The Ghost And Mr Chicken (1966)

It’s the mid-sixties, so whilst New Hollywood is being forged, Rock-&-Roll is tuning on to acid, and Vietnam is still considered winnable, there were kids’ movies to be made! In this case, with one of the stars and a number of the behind-the-scenes team from the outrageously popular Andy Griffiths show. It made crazy bank then, and secured a four-movie deal for those involved, but do the ghostly hijinks and gurning promised in the trailer hold up to today’s cynical psychotronic audience? Well…

This, for 90 minutes.

There are two main stories being told in this film, and they are quite a jarring mismatch if you think about it for too long. The main point-of-view is that of Luther (Don Knotts) being a comedically bumbling underachiever who gosh-darn-it bumbles his way into your heart, and the hearts of everyone in Anytown, Rural USA. He’s the typesetter at the local newspaper (an incredibly skilled job, presented as being the lowliest of tasks) who wants to be a reporter for the prestige and early stress-induced heart attack. All the other reporters are constantly mean to him because that makes him the heroic underdog and HR departments hadn’t been invented yet, and through a series of mishaps, blind luck, and unfathomable charm he ends up saving the day and getting the girl.

“I’m going to manipualte you to enact my revenge, bwahahahahaha”

The other story is a violent tale of murder, injustice, and revenge. The killer is at large due to the rampant corruption in the locality, and only through the most cunning of plans can they be brought to any kind of justice. It’s dark, depressing, and shows the very worst of behaviors from the very highest in the land. But Luther, possibly because of an incredibly badly written developmental disorder, clowns around so you won’t get brought down by all of that. Plus, the director took the very wise decision to not show any of the violence; only to describe it, as that’s the kind of thing the kiddies really love.

“Unexpected knife in the jugular area”

The cast is exclusively in hamfisted hack mode, to the point that you’d think they would probably overact ordering a coffee. The script is written in crayon, and the film leaves out any of the socio-political complexities of the time (like the existence of black people or women’s rights). It’s a Main Street USA that even Walt would think a little overdone, with all the men in sensible suits and all the ladies in not-over-stimulating pastels. Or, to put it another way, it’s absolutely perfect for the kind of lightweight comedy it’s trying to produce.

“Yes, I want some beads!”

I can remember hardly any of it a week after watching it, other than it felt like being hugged by a warm blanket on a rainy afternoon. Even when watching it I was struggling to work out why I was so engaged by it, and why the hell I smiled whenever Luther came on screen. I knew I should hate him, but Knotts’s performance was hypnotic and calming. Luther was optimistic, committed, and determined, so I forgave him for being in clear need of medical attention for a serious head wound. I also forgave the film its questionable worldview, because it probably didn’t want to overtax its audience’s brains rather having any particular agenda.

“Oh gee, I can’t remember if I left the gas on. Shucks”

This is zero-calorie light entertainment, but ¬– crucially – it entertains despite and possibly because of its absolute softball nature. I can’t class it as anything other than Treasure because it delivers on its promise of being inoffensive entertainment for all ages, with the lightest of hauntings and mystery. You know exactly what’s happening in every scene because the script holds your hand every step of the way and you know exactly when to be lightly amused as the score ques you up every time. If you want “something a bit more”/darker and more violent fair then there are hundreds of obvious alternatives easily accessible, but if you want a pallet cleanse of optimistic frivolity from a bygone era then you aren’t likely to find better.

The Raggedyman

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