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): When you work with words, words are your work.
Suzanna Blush: It’s Calver Weems! He’s DEAD! He’s been MURDERED!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): Well don’t panic! DON’T PANIC!
Suzanna Blush: Oh Luther! Luther! It was terrible! He was walking along the streen when: BANG! Right on the head!
[points to 2×4]
Suzanna Blush: With that!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): Well did you see who did it?
Suzanna Blush: No, it was just: BANG! Right on the head! With that!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): Well I’ll just get a picture of it. Lets see… f32… and it’s dark, it’s been rainin’… and uh… Oh for heaven’s sake STAND BACK Suzanna! Stand back! Get out of the way! And for heaven’s sake don’t TOUCH anything! This is all EVIDENCE!
Suzanna Blush: He was just walking down the street when: BANG! Right on the head!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): All right, I’ll get a picture of the murder weapon…
Suzanna Blush: BANG! Right on the head! I was just getting ready to brush my teeh and watch Lawrence Welk, then I looked out the window and: BANG…
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): For heaven’s sake Suzanna pull yourself together! I’m goin down to the Police Station! Now you get on the phone and call my editor!
Suzanna Blush: WHO?
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): George Beckett! tell him to get down to the police station as soon as possible! And for heaven’s sakes, whatever you do, KEEP your HEAD!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): It was terrible. It was just terrible. I’ll never get over it as long as I live.
Ollie Weaver: [quoting Luther’s newspaper story] The horribleness and awfulness of it will never actually be forgotten?
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): Mr. Boob, that’s me. B double O B – boob!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): Well, me, I just don’t happen to believe in ghosts… particularly.
Halcyon Maxwell: Why, this is bigger than the, than the Whispering Steeple in Kansas City.
Herkie: [checking guests at the picnic] You’re C. of C, and you’re OK… You’re C. of C, and you’re OK… You’re -Hey! You’re not C. of C.!
The Rotarian at picnic: I’m Rotary!
Herkie: GET OUTTA HERE!
Mrs. Hutchinson: I was only two blocks away that awful night, at my sister Clara’s. We we sort of… listening to the organ, you know… the midnight bells were ringing… I turned to Clara and said, “Clara; the organ music sounds strange tonight!”…
Mrs. Natalie Miller: Well… what did Clara say?
Mrs. Hutchinson: She said, “Yes, it does!” You know Clara!
Mrs. Natalie Miller: Well, they say there are still bloodstains on the organ keys…
Mrs. Hutchinson: That’s right; they’ve never been able to get them off.
Mrs. Cobb: And they used Bon-Ami!
Mrs. Natalie Miller: Everybody says he still comes there and plays, at midnight…
Mrs. Cobb: Doesn’t play as well as he used to!
Police Chief Art Fuller: I’m sorry Mrs. Maxwell, Nicolas Simmons gave me strict orders. No one’s allowed on this property.
Halcyon Maxwell: Oh Mr. Fuller you don’t seem to understand. We’re followers, we’re on the path of the occult.
Police Chief Art Fuller: I’m afraid you won’t find anything like that around here.
Halcyon Maxwell: Oh well it’s obvious you don’t understand. Our society is dedicated to contacting the other world.
Police Chief Art Fuller: The communists?
Halcyon Maxwell: The spiritual world!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): [after being heckled as he walks to his car] All right, you two guys! You’d just better watch it. You see these two hands? They’re just as hard as steel!
Heavyset Man at Police Station: Hey, look at him, Billy Ray. He’s a karate champion! We’d better watch ourselves.
Billy Ray Fox: Yeah, go ahead, Luther!
Heavyset Man at Police Station: Do something!
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): [chickens out] Why don’t you run up an alley and holler fish!
Whitlow: I’m asking you a question, Heggs! Can’t you curb your imagination for one minute?
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): Can’t you curb your tongue for a minute?
Man in audience: Atta boy, Luther!
[Springer calls his “surprise” witness to the stand]
Springer: Your full name, sir?
Gaylord Patie: Gaylord Patie.
Springer: And what is your occupation?
Gaylord Patie: I’m a certified public accountant for the state.
Springer: Now then, I understand that you, Mr. Patie, have heard the organ playing in the Simmons Mansion. Am I correct, sir?
Gaylord Patie: You are. I have heard organ music coming from the tower of the Simmons Mansion on three seperate occasions.
[gasps of awe come from the audience]
Gaylord Patie: That’s why I came to you, Mr. Springer.
Springer: And at what time did you hear this music?
Gaylord Patie: At the stroke of midnight.
[more gasps of awe come from the audience]
Springer: And what else have you heard coming from the Simmons Mansion, Mr. Patie?
Gaylord Patie: On the first occasion, a woman’s scream. And on the second and third occasions, a man’s scream.
[even more gasps of awe come from the audience]
Springer: And what kind of screams were they, Mr. Patie?
Gaylord Patie: Oh wild, maniacal screams.
[audience is really excited now]
Springer: Thank you. Your witness.
Whitlow (Charles Lane): [cross-examining] Mr. Patie, I understand that you’re president of the Internation Conclave for Unidentified Flying Objects
Gaylord Patie: That is correct, sir.
Whitlow (Charles Lane): Where was your last meeting held?
Gaylord Patie: On Mars.
[courtroom erupts in laughter]
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): Calm? Do “murder” and “calm” go together? Calm and murder? Murder?
Kelsey: You know why you thought you saw a murder out there, Luther? ‘Cause that’s a murder house.
Luther Heggs (Don Knotts): That’s right, karate… made my whole body a weapon.
Milo Maxwell: Oh, I-I-I-I’m so sorry that I’m late, but we had a seance at the house last night and it ran on until all hours.
Halcyon Maxwell: You don’t seem to realize the cosmic importance of this.
Halcyon Maxwell: Why Milo, you didn’t finish your tapioca. No wonder you have a nervous stomach.
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 wide screen 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
Originally published at Clown Ministry