From the Vault: Don Knotts -

From the Vault: Don Knotts

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From the Vault: Don Knotts

Don Knotts on the big screen

By Tim Janson     January 13, 2013

Don Knotts is best known for starring in two legendary television shows.  He played shy and nervous Deputy Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show and then nervous and wacky landlord Ralph Furley in Three’s Company.  But in between these show Knotts turned to the silver screen for several memorable comedies, three of which had a genre film edge to them.  This week in From the Vault we take a look at three classic films from the lovable Don Knotts.


The Incredible Mr. Limpet

Warner Bros. 1964

Cast: Don Knotts, Carole Cook, Jack Weston

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Grade: B+


The Incredible Mr. Limpet combines live action and animation.  Knotts is the fish loving Henry Limpet who attempts to join the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  While his friend George (Weston) is accepted, Henry is rejected for military service.  A distraught Henry wanders a pier on Coney Island and falls into the ocean where he miraculously turns into a fish.  The fish still looks like Henry, glasses and all as these segments are animated.


Still wishing to help the war effort, Limpet befriends a hermit crab named Crusty and eventually tracks down his friend George.  Limpet is able to still talk and he gets commissioned into the Navy and helps the Atlantic fleet track down German U-Boats.  Henry ends up becoming a war hero and even gets the girl in the end…a lovely Ladyfish!


Paul Frees, the great voice actor known for so many animation role voices the hermit crab.  The animated segments were directed by legendary Warner Bros. Animator Robert McKimson  who created characters such as Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil, and Speedy Gonzalez.  The film was just released on blu-ray in 2012 and looks fantastic.  This is a wonderful and charming film for the family.



The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Universal Pictures 1966

Cast: Don Knotts, Dick Sargent, Joan Staley

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Grade: A


Knotts is Luther Heggs, a typesetter for a small town newspaper who longs to become a reporter.  Luther is finally given his chance when his editor assigns him to spend a night in the Simmons mansion on the 20th anniversary of a grisly murder/suicide.  Not long after arriving in the old, abandoned mansion Luther begins to experience all sorts of ghostly happenings including an old organ with blood-stained keys that plays by itself, secret panels that open and close, and a painting of Mrs. Simmons with garden shears in stuck in her throat and dripping blood.  Terrifying imagery for the time, especially since this was considered a family film.

 The town is in an uproar and Luther is celebrated as a hero but when he returns to the house to prove his story with the police, a judge, and several townspeople, nothing happens.  Luther is made to look like a fool but when the rest of the people leave, the weirdness starts up again and Luther has to save his girlfriend Alma from the real murderer who has remained unrevealed for 20 years. 

This film scared the daylights out of me as a kid, especially when the organ would play that creepy, off kilter dirge.  Knotts gives his best theatrical performance as the timid, yet ultimately heroic Luther Heggs.  There’s some genuinely scary scenes and its damn funny to boot.  The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is one of the best horror/comedies of all time.


The Reluctant Astronaut

Universal Pictures 1967

Cast: Don Knotts, Leslie Nielsen

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Grade: B


Knotts plays his usual role as a Roy Fleming, a shy, timid, kiddie ride operator at an amusement park that still lives with his parents.  His father wants more for him and submits an application to NASA.  Incredibly, Roy is hired—as a janitor!  Roy makes friends with a real astronaut played by Leslie Nielsen and his father believes he is an astronaut as well.


But when his father comes to visit Roy attempts to fool his dad by using the various simulators causing general mayhem and ends up getting fired.  When the Russians attempt to beat the U.S. in a space race by sending a dentist into orbit, NASA rehires Roy (as he is even less likely to go into space than a dentist).  Roy is sent into orbit but of course screws up again and appears to be hopelessly marooned.  But Roy, remembering his days of running a kiddie space ride, fires off the retro rockets and returns safely home and hailed as a hero.


As hard as it may be to believe, the plot of The Reluctant Astronaut is even more ridiculous than The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  But silly is a hallmark of Don Knotts’ work and there are few actors who could pull off a role like this.  Good fun!


Tim Janson is a columnist and reviewer for Mania Entertainment. He writes Level Up, the weekly look at videogames and the horror dedicated column, Tuesday Terrors. Tim has written for Fangoria, Newsarama, City Slab Magazine, Twitch Film, and Cinefantastique. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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fatpantz 1/13/2013 9:41:14 AM

My favorite of his was 1980 The Private Eyes with Tim Conway.  Don Knotts and Tim Conway were always great in everything they did together, their chemistry will never be matched.

monkeyfoot 1/13/2013 10:26:20 AM

When I was a kid, I enjoyed Knotts' movies running on local TV. Today, I don't think people realize he was a major movie star in the 60s. He and Jerry Lewis (yes he was a big star, too) were top box office draws of that time. 

Limpet and Astronaut were my very favorites as a kid. There is always talk of remaking Limpet now and again using CG instead of cel animation and I'd love to see someone like Carrey or Stiller do that.

After I'd grown up when I was at a bar with friends and they ordered boilermakers all around, I got that beer and whiskey chaser and realized, "Hey, this is that drink from The Reluctant Astronaut! 3..2..1..Blast off!" Oh, the hangover! At least I didn't end up in orbit.

Wyldstaar 1/13/2013 3:42:14 PM

I remember watching all of these on TV as a kid.  I don't really have much in the way of fond memories of them, though.  This sort of thing was always just on in the background, while I was playing with Star Wars toys, or Legos or whatever.  They couldn't really hold my interest to the point where I would sit quietly and just watch the movie.  If The Andy Griffith Show was on, that would have my undivided attention.  That was a fantastic show, and Knotts was great in it.  For me, he worked far better in a supporting role than as the star.

Dazzler 1/14/2013 3:21:51 AM

Have to catch them all sometime again. 

mike10 1/14/2013 7:39:11 AM

Come on, you can't forget Herbie goes to Monty Carlo  and the Apple Dumpling Gang. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was a pretty cool movie back in the day, they used to have a Saturday afternoon creature double feature on TV and Ghost and Mr. Chicken would always show up with a Abbot and Costello Universal monster movie. 

domino2008 1/18/2013 8:39:49 PM

The Ghost an Mr Chicken , as a kid was my favorite Don Knotts movie . Yeah , just as the Jerry Lewis movies were back in the 60's , it was holsom , clean humor ,they have there place in time , as do the humor in movies have in this time .



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