5 forgotten Don Knotts movies before and after his Mayberry days
'Wake Me When It's Over' might not be the most exciting movie title.
Don Knotts is a comedy legend. Most of that iconic status is thanks to his role as Barney Fife alone. But the Andy Griffith Show alum also carved out a career as a box-office draw. The Incredible Mr. Limpet and The Apple Dumpling Gang remain family favorites. His final role in Pleasantville was a charming nod to his Mayberry wholesomeness.
Knotts made a lot of movies. Most of them you have probably heard of. Here, we're digging a little deeper to showcase his more obscure work, from 1960 through 1996. We can't necessarily suggest that you hunt these all down, because, well, they can be hard to find. Let's take a look…
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1. Wake Me When It's Over
Calling your movie Wake Me When It's Over is a risky proposition, like naming your restaurant Indigestion. For a war story, the title might sound rather glib, but at the time, military comedy was at its peak, thanks to hits like Mister Roberts, Operation Petticoat and No Time for Sergeants, the latter of which gave Knotts his big acting break. Casting Knotts here was a clear way to recapture some of that Sergeants charm. The plot centered around an Air Force man (Dick Shawn) who is mistakenly listed as dead, redrafted and shipped to a remote Pacific station. Knotts plays an activities counselor. Parley Baer, future Mayor of Mayberry, plays a colonel.
Image: The Everett Collection
2. I Love a Mystery
The I Love a Mystery franchise dates back to 1939, beginning as a radio program about a group of friends solving often spooky mysteries. They even took on vampires. Think Scooby-Doo, without the talking dog. A pop culture phenomenon of the early 1940s, I Love a Mystery spawned a movie trilogy and comic book. In 1967, a TV movie reboot was filmed with Ida Lupino as the villain. A shaky Knotts, in a small but crucial role, turns out to be the object of mystery ("a miserable coward with defective genes," according to Lupino's sneering character) who give the big laugh in the end. The movie sat in a can for half a decade before being aired on NBC.
3. Mule Feathers
It is obscure for a reason. A bafflingly bizarre and bad Western theoretically inspired by Blazing Saddles, Mule Feathers incoherently followed Rory Calhoun (dressed a preacher) around the desert with a talking mule. Knotts provided the voice of the mule, spouting lines like, "Oh, the tenderness that a man and his mule can feel for each other." The movie opens with an animated segment featuring the talking mule. That jumps into live-action, with Calhoun's character hearing the voice of his mule companion. Only, the mule never opens his mouth, making you wonder if Calhoun is as loony as the producers of this turkey.
4. The Prize Fighter
The knock-kneed Knotts playing a guy called "Shake" might be the aptest character naming of his career. Knotts and Tim Conway proved to be a perfect comedy team in Disney flicks The Apple Dumpling Gang and Gus (which was also about a mule — yes, Knotts made two mule movies in the span of a year). However, this boxing romp was not a Disney product. Far from it. New World Pictures, the low-budget studio founded by B-movie king Roger Corman, released the picture. New World had recently released grindhouse fare like Death Race 2000 and Piranha, and here it was making a slapstick family spin on Rocky.
Image: The Everett Collection
5. Big Bully
Big Bully would prove to be the final big-screen starring role for Rick Moranis. The funnyman, perhaps best known from Ghostbusters, decided he'd rather spend time with his family. He came to this decision after making this movie with Tom Arnold. Make of that what you will. Moranis and Arnold play onetime school enemies, who still keep up their violent rivalry decades later. Don Knotts plays their school principal, in his penultimate silver-screen appearance.
Image: Warner Bros.
SEE MORE: The 5 best Andy Griffith performances on the big screen
He played characters miles and miles away from Mayberry. READ MORE
The incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) and Pleasantville (1998).
In The Incredible Mr. Limpet, he was the star, and carried the picture.
In Pleasantville, he was a minor character, that set the stage of what followed.
Neither movie is mentioned, when speaking of Mr. Knotts.
That's a shame. He was excellent, in both.
(At one time, a very young Tony Randall voiced Reggie.)
"Look at his body - thin, wasted away by the dissipation and debauchery of a life of unspeakable orgies and depravity!" - Attorney General Frederick Snow, when describing Dirty Abner.