“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966)
If “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” were to be completely dismissed as kid’s stuff, a late arrival of the venerable haunted house sub-genre which had already seen countless permutations of dramatic, comedic and campy collisions between frightened mortals and spectral pranksters with varying degrees of attitude, then such an assessment would have to be blind to the presence of one of the screen’s most idiosyncratic comic actors: Don Knotts.
That the slightness of the film fails to be offset by an asterisk in resource volumes of film history, it is through the sometimes cruelly unfair hands of circumstance by which a performer, who under more provident historic placement would have found proper appreciation and nurturing to take a place on the short list of indisputably iconic comic screen stars (what a silent comedian he would have made!), may be relegated to the lesser elevated status of ” screen talent” rather than “artist” by virtue of unfortunate contractual associations with studios (Universal and Disney) who failed, especially with the dissolution of the studio star system, to court and develop materials which might fully elicit the full range of Knotts’ abilities. Substantively, as in all of his feature work, the film feels like a trifle, an aesthetically indeterminate variation of an extended television situation comedy or a product of the shameless surrender of Hollywood in their exhausting decade-plus battle with said idiot box and a concession to the flavorless homogenization of material consistent with much situational comedy. Even the cast exudes small screen déjà vu, comprised as it is of an extensive collection of character actors, many who cut their teeth in the cinema, but whose recurring weekly exposure on television gives associative reinforcement to the cinematic slightness of the work. Outside of Knotts, there is nary an actor, regardless of their innate abilities, who does not concede to the narrow demands that afflict performers when subjected to skill eroding continuous formulaic role playing.
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