Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Halloween With Don Knotts

By Rev Protodeacon George A. Haloulakos

For Baby Boomers who were avid movie goers and watched network TV during the 1960s and 1970s, Don Knotts played characters who were relatable to both adults and children.  As such, his iconic portrayals created, and continue to create, lifetime memories shared by multiple generations.   One of his notable motion picture roles was the character of typesetter Luther Heggs, who aspires to become a bigtime newspaper reporter in the 1966 film "The Ghost and Mr Chicken."  This 90 minute comedy horror film is a wonderful way to celebrate Halloween as Luther is on a special news assignment to spend a night in a haunted house located in the fictitious town of Rachel, Kansas.

"The Ghost and Mr Chicken" was Don Knotts' first major project after leaving The Andy Griffith Show.  After having won five Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife, Knotts moved onto the big screen by reprising his comedic high-strung persona in a series of films under contract with Universal Studios.  The box office success of "The Ghost and Mr Chicken" paved the way for a series of Knotts-fronted comedy films that continued into the 1970s and was followed by slapstick roles in several Disney films.  With this 1966 comedy horror classic, the viewer is treated to watching the very same formula that worked so well as a TV program translated into an equally entertaining and ultimately satisfying motion picture.  For Don Knotts and his fans, the transition from TV to motion pictures appeared seamless -- quite a trick during an era where the boundaries between the two venues were far more pronounced.

To affirm the ease in moving from the small to large screen, the Luther Heggs character portrayed by Knotts is shown throughout the film sporting the very same suit and style of dress he wore when not in uniform as Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.  Here are a few teasers and tidbits of information that might encourage you to watch "The Ghost and Mr Chicken" if not for the first time, then for another but with a fresh set of eyes.  (Spoiler Alert!)

> The movie was inspired by the 1963 episode "Haunted House" featured on The Andy Griffith Show.
> There are a number of actors along with writers and production crew members who worked both on The Andy Griffith Show and "The Ghost and Mr Chicken" thereby providing familiar faces and a comfortable feel to the pace of the film.
> Luther Heggs (like the Barney Fife character) boasts about his martial arts expertise throughout the film, and a scene where he is shown in a fighting pose is so memorable, that it was eventually placed on the lower left corner of Mr Knotts' gravesite memorial plaque.
> Unlike Barney Fife, however, Luther Heggs actually saves the day with his martial skills in the film's climax! 
> Despite his high-strung personality and perennial underdog status, Luther overcomes the odds and marries his sweetheart, Alma, portrayed by Joan Staley (who was a Playboy "Miss November" in 1958).
> Watch the closing scene of the film (Luther and Alma's marriage) very carefully as the viewer is able to see that perhaps there really is a ghost after all!

There is much more, but hopefully you get the idea that watching "The Ghost and Mr Chicken" is a unique opportunity to see your favorite characters and actors from Black & White Classic TV make the transition into full color on the motion picture screen.  As such, it is a fun, whimsical time capsule that is a great way to celebrate Halloween while paying tribute to a simpler but entertaining era in American pop culture.  We wish a Happy Halloween to everyone in our Galaxy Nostalgia Network audience!

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