Category Archives: Don Knotts

Blu-Ray Review: The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

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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

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“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.”

Don Knotts and Joan Staley between takes on the Universal backlot.

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.

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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 if 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.

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Filed under 1966, Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Universal (-International)

King Kong Escapes (1967).

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Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Takashi Kimura
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya

Cast: Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Akira Takarada (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Linda Miller (Lt. Susan Watson), Hideyo Amamoto (Dr. Who), Mie Hama (Madame X), Susumu Kurobe (Henchman)

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The highly-radioactive Element X can only be found at the North Pole. Madame X (Mie Hama) wants the element for her country, so she enlists the evil genius Dr. Who (Hideyo Amamoto) to retrieve it. Dr. Who knows the only creature capable of digging up the dangerous element is the mighty King Kong, so Dr. Who builds a robot Kong that he can control. The mechanical ape’s circuitry gets zapped by the radiation, leaving Dr. Who with no alternative but to journey to Mongo Island and capture the real King Kong — much to the dismay of the increasingly impatient Madame X.

Dr. Who and Madame X

Dr. Who’s plan becomes even more complicated when Cmdr. Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller) and Lt. Jiro Nomura of the UN become involved. You see, Kong has a thing for Lt. Watson. Only she can control the beast — which makes her a valuable asset to Dr. Who and his scheme. So he kidnaps her and her cohorts. Before it’s all over, King Kong and Mechani-Kong battle it out atop Tokyo Tower.

King Kong Escapes (1967) is a crazy movie, even by Japanese Kaijū (“strange beast”) movie standards. From the logic of using King Kong to mine radioactive material to the mad scientist and his nagging sponsor, it’s just plains nuts. But these movies exist in a world all their own, where the laws of reason and science are of very little concern.

Linda Miller and some fake monsters

The story of how the movie came to be is almost as crazy. Toho had been very successful with King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), which was released (heavily modified) in the States by Universal in 1963. In 1966, Rankin/Bass, the stop-motion Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer people, produced a King Kong cartoon, The King Kong Show, animated in Japan. The cartoon featured both Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong. Rankin/Bass entered into a joint venture with Toho, combining story elements from the Rankin/Bass Kong series with Toho’s outstanding technical people and mangy-looking gorilla suit.

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Rhodes Reason, who plays the American commander, is the younger brother of Rex Reason from This Island Earth (1955). Reason dubbed his own voice for English-language prints, while the American model Linda Miller was upset that hers was not used. The great Paul Frees (of Disney’s Haunted Mansion fame) provided the voice of Dr. Who and a number of other characters.

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Mie Hama had just appeared with Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (1967), the fifth James Bond movie, which was filmed in Japan. Hama, Hideyo Amamoto and Susumu Kurobe can also be found in Key Of Keys (1965), the Japanese spy movie Woody Allen re-worked for What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966).

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In theaters, Universal paired the picture with The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968), a remake of The Paleface (1948) starring Don Knotts. That’s a double feature I would’ve loved as a kid — I was precisely the demographic Universal had in mind. Incidentally, the Japanese version of King Kong Escapes (called Kingu Kongu No Gyakushû) is longer than the US cut.

Ishiro Honda between takes with Mechani-Kong and King Kong

What is it about these movies? They’re ludicrous and obviously aimed at kids. The special effects are both accomplished and pitiful at the same time (consider that Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey was in theaters that same summer). The Technicolor and TohoScope cinematography is gorgeous, and some might say it’s wasted on something like this. There’s a sense of wonder to these movies that I attribute to the director, Ishiro Honda, and the special effects crew headed by Eiji Tsuburaya. As a kid, I really liked this one because the monsters had a sizable amount of screen time — back then, my enjoyment of such things was often based on the monster-to-people footage ratio.

By the conventional idea of what constitutes a good movie, King Kong Escapes is way off the mark. But there’s nothing about it that’s conventional. Japanese monster movies are their own thing, and that thing can be pretty wonderful.

Here in the States, you’ll find King Kong Escapes available on both DVD and Blu-Ray, sometimes paired with King Kong Vs. Godzilla. It always looks splendid. The color is eye-popping and it’s sharp enough to reveal every wire on every toy helicopter. For those attuned to this type of nonsense, it comes highly recommended.

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Filed under 1967, Don Knotts, Ishirō Honda, James Bond, Kaiju Movies, Sean Connery, Toho, Universal (-International)

Blu-ray News #66: The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

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Directed by Alan Rafkin
Starring Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, Dick Sargent

It’s hard to believe The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966) has been with us for 50 years. I’ve loved it since I saw it at a kiddie matinee one summer.

The half-century anniversary of Don Knott’s first, and in my opinion best, starring feature will be marked by a Blu-ray release in October. No particulars on it just yet.

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I can’t wait to see it in all its Technicolor, Techniscope, high-definition glory.

Up top, that’s Don Knotts and Joan Staley between takes on the Universal lot.

Thanks to Mr. Richard Vincent for the tip.

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Filed under 1966, Don Knotts, DVD/Blu-ray News, Universal (-International)

RIP, Jack Davis.

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We’ve lost the great illustrator Jack Davis, who has passed away at 91. Here’s his poster art for It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). Click on it and it gets huge for study.

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Filed under 1963, Buddy Hackett, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Jim Backus, Mickey Rooney

The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966) Turns 50.

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Makes me feel old to consider that the Don Knotts movie The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966) has turned 50 years old. I was too young to see it in its first run, but it was featured in a lot of Saturday morning kiddie matinees in the 70s — and I caught one of those. Then it made its way to TBS — where it seemed to be running every other Saturday afternoon. Which was fine by me.

This is one of those movies I can’t even begin to be objective about. Sitting down to watch it — the DVD gorgeously presents its Technicolor and Techniscope — is like sitting down with an old friend who happens to have stopped by. A very funny old friend.

It’s also one of the first movies my wife and I watched together. She’d never seen it —and we couldn’t have that, could we?

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Filed under 1966, Don Knotts, Universal (-International)

Screening: Mr. Roberts (1955) And No Time For Sergeants (1958).

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Durham’s Carolina Theatre is bringing two fine, funny films to town on Friday, July 17: Mister Roberts (1955) and No Time For Sergeants (1958).

Mister Roberts
Directed by John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy
Starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon

Henry Fonda had already been a smash on Broadway in Mister Roberts by the time he and director John Ford started the movie. They didn’t see eye to eye on how to the approach the material, and Ford left the project midstream (I’m skipping over the tales of drunkenness and fisticuffs). Mervyn LeRoy was brought in to finish the picture. It’s hard to say who did what, but the result is wonderful. You can’t beat that cast: Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon, Ward Bond and so on.

Prod DB © Warner Bros. / DR 2 FARFELUS AU REGIMENT (NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS) de Mervyn LeRoy 1958 USA avec James Millhollin, Andy Griffith et Don Knotts sur le tournage militaire, officier, uniforme, paysan, fermier, galons d'apres le roman de Mac Hyman

No Time For Sergeants
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Starring Andy Griffith, Myron McCormick, Nick Adams, Murray Hamilton, Don Knotts, Dub Taylor

No Time For Sergeants follows Georgia boy Will Stockdale (Andy Griffith) as he’s drafted into the Air Force. It’s hilarious — and it went a long way toward making Griffith a star. He’s joined by Don Knotts, Nick Adams, Murray Hamilton and Dub Taylor. This time, Mervyn LeRoy directed the whole thing. Good God, this is a funny movie.

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Filed under 1955, 1958, Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Jack Lemmon, John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy, Screenings