Francis in the Haunted House (1956)

Article 2840 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-15-2009
Posting Date: 5-23-2009
Directed by Charles Lamont
Featuring Mickey Rooney, Virginia Welles, James Flavin
Country: USA

Francis the talking mule tries to save his friend, David Prescott, from getting involved in a series of murders happening at the MacLeod estate. When Prescott becomes a suspect, Francis must solve the case to clear him.

This could be described as a departure for the Francis the Talking Mule series; Donold O’Connor departed from the series (to be replace by Mickey Rooney), Chill Wills (the voice of Francis) departed from the series (to be replaced by Paul Frees doing a Chill Wills impersonation), and the series itself would depart after this entry. Actually, to me it smacks somewhat of desperation; the haunted house story is a common entry in many series comedies, and the decision to rely on it here feels like a desire to revert to formula, or, to put it another way, a different formula than this series had used so far. After all, this series is a prime example of running a concept into the ground; any one movie of the series taken on its own has its good points, but taken in toto, one can see the dearth of creativity and imagination at work. Even this one gets most of its laughs by having people not believe Prescott when he tells of a talking mule, people fainting when they see the mule talk, the mule not talking in front of others when Prescott needs him to, etc. There’s a ghost of a knight on the loose in this one, but it’s a Scooby-Doo plot; after all, how can you expect people who buy the premise of a talking mule to accept the premise of a real ghost? Mickey Rooney really isn’t given a character to play with, and Paul Frees isn’t quite as good at the insults as Chill Wills was. The cast also features David Janssen as a police lieutenant, and Richard Deacon (from “The Dick Van Dyke Show”) as an attorney.

And, speaking of departures, this marks my departure from covering the Francis series – that is, until someone hits on the idea of a remake.


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