Friday, March 9, 2012

Worth Mentioning - Another Therefore Experience

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


This week, Cody enjoys some classic Don Knotts and a small town documentary.


THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966)

The second episode of the fourth season of The Andy Griffith Show was titled "The Haunted House" and started with young Opie accidentally hitting a baseball into an abandoned house where an axe murder was rumored to have occured years before. When Opie attempts to retrieve his ball, he's scared off by ghostly sounds. He tells his father Sheriff Andy Taylor about the situation, and Andy sends Deputy Barney Fife and local dimwit Gomer Pyle (the two adults in town who are even more likely to be scared of a haunted house legend than a child) out to get the baseball from the house.

When The Andy Griffith Show started, Griffith figured that the show would run for five seasons. As the show neared the end of the fifth season, co-star Don Knotts was ready to focus on a movie career and capitalize on the popularity that playing Barney Fife had brought him. At the end of the season, Griffith decided to continue on with the show, but Knotts did move on. There were no hard feelings over Knotts' departure, he returned to make the occasional guest appearance during the remaining three seasons of the show and Andy Griffith even gave the suggestion for what movie Knotts should make first - a feature expansion of the Haunted House episode.

So, working with two writers and a director from The Andy Griffith Show, Knotts kicked off this new phase of his movie career with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.



Knotts stars as Luther Heggs, a typesetter at the local newspaper in the small town of Rachel, Kansas, who has the goal of someday becoming a full-time reporter. He thinks he's got the scoop that will get him the job when he is alerted to what he thinks is a murder outside the long-abandonded Simmons mansion. Town drunk Calver Weems has been bludgeoned to death!

As it turns out, old Calver just got beaned in the head by his fed-up wife and will be fine, but this activity around the Simmons place does remind people at the paper that the twentieth anniversary of the Simmons murder/suicide is coming up. Luther gets assigned to spend the night in the supposedly haunted murder house and write about his experience. The ghostly events that Luther witnesses that night stir up all kinds of attention and trouble for him.

Don Knotts was an awesome comedic actor, I grew up watching him and to this day I greatly enjoy watching the man at work. He is fantastic in this movie and gets a lot of laughs out of his awkward, overwhelmed, high strung, scared character.

Luther Heggs is a meek little guy, but watch out - when he feels threatened, he'll bust out some of the karate chop moves that Knotts would later occasionally do on Three's Company. (Speaking of, that show is one of my favorite things in the world.) Luther also does some karate chopping while standing outside with his love interest Alma one night. Showing off a bit, he informs her that he's been studying karate through the mail and now, "My whole body's a weapon."

Alma is played by the beautiful Joan Staley, who was so beautiful that the filmmakers had her wear a brunette wig because with her natural blonde hair they felt she would've been too beautiful. There are several familiar faces of the time in the cast; the head of the newspaper is played by Bewitched's Dick Sargent, Calver Weems is played by Hal Smith, who also portrayed the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show, the character Otis, who would lock himself up in the jail after a bender and let himself out in the morning.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a fun movie, a great family film with a nice atmosphere and a perfect example of Don Knotts in his prime.



VERNON, FLORIDA (1981)

"Reality. You mean this is the real world? I never thought of that."

Director Errol Morris originally went to the town of Vernon, Florida with the idea of making a documentary exploring how and why it had earned the nickname Nub City. That is, he wanted to tell the story of the residents who had shot off their own fingers and toes in order to get insurance money. Morris was soon warned off from pursuing that idea, but he still got an entertaining documentary out of his time in the small town (the population had grown to 757 as of 2004).

Rather than an investigation of an insurance scam, Morris ended up with a film that is a simple look into the lives of some of the town's residents, mostly a collection of interviews with people relaying stories about the things that interest them.

The person who probably gets the most screen time is a man who tell stories about turkey hunting. He loves hunting turkey, lives for it, he's got turkey fever. Others include a worm farmer who discusses the varieties of "wigglers" that he has, a local police officer, a man who moved to Vernon from Chicago, a few who discuss religion, including a preacher giving a sermon based on how many times Paul used the word "therefore" in his writings and an old man who tells of a conversation he had with an atheist. The atheist said that things "just happen", the man replied that "That Just Happened" is another name for God. There's a married couple who discuss the growth rate of white sand - "It grows, it crawls." One man is into how the human brain works and how a person can do multiple things at once, moving hands and feet in different directions at the same time, having a four or five track mind. This man can write about canine feces with one hand while simultaneously writing about feline feces with the other hand, and has done so lots of times.

My favorite person in this documentary is an old man who's sort of an animal collector. If you have a opossum in your yard, take it down to him and he'll keep it in a makeshift pen for a while, with plans to sell it. This guy's been bit by every kind of animal you can find in the country, "Except for a rattlesnake, I was sure enough watching for him."

The old man has a famous moment where he pulls a shelled reptile out of a pen and says, "This is a gopher. It's not a turtle." This leads many viewers to think he's a bit off his rocker, and I thought it was funny myself the first time I watched the movie. Of course that thing's a turtle. Gophers are little furry rodents. Well, he actually knows more of what he's talking about than the average viewer, because what he's got is a reptile called a gopher tortoise, not a turtle.

This documentary may just be small town people talking to the camera, but I find it to be fascinating and very enjoyable. I get pulled in by their stories and soothed by their accents and the pace, and the 55 minute running time flies by.


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