The Ghost and Mr Chicken plus the legacy of syndication
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) is Don Knotts’ best movie. Many, many familiar faces from television fame appear and the movie feels like a fun, television comedy show. Don Knotts is a comedian who was at the height of his popularity in the 60s, and he left The Andy Griffith Show in 1964 to pursue movies. Many of his television pals appear in this film along with him. Knotts plays up his usual overly nervous persona and it works well in this context. His character is an investigative reporter who looks into a spooky haunted house.
Knotts tries to make up excuses not to sleep overnight in a haunted house, but decides to do it for the newspaper. Dick Sargent plays his boss, who demands a good story. Sargent also played Darren on Betwitched in the 60s, and I became familiar with him because I grew up with syndication.
Hundreds and hundreds of hours of old programming was shown on networks during off-hours, which I’m happy for, because I otherwise wouldn’t know Dick Sargent, Don Knotts, or any of the other famous 60s actors. Even cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo found time.
Abbott and Costello have a heavy influence on this movie. The physical comedy is amusing and pretty much everywhere in this movie. Don Knotts is best at tripping and stumbling around like a nervous guy. The haunted house provides the perfect setup for all the gags you could want. Lightning freaks him out and weird stuff keeps the comedy coming.
Vic Mizzy composed the musical score for this movie. He could be the most famous television music composer ever, writing all the famous themes for The Addams Family, the Munsters, Green Acres, and others. These shows were also syndication regulars and all 80s kids knew them. Today, cable has made network syndication pretty rare, and they’ve even cancelled Saturday morning cartoons, so I’m not sure how kids learn about these old shows.
Hopefully Netflix or the internet itself can carry on the legacy of old programming like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. This movie is pretty old fashioned, but reminds me of all the old shows that crammed daytime television and ran on a Saturday. The writing is pretty well done, and I read that Andy Griffith himself helped out with the script. Best of all, a lot of the greatest supporting actors appear in this movie, even Sandra Gould (Mrs. Kravitz on Betwitched), who serves Don Knotts some pie. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is about as classic as it gets, but I don’t think it’s stupid to remember movies like this for history’s sake, though it proves even a nervous guy can get the girl.