We’ve been involved with international intrigue, car chases or forgotten horror recently, so let’s lighten things up a little. It doesn’t get much lighter than comedy great Don Knotts, a man with his very own style. No matter what character he was playing, whether it was on TV or on the big screen, he was always the same guy. Not much variety in his performance. However, when you are entertaining and can make people laugh, why mess with perfection. I’ve been a fan of Don Knotts since day one. I first remember him in the various Disney movies of the 70s. I actually didn’t watch The Andy Griffith Show until the late 70s when we got cable. By that time, I always made sure I got mom and dad to take me to see his latest film. I loved The Private Eyes (1980), a fun spoof on Sherlock Holmes and old dark house films that I know I’ll be covering here in the future. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) became a Halloween favorite of mine and was covered during my 31 Days of Halloween. In 1971, How To Frame a Figg came out during a time that comedy was changing. It was getting racier and boundaries were being pushed. So this movie, rated G at the time, definitely has some innuendoes one wouldn’t necessarily expect from a Don Knotts film.
Don Knotts plays Hollis Alexander Figg, a bookkeeper who shows pride in working for city hall. He thinks his job is pivotal and important. When in reality, he’s the dumbest bookkeeper in town and a prime target for the corrupt city officials to use as a scapegoat. They’ve been milking the money dry of funds for years and the government is starting to get wise. Old Charley Spaulding decides it’s time to use Figg and get rid of all of the other bookkeepers who might catch on their scheme. They buy a state of the art computer, which is quite laughable by today’s standards as it fills an entire room. Figg is moved out of the basement into an office, given a car and a sexy secretary played by the ever-sexy Yvonne Craig (yes, it’s Batgirl as you’ve never quite seen her before). The cast is full of supporting roles played by a ton of recognizable character actors. Elaine Joyce (Motel Hell and a list a mile long of TV appearances) stars as Figg’s girlfriend Ema Letha Kusic. Edward Andrews (Sixteen Candles and Gremlins), plays his typical role of a crooked mayor, and Joe Flynn (McHale’s Navy) stars as Kermit Sanderson, the only one who foresees issues with the plan but is always told to shut up. Of course, Figg isn’t entirely the nitwit they planned on and he stumbles across their plot. He’s aided by his bumbling sidekick, Prentiss Gates, played by Frank Welker. His face isn’t familiar but his voice surely is as he was the original Fred on the cartoon classic Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, which was the start of a very long career of voice work that continues to this day.
As noted earlier, there is a hint of sexual innuendoes which had never really been present in a Don Knotts film before. At one point, old Charley tells Yvonne Craig not to point her breasts in his direction because nothing works anymore. A sign of the changing times, which may have contributed to this movie being a flop at the box office. It does suffer from some poor pacing and runs about 10 minutes too long. A 90-minute length would have been better. Sadly, it was the last time Don Knotts headlined a movie. Over the next four years he made a few TV appearances before Disney cast him in The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), which started a string of successful movies in which he was either part of an ensemble cast or shared screen time with Tim Conway. This comedy is harmless and fun and a perfect way to spend a weekend afternoon. I recommend picking up the DVD or watching it on Netflix streaming. When you do, listen closely to the computer sounds towards the end of the movie. Sound familiar? They were used again two years later on The Six Million Dollar Man television series.