Directed by Alan Rafkin
Written by James Fritzel and Everett Greenbaum
Cinematography: William Margulies
Music by Vic Mizzy
Cast: Don Knotts (Luther Heggs), Joan Staley (Alma Parker), Liam Redmond (Kelsey), Dick Sargent (George Beckett), Skip Homeier (Ollie Weaver), Reta Shaw (Mrs. Halcyon Maxwell), Lurene Tuttle (Mrs. Natalie Miller), Phil Ober (Nicholas Simmons), Harry Hickox (Police Chief Art Fuller), Charles Lane (Whitlow), Hal Smith, Ellen Corby, Hope Summers, Burt Mustin
“The Haunted House” is one of my favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Don Knotts must’ve liked it, too, because he used it as a springboard for his first feature, The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966). Recruiting a couple writers from Andy Griffith, and Andy himself as a story man (the “Attaboy, Luther!” running gag was his), they cooked up the tale of Luther Heggs (Knotts) spending a restless night in a “murder house.”
Ties to The Andy Griffith Show abound. First, there’s a subtle, funny, character-driven look at small town life, trading Rachel, Kansas, for Mayberry, North Carolina (and adding Technicolor and Techniscope). There’s a number of Andy people in the cast: Hal Smith as an Otis-like drunk, Hope Summers (Clara Edwards on Andy) as a busybody, Reta Shaw, Burt Mustin, Ellen Corby, Charles Lane and more. The frequent Andy director Alan Rafkin was chosen by Knotts for the movie. The set must’ve felt like a family reunion.
The lovely Joan Staley — who appeared in this, Gunpoint with Audie Murphy and an episode of Batman, all in 1966 — is charming as Knott’s love interest. Skip Homeier is perfect as a creep. And Vic Mizzy’s terrific score is worth the price of admission.
And no, the haunted house is not 1313 Mockingbird Lane from The Munsters, though it’s on the same Universal backlot street.
I saw The Ghost And Mr. Chicken repeatedly as a kid and love it to this day. (I even remember the red squiggly letterboxing they used during the credits in TV prints.) Sure, it’s a funny movie, but I find it so hard to be objective with this one. It’s a member of the “movie family” I feel compelled to visit every so often. (It’s got another thing going for it — it was an early date for my wife and I. She’s a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show and had never seen it, something I had to correct as soon as possible.)
It was a big deal around my house when this was announced for Blu-Ray (a Best Buy exclusive). The Ghost And Mr. Chicken has always looked good on video, from laserdisc to DVD to this new Blu-Ray. It’s a real beauty, sharp as a tack with eye-popping Technicolor. Highly recommended, especially to those who grew up with it.