|Index||4 reviews in total|
Mickey Rooney was the first actor considered to play the human sidekick
of Francis the talking mule, but the role went instead to his friend
Donald O'Connor. Six years and six mule movies later, O'Connor decided
to move on to greener pastures, and workhorse Rooney was brought in to
close out the series.
This movie -- without O'Connor and without Chill Wills doing the mule's voice -- gets no respect from critics and die-hard "Francis" fans. Admittedly it's not as funny as the early "Francis" films, but Rooney and Paul Frees (as the voice) give it their all, and the movie is perfect for children.
The fact is that the "Francis" series was running out of steam already. Winding it up with another military comedy would have been the coward's way out. This movie is more like a harbinger of the "Scooby-do" cartoons: Cops and robbers and alleged ghosts in a completely non-threatening environment. No adult content to trouble parents.
Could it be better? Yes. But it fills a certain niche very well.
This is the last of the seven Talking Mule pictures in the series put
out by Universal during the fifties. This one is the wild card, seeing
as it not only does without Donald O'Connor, but also Chill Wills'
voicing of Francis. This time we've got Mickey Rooney in the lead and
Paul Frees as the voice of Francis. I have lots of admiration for
Rooney who can be dynamite when properly directed, but here he is
directed by notable hack Charles Lamont and is allowed to sputter away
cartoonishly throughout. And Rooney, only in his mid-thirties, looks
quite aged, far removed from the youthful looks of his heyday only a
decade previous to this. Then there is the heroic attempt by Paul Frees
to imitate Chill Wills, which is impossible because Frees' voice is
almost as well known and distinctive.
The film itself is one of those estate inheritance murder mysteries with Francis saving the day by alternately helping Rooney solve the case and rescuing him from being killed during the investigation. David Janssen has a small part as a cop, and Timothy Carey plays a hulking worker at the estate (without getting one line of dialogue). The film's title and advertising campaign tries to make you think this is a spooky story, but there's nothing supernatural about it and the scenes at the estate aren't played for chills. Sadly, there aren't any laughs either, unless you find mirth in the umpteenth time Francis reveals his talking ability to some hapless bug-eyed character.
The Francis the talking mule series came to a limp end with both Donald
O'Connor and Chill Wills as the voice of the mule no longer in the
series. Mickey Rooney somehow got talked into this very silly film and
to compensate overacted outrageously as to not have the mule steal any
scenes. And stealing scenes from Rooney was not easy.
No longer an army mule Francis is put out to pasture and he meets an old friend in Mickey Rooney. He meets him to tell him a murder has been committed and to leave town yesterday lest he get involved. Of course Rooney the boy scout tells the cops and then spends the rest of the film trying to explain he heard it from a mule. The more he explains the more he's suspected.
In fact several more murders occur and it all centers around a haunted Scottish castle something like the one that Eugene Palette moved to Florida in The Ghost Goes West. All the stuff from Universal's Gothic horror days, sets and props, come into play as Rooney decides to solve the mystery.
It's all real silly, in fact the whole series was kind of silly. Francis In The Haunted House sputters the series to an ignominious conclusion.
Francis in the Haunted House (1956)
** (out of 4)
The seventh and final film in Universal's "Francis" series was the first to be without Donald O'Connor as he left the series and was replaced by Mickey Rooney. Also new here is that Chill Willis was replaced as Francis' voice and replaced by Paul Frees so this is pretty much a new film that separates itself from the previous six and since they didn't bother with another one I think the quality is easy to see. This time out there's a murder that plagues an old castle and soon David Prescott (Rooney) is the main suspect so Francis must clear him and track down the real killers. I've seen a few of the previous entries and it's easy to say that one really shouldn't expect any type of "quality" when it comes to a Francis movie and this one here is about as good as you could expect. As usual, the majority of the jokes are aimed at children but I'll admit that a couple of them had me laughing but after about twenty-minutes the film really falls apart because the screenplay goes lazy and just delivers the same type of joke over and over and over again. The majority of the 80-minute running time has Rooney being "told" information by Francis and of course when Rooney tells the police who his source is they don't believe him. We then get an unfunny interrogation sequence, which happens at least four or five times and they're never funny. Rooney will get accused of something, talk about the mule and of course everyone thinks he's crazy. This type of humor was normal for the series but if you don't put anything around it you're just beating a dead joke over the head. Rooney isn't too bad in the film as he at least knows to have some fun with the material and he plays opposite the mule quite well. I will say as a fan of Rooney it's a little sad to see him in a flick like this considering some of the classics he made at MGM in the 30s and 40s. The supporting cast includes the likes of Paul Cavanagh, Virginia Welles and David Janssen. The comedy elements really don't work all that well but even more disappointing are the "horror" elements, which are very minor. This is too bad because director Charles Lamont had helped Abbott and Costello in a few of their "Meet the Monster(s)" films.
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