Story: Luther, a timid typesetter for a small town newspaper, gets a big break when the editor asks him to spend a night at a haunted mansion, 20 years after a murder. Local citizens call Luther a hero after he writes about his ghost-filled adventure, but the owner sues the newspaper for libel. Misunderstandings, exaggerations, courtroom foolishness, shy Luther’s love for Alma, and the many funny faces of comedian Don Knotts bring lots of laughter as the real mystery unravels around our reluctant hero. As the tag line says, Luther is in the middle of a mystery, but he doesn’t have a clue! (1966; Don Knotts; Universal Pictures; comedy/mystery/romance?; family; 90 min; color)
Setting: Rachel, Kansas (a small town in mid-America, population 6400), mid 1960s
Note 1: Comedian Don Knotts was a popular star in the 1960s, both on TV and in the movies. He represented “the common man” who is a bumbling yet trusted friend and sometimes becomes an unlikely hero.
Note 2: Several of the characters live together in a boarding house. This was not un-common in the 1960s, but I suspect that the boarding house was used in this film to allow characters to interact in a way that would have been difficult otherwise.
People and proper nouns:
- Luther Heggs: typesetter at the center of this story
- George Beckett: Luther’s boss, the editor of the Rachel Courier Express (newspaper)
- Ollie: The main reporter at the newspaper
- Alma: an attractive woman, whom Luther loves from afar
- Nick Simmons: owns the Simmons Mansion (the haunted house, and scene of a murder/suicide); he sues the newspaper for libel after they trespass and write a story about the ghosts, he is the nephew of the deceased couple and wants to tear down the old house
- Mr. Kelsey: former gardener at the haunted mansion, now janitor at the newspaper
- Milo and Halcyon Maxwell: he is the bank president; his wife is the leader of those who believe in “the supernatural”
Vocabulary:(underlined words are vocabulary terms; *key terms)
- boarding house: a private home with rooms rented to various people, who often eat together (this was more common before hotels were widespread, especially in small towns)
- *coward: someone who is generally afraid
- *to curb: to temporarily stop sth (often some characteristic: e.g., enthusiasm, imagination, pride); to limit or stop the growth or influence of sth (like spending or taxation)
- garden shears: scissors used to cut flowers or plants
- maniacal: (laughing or acting) like a mad/crazy person
- *manifestations: a clear sign that something exists or is real (ghosts, emotions, economic trends, etc.)
- the occult: related to the use of mysterious powers or supernatural beings (e.g., magic, demons, spirits, ghosts, etc.)
- séance: a meeting where people try to communicate with ghosts or dead people
- spunk (“you’ve got spunk”): (AmE, slang) courage
- *superstition: [迷信] irrational but strong belief that some objects or actions are lucky, are unlucky, or cause events to happen
Sentences/dialogs from the movie:(mostly from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059221/quotes; imdb’s website is a great place to find movie facts and more. Blue type shows “key” dialogs. (When presenting these dialogs in class, I let a student act as “narrator”, reading things in brackets.)
- 1. Suzanna Blush: It’s Calver Weems! He’s DEAD! He’s been MURDERED!
- Luther Heggs: Well don’t panic! DON’T PANIC!
- Suzanna Blush: Oh Luther! Luther! It was terrible! He was walking along the street when: BANG! Right on the head! With that!
- Luther Heggs: Well did you see who did it?
- Suzanna Blush: No, it was just: BANG! Right on the head! With that!
- Luther Heggs: Well I’ll just get a picture of it. Let’s see… f32… and it’s dark, it’s been raining… and uh… Oh for heaven’s sake STAND BACK Suzanna! Stand back! Get out of the way! And for heaven’s sake don’t TOUCH anything! This is all EVIDENCE!
- Suzanna Blush: He was just walking down the street when: BANG! Right on the head!
- Luther Heggs: All right, I’ll get a picture of the murder weapon…
- Suzanna Blush: BANG! Right on the head! I was just getting ready to brush my teeth and watch Lawrence Welk (on TV), then I looked out the window and: BANG…
- Luther Heggs: For heaven’s sake Suzanna, pull yourself together! I’m going down to the Police Station! Now you get on the phone and call my editor!
- Suzanna: Who?
- Luther: George Beckett! tell him to get down to the police station as soon as possible! And for heaven’s sakes, whatever you do, KEEP your HEAD!
- 2. Luther Heggs (excitedly trying to explain the murder to his editor): Calm? Do “murder” and “calm” go together? Calm and murder? Murder?
- 3. Luther Heggs: [while being heckled for thinking Weems had been murdered] All right, you two guys! You’d just better watch it. You see these two hands? They’re just as hard as steel!
- Heavyset Man: Hey, look at him, Billy Ray. He’s a karate champion! We’d better watch ourselves.
- Billy Ray Fox: Yeah, go ahead, Luther!
- Heavyset Man: Do something!
- Luther Heggs: [chickens out] Why don’t you run up an alley and holler fish!
- 4. Milo Maxwell (bank president, talking to Mr. Simmons): Oh, I’m so sorry that I’m late, but we had a séance at the house last night and it ran on until all hours.
- [Later we find out that Milo’s wife “owns 51% of the bank stock” and deeply believes in supernatural “manifestations”; she forbids her husband from signing papers that will allow the Simmons House to be torn down]
- 5. Luther Heggs (calling himself an idiot): Mr. Boob, that’s me. B double-O B = boob!
- Kelsey: You know why you thought you saw a murder out there, Luther? Because that’s a murder house. [He then explains the history of the murder/suicide. He was the dead couple’s gardener at the time they died.]
- Luther Heggs: Well, me, I just don’t happen to believe in ghosts… particularly.
- 6. George Beckett [talking about who should spend the night in the haunted house, and then write about it for the newspaper]: What we need is someone with a wild imagination. Someone who’s a bit of a coward. Someone who’s a little superstitious.
- 7. Mrs. Hutchinson: I was only two blocks away that awful night, at my sister Clara’s. We were sort of… listening to the organ, you know… the midnight bells were ringing… I turned to Clara and said, “Clara; the organ music sounds strange tonight!”…
- Mrs. Natalie Miller: Well… what did Clara say?
- Mrs. Hutchinson: She said, “Yes, it does!” You know Clara!
- Mrs. Natalie Miller: Well, they say there are still bloodstains on the organ keys…
- Mrs. Hutchinson: That’s right; they’ve never been able to get them off.
- Mrs. Cobb: And they used Bon-Ami!
- Mrs. Natalie Miller: Everybody says he still comes there and plays, at midnight…
- Mrs. Cobb: He doesn’t play as well as he used to!
- 8. Luther Heggs (describing his night in the mansion): It was terrible. It was just terrible. I’ll never get over it as long as I live.
- George Beckett: Hey, great opening line (for the article)!
End “part 1” after dialog 8 (about 39:41)
Discussion, part 1 (39:46)
- Would you be afraid to sleep in a place like the Simmons Mansion? Why or why not?
- What would you do if your boss told you to do something you were very uncomfortable doing?
- One of Luther’s colleagues was very unkind to Luther. Why do some people act this way?
- What were Luther’s options for dealing with his unkind colleague?
- Luther said, “I just don’t happen to believe in ghosts… particularly.” Was that true? Explain. (You might like to use the saying: “Actions speak louder than words.”)
- Do you believe in ghosts? Explain.
Dialogs, part 2 (to the end of the film)
- 9. Police Chief Art Fuller: I’m sorry Mrs. Maxwell, Nicolas Simmons gave me strict orders. No one’s allowed on this property.
- Halcyon Maxwell: Oh, Mr. Fuller you don’t seem to understand. We’re followers. We’re on the path of the occult.
- Police Chief Art Fuller: I’m afraid you won’t find anything like that around here.
- Halcyon Maxwell: Oh, well it’s obvious you don’t understand. Our society is dedicated to contacting the other world.
- Police Chief Art Fuller: The communists?
- Halcyon Maxwell: No! The spiritual world!
- 10. Halcyon Maxwell [to her husband, before forbidding him to sign Simmons’ papers]: You don’t seem to realize the cosmic importance of this.
- 11. Luther [after dinner at Alma’s house, trying to explain how he feels about her; he can’t even look at her]: The thing is this, Alma. You’re a darned attractive girl.
- Alma: Thank you.
- Luther: Me, I’m a guy…. You take your average guy, and your above average girl… What I’m trying to say is that “average” is just darn lucky to sitting on the same porch with “above average”…
- Alma: Luther, are you trying to say you like me?
- Luther (shyly): Yeah.
- Alma [after kissing him]: I like you too, Luther.
- 12. [In court, lawyer Springer calls his “surprise” witness to the stand, Gaylord Patie.]
- Springer: And what is your occupation?
- Gaylord Patie: I’m a certified public accountant for the state.
- Springer: Now then, I understand that you, Mr. Patie, have heard the organ playing in the Simmons Mansion. Am I correct, sir?
- Gaylord Patie: You are. I have heard organ music coming from the tower of the Simmons Mansion on three separate occasions. [gasps of awe come from the audience] That’s why I came to you, Mr. Springer.
- Springer: And at what time did you hear this music?
- Gaylord Patie: At the stroke of midnight. [more gasps of awe come from the audience]
- Springer: And what else have you heard coming from the Simmons Mansion, Mr. Patie?
- Gaylord Patie: On the first occasion, a woman’s scream. And on the second and third occasions, a man’s scream. [even more gasps of awe come from the audience]
- Springer: And what kind of screams were they, Mr. Patie?
- Gaylord Patie: Oh wild, maniacal screams. [audience is really excited now]
- Springer: Thank you. Your witness.
- Whitlow: [cross-examining] Mr. Patie, I understand that you’re president of the International Conclave for Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs).
- Gaylord Patie: That is correct, sir.
- Whitlow: Where was your last meeting held?
- Gaylord Patie: On Mars. [courtroom erupts in laughter]
- 13. Luther Heggs [in court, Luther is bragging about his love of journalism, unintentionally making himself look bad]: I guess if you cut me, I’d bleed ink…. When you work with words, words are your work.
- 14. Whitlow: I’m asking you a question, Heggs! Can’t you curb your imagination for one minute?
- Luther Heggs: Can’t you curb your tongue for a minute?
- Man in audience: Atta boy, Luther!
- Whitlow: Isn’t it true that you were offered a full-time job as reporter if you brought back a sensational story from that house? A story that you made up out of your own head?
- Luther: No, that’s not true! I saw those things. I heard those things. Those church bells rang. The organ played. I saw the bloodstains on the keys, and they are still there. And when I came downstairs I came face-to-face with a painting of Mrs. Simmons; there was a pair of garden shears stuck in her throat, and blood gushing from the wound. (audience is extremely excited)
- Judge: Quiet down! I’m not sure whether I believe in ghosts or not…, but I do know there’s only one way of finding out if there’s something going on in that Simmons place. This court hereby orders the jury and interested parties to meet here at 11:30 tonight. And we’re going down to the Simmons house, and see for ourselves. Court’s adjourned!
- 15. Luther Heggs [describing how he stopped “the bad guy” near the end of the film]: That’s right, karate… made my whole body a weapon.
Discussion, part 2
- Talk about a famous “ghost” story or custom from your country.
- Most cultures have stories/beliefs in ghosts and similar manifestations. Where do you think such universal beliefs come from?
- What’s the difference between “superstition” and “religious faith”? (Perhaps talk about superstitions like avoiding black cats, vs “religious practices” based on a belief that some actions are right or wrong according to God or religious teachings)
- Footnotes: *”gonna” is the spoken form of “going to”; English learners should never write “gonna.”
Although this film is a comedy, it also presents some good “life lessons.” Here’s my list. Tell your partner where you saw these in the story. Then add more principles.
- One of the best ways to overcome fear is to confront it.
- Many people don’t like being given commands, but if you make a suggestion you may find more willingness.
- Don’t settle for a boyfriend (or girlfriend) who is possessive or jealous; look for someone who considers himself/herself to be lucky/blessed to be around you.
- A good employer will stand by and support employees in times of difficulty.
- A court’s role is to figure out the truth by looking at facts and evidence; people should also look at facts and evidence to seek Truth in matters of religion and other aspects of life.
Note to teachers: To give time for discussion, I use two full class days (4 hours). Day one: preview the vocabulary, show almost half of the film, and discuss it. On the second day, finish the film, and discuss dialogs and “life lessons.”
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