The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
|The Ghost and Mr. Chicken|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alan Rafkin|
|Produced by||Edward J. Montagne, Jr.|
|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 (Don Knotts) is a typesetter at the Rachel Courier Express (the local newspaper in Rachel, Kansas), but he aspires to be a reporter. One night, observing what he believes to be a murder outside of an old, supposedly haunted house known as the Simmons Mansion, Heggs rushes to the police station with his scoop. Unfortunately, as he relates the details of his story to the Chief of Police, the murder "victim" walks into the room, a local drunk who had merely been knocked unconscious by his irate wife, who had brought him in to be jailed. The next morning, Heggs walks downstairs to the dining room at the Natalie Miller boarding house and overhears Ollie Weaver (Skip Homeier), a full-time reporter at the newspaper, mocking Luther's mistakes of the night before. Ollie is also dating Heggs' eventual love interest, Alma Parker (Joan Staley). According to local lore, the Simmons Mansion was a "murder house" 20 years earlier, when Mr. Simmons murdered his wife (with some unknown sharp instrument that was never located — ultimately revealed to be a pair of gardener's pruning shears), and then jumped 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.
To increase newspaper sales, Luther is assigned to spend the night in the house on the 20th anniversary of the murder/suicide. At midnight, Heggs sees the old organ begin to play by itself. There are a few other mysterious happenings, including Luther's discovery of a secret staircase to the organ loft, hidden behind a sliding bookshelf, and a pair of gardener's shears in the throat of a painting of Mrs. Simmons. His eerie story gets the town abuzz and causes a delay in the plans of Nicholas Simmons (Philip Ober), nephew of the deceased couple, who intends to demolish the mansion. In retaliation, and to discredit Heggs, Simmons sues both Heggs and the Rachel Courier Express for libel.
In the courtroom, Heggs' credibility is impeached by damaging testimony from his grade school teacher (Ellen Corby) who testifies that Luther was "keyed up" as a child, prone to telling tall tales for attention. Luther's own testimony is twisted by Simmons' attorney, suggesting that Luther concocted the story about his spooky night in the mansion in order 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 appear at the Simmons house at just before midnight to allow Heggs to prove his story. But with everyone now inside the mansion, nothing happens, and they conclude that Luther made up the whole story. Everyone leaves the mansion except for Alma, who lingers behind in secret, hoping to find evidence to restore Heggs' reputation.
Outside the mansion, alone and dejected, Luther begins to walk home. However, he hears the old organ playing the creepy music again. Courageously, he re-enters the mansion and discovers his friend, Mr. Kelsey (Liam Redmond), the newspaper's janitor, playing the organ. Kelsey, the former gardener for the Simmons family, confesses to being responsible for the mysterious happenings Heggs witnessed (including playing the organ remotely from an additional "tuning" keyboard located under the pipes). He tells Luther that Herkie, the overzealous police officer and acting security guard, kept him from entering the house earlier to help Luther confirm his story for the judge, jury and interested parties. Upon hearing a scream, they both descend the secret staircase to find Nicholas Simmons holding Alma captive. Kelsey confronts Simmons for killing his aunt and uncle for their fortune and leaving Kelsey's pruning shears behind to frame him (Kelsey had removed them before the police arrived to avoid being implicated in the murder). Nicholas Simmons' planned demolition of the house was an effort to destroy the hidden staircase that would ruin his alibi. Luther rescues Alma by knocking Simmons unconscious with a full body lunge ("made my whole body a weapon") from behind.
Nicholas Simmons is arrested and tied to a chair. Kelsey explains the details to the police chief and other persons (who have now returned to the mansion), and the case is closed. Alma takes Luther's hand, grateful for his heroic act in saving her. In the final scene, Heggs marries Alma at a small ceremony. At the end, 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.
- Don Knotts as Luther Heggs
- Joan Staley as Alma Parker
- Liam Redmond as Kelsey
- Sandra Gould as Loretta Pine
- Dick Sargent as George Beckett
- Skip Homeier as Ollie Weaver
- Philip Ober as Nicholas Simmons
- Lurene Tuttle as Mrs. Natalie Miller
- Harry Hickox as Police Chief Art Fuller
- George Chandler as Judge Harley Nast
- Charles Lane as Lawyer Whitlow
- Nydia Westman as Mrs. Cobb
- Reta Shaw as Mrs. Halcyon Maxwell
- James Millhollin as Mr. Milo Maxwell
- Robert Cornthwaite as Springer
- Cliff Norton as Charlie, the Bailiff
- Jim Boles as Billy Ray Fox
- Ceil Cabot as Bit/clubwoman
- Ellen Corby as Miss Neva Tremaine, the grade school teacher
- Everett Greenbaum (uncredited) as male voice shouting "Attaboy, Luther!"
- Burt Mustin (uncredited) as Mr. Deligondo
- Hal Smith (uncredited) as Calver Weems
- Hope Summers (uncredited) as Susanna Blush
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 Playboy's "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). But according to horror movie host Svengoolie (aka Rich Koz, who featured The Ghost and Mr. Chicken in his 2012-2013 season on the ME TV broadcast network), the mansion was also the home of the Munsters. The popular but short-lived 1964-66 sitcom, and the related movie, Munster, Go Home! (1966), were both produced by Universal Studios.
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, and that 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.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was released on VHS on April 30, 1996. Universal released the film on DVD September 2, 2003 and again on January 9, 2007, and on Blu-ray on October 4, 2016.
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).
- Gaseous Globe (Universal logo intro)
- Main Title
- Luther Has a Scoop
- Laugh's on Luther
- Bashful One
- Kelsey's Tale
- Twenty Years Ago
- Super S'Luther
- Clock Watchers
- Oh, Chute
- Rickety Tik Phono
- Creepy Jeepers
- Haunted Organ
- Hero to the
- Hero's Picnic
- Picnic Table
- Speech Is Over
- Alma Matters
- Back to the Mansion
- Plucky Chicken
- Wedding & Finale
- When in Southern California, Visit Universal City Studios (promotional tag)
- p.62 Lisanti, Tom Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema: Interviews with 20 Actresses from Biker, Beach, and Elvis Movies McFarland, 2001
-  The Studio Tour.com – Colonial Street