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Film / The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

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"The horribleness and awfulness of it will never actually be forgotten?"
Ollie Weaver, quoting Luther's newspaper story.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a 1966 comedy horror film directed by Alan Rafkin and starring Don Knotts, with Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, and Dick Sargent. The screenplay was written by Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum, who'd been writers for The Andy Griffith Show when Knotts costarred on that series as Barney Fife.

In the small Kansas town of Rachel, one Luther Heggs (Knotts), a timid typesetter for the local newspaper who aspires to be a photojournalist, gets the opportunity by agreeing to spend the night in an allegedly haunted house, the site of an unsolved murder-suicide nearly twenty years before. After Luther claims that the house is indeed haunted, the nephew of the deceased aims to continue his intended destruction of the house, but for what? Luther must solve the mystery or be branded a fraud.

Tropes in this film:

  • The Alcoholic: Calver Weems, whose wife finally got fed up with it, and whacked him over the head with a wooden plank.
  • Batman Gambit: Alma takes it upon herself to stay behind in the mansion and investigate. She ultimately exposes the hidden staircase and Nicholas Simmons.
  • Big Bad: Nicholas Simmons was the one who committed the murders of the Simmons Mansion and sought the demolition of the house to preserve the secret. He also sues Luther for libel towards his family name in order to discredit him and keep attention away from the house.
  • Butt-Monkey: Luther is routinely mocked and gets no respect from any of his peers, especially Ollie, until he finally gets his big break.
  • The Chessmaster: Mr. Kelsey, who urges Luther to pursue the story and talks Ollie and Beckett into letting Luther spend a night in the house. He is also revealed to be behind everything that occurs during Luther's night at the house, in order to bring Nicholas Simmons, the real villain, to justice.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mrs. Maxwell and her occult group.
  • Damsel in Distress: Nicholas Simmons takes Alma captive in a last ditch effort to preserve his alibi.
  • Darkest Hour: Luther is unable to prove his story, he is deemed a fraud, and the Rachel newspaper is facing a shut down, costing him and many others their jobs. Until he hears a familiar organ in the mansion...
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ollie, who makes a joke at Luther's expense whenever he can.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Nicholas Simmons expected all the people to leave the mansion behind after Luther was discredited. What he didn't count on was Alma staying behind and discovering him, so he took her captive.
  • Everytown, America: The movie takes place in Rachel, Kansas.
  • Failed Dramatic Exit: After telling off Ollie in the diner, Luther heatedly heads for the door and tells the cashier, "Put it (his lunch) on my tab." The cashier replies, "You haven't got a tab," so Luther has to stop and pay his bill before storming out.
  • Haunted House: The Simmons Mansion. Subverted later, when it's revealed that all the weird doings in the old house were the work of Mr. Kelsey, but subverted again at the end of the movie, where the possibility is implied that there really was something supernatural after all.
  • Henpecked Husband: Mr. Maxwell, whose wife owns 51% of the bank's stock.
  • Lovable Coward: Luther, the "Mr. Chicken" of the title.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the ending when Luther marries Alma, the wedding organ inexplicably plays the Simmons Mansion organ theme all by itself, hinting at the possibility that there is a ghost after all.
  • Nervous Wreck: Luther, so much.
  • Nice Girl: Alma is a kind person and wholeheartedly supports Luther.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The Simmons Mansion organ. Also, the organ in the wedding chapel in the end.
  • Running Gag: Many.
    • "And they used Bon-Ami!"
    • "Attaboy, Luther!" (or 'Judge', or 'Carl')
    • "TARO...CARO...SALAMON!"
  • Shout-Out: The film's title is a play on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
  • Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack: The Simmons Mansion theme, coupled with the first few bars of "Mr. Ghost Goes to Town," is used as the constant Leitmotif of the movie.
  • Those Two Guys: The two ladies from Luther's boarding house who argue about various things (such as the use of Bon-Ami on the bloodstained keys).
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Ollie goes from Deadpan Snarker co-worker to Luther to becoming flat out vindictive towards him, mostly because Alma dumped him for Luther.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: According to local legend, Mr. Simmons murdered his wife and then played on an organ around midnight before committing suicide. Ever since that night, people have heard organ music coming from the Simmons house at midnight. When Luther Heggs spends a night in the "haunted house", the organ does indeed start playing at midnight.