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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Don Knotts Day *

* (restored)

 

‘Born to a pair of farmers, Don Knotts was raised “dirt poor” in West Virginia during the Great Depression. During his childhood, Knotts’ father became a paranoid schizophrenic and alcoholic, and Knotts sometimes joked that he drove his father crazy. Beginning in high school, he performed as a ventriloquist, with modest success.

‘At 19, he joined the Army, where his duties consisted primarily of entertaining the troops in traveling GI variety shows called “Stars and Gripes”. Upon being discharged, he tried breaking into show business as a ventriloquist and stand-up comedian, but found that his thick Southern accent made his act almost unintelligible beyond the South. To overcome the accent, he went to college, majoring in education but with a strong minor in speech. After graduation, his first break came when 25-year-old Knotts was hired to play the decrepit old “Windy Wales” in a revival of the popular radio western Bobby Benson.

‘Knotts first met Andy Griffith when he auditioned for Griffith’s hit play, No Time for Sergeants. The two Southern boys soon bonded by wordlessly whittling sticks, and worked together for almost two years on Broadway. They eventually reprised their roles in a well-received film adaptation of No Time for Sergeants, which was Knotts’ first movie. Early in his TV career, Knotts played it relatively straight on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow in the mid-1950s. He also played a fidgety chap in recurring bits on the late-1950s Steve Allen Show.

‘When Knotts heard that a sitcom was in development with Griffith as a small-town sheriff, he phoned his friend and pointed out that every sheriff needs a good deputy, but a deputy who is not so good might be funnier. Knotts envisioned Deputy Fife as a bumbling but proud character, clearly not cut out for work as a lawman. His manic performance made the laid-back Griffith seem wiser, and the sheriff’s respect for Fife signaled to audiences that the deputy was more than merely a buffoon. “I was supposed to be the funny one on the show,” Griffith said in a 2002 interview. “But halfway through the second episode, I realized Don should be the funny one and I should play straight man to him. And that’s the best thing we ever did. That’s what made the show.” Playing Fife, Knotts won Emmys for Best Supporting Actor in 1961, ’62, ’63, ’66, and ’67.

‘After leaving Mayberry, Knotts had his own comedy hour, The Don Knotts Show on NBC in 1970, featuring skits with future Radar Gary Burghoff. He also had success as a film star. His first top billing was for The Incredible Mr. Limpet, where Knotts envied the lives of his tropical fish, and after only a few minutes on screen, he fell off a pier at Coney Island and became a fish who fought Nazis.

‘Knotts’ films, including The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, and How to Frame a Figg, were ostensibly “family” movies, and kids loved them. His oeuvre, however, should not be dismissed as merely “kid stuff”. Knotts’ faults and foibles, albeit exaggerated, were universal, and given a feature-length showcase, he could unravel his anxiety, embarrassments, hopes and impossible dreams, heartache, and worries. By the end of a Knotts film, his character’s shortcomings were usually overcome when some crisis revealed this everyman’s inner nobility and courage. Audiences came to sincerely like Knotts, whether he was Barney Fife, Mr. Furley, or a fish. With his nervous tics, his shaky insecurity hidden under a mask of overconfidence, and a sexual tension so often present (even when Knotts was alone), his best performances spoke to the insecurities of the nuclear age and the sexual revolution.

‘Beginning in the 1970s, Knotts made several comedies with Tim Conway, including The Apple Dumpling Gang, Gus, and The Prize Fighter. Conway & Knotts played worms in an early 2000s series of animated Hermie & Friends videos. Late in life, Knotts and Griffith were reunited on Matlock, where Knotts had a recurring role as a jittery neighbor.

‘In 2004, his home town celebrated Knotts’ 80th birthday with a parade, and a Don Knotts Film Festival was held the next summer. He was also honored with the first star in West Virginia’s Walk of Fame, in front of the Metropolitan Theater in downtown Morgantown. In his last years, he performed mostly in dinner theater and regional stage productions, and said he enjoyed watching reruns of Seinfeld. He died in 2006.’ — NNDB

 

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Stills


































































 

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Further

Don Knotts @ IMDb
Don Knotts Tribute Site
‘New book details friendship between Andy Griffith and Don Knotts’
Book: ‘Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known’
Video: Don Knotts interviewed
‘The Death of Don Knotts’
‘The naked Don Knotts’
Don Knotts @ Bandcamp
‘DON KNOTTS: RELUCTANT SEX OBJECT’
Don Knotts page @ Facebook
Don Knotts @ discogs
‘The Genius of Don Knotts’
‘Secret strife behind the scenes in Mayberry’
Don Knotts Overdrive
‘Don Knotts Was a Chicken Plucker Called Jesse’
”Barney Fife’ Statue Honoring Don Knotts Destroyed’
‘Richard Linklater remaking The Incredible Mr. Limpet’
‘Where Don Knotts Meets the Arctic Monkeys in Glendale’
‘THE OBESE TALENT OF DON KNOTTS’
‘DON KNOTTS: HOW I DIDN’T GET STARTED’
‘On the Artistry of Don Knotts’

 

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Extras


Don Knotts 1971 Dodge Van Ad


Don Knotts the Nervous Weatherman


Don Knotts Announces Baseball


Don Knotts Tribute


Don Knotts Grave

 

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20 Questions
from Philadelphia City Paper

 

For many people you’re still Barney Fife and many of your other roles have elements of Barney Fife in them. You don’t seem to mind being stereotyped as a clumsy fool.

I took a lot of Barney into films like the Shakiest Gun in the West and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. I have no regrets about the effect that character had on me. Those years when I used Barney were the best experience I had in the business. It was great doing him in films and on Andy Griffith.

Few young or even middle-aged performers have your knack for physical humor, subtlety and timing.

My idol was Jack Benny and he was the master of subtlety and timing. Performers train differently today. They used to come up in the old-fashioned clubs and through vaudeville. I don’t think actors get good training today. I put my training to use in everything I do.

Does Norman, Is That You? work any better in its current production than on Broadway when it flopped?

It didn’t do well on Broadway. I don’t think it’s the kind of play that would be a big hit on Broadway since it doesn’t have a lot to it. It’s just funny. I don’t think just funny is enough on Broadway. The play has been cropped up over the years and was a big hit in France.

I saw the play when I was 10 and thought it was very funny at the time. Then again, I found Welcome Back Kotter hysterical at that age as well.

It’s a very funny play.

Is it still relevant?

I think it’s more in keeping with today than when it was written, with all the gay stuff.

It’s not the first time you’ve had to deal with gay issues. On many Three’s Company episodes your character, Ralph Furley, made fun of Jack Tripper [played by John Ritter], who was supposed to be gay.

John told me a little while ago that he was making a movie in New York and some guy screamed to him, “Hey John, you fruit!”

You replaced Philadelphia’s favorite son, Norman Fell, on Three’s Company.

I just saw Norman a little while ago and he’s doing well. I loved doing that show. The first season was tough since they didn’t write so well for me.

Then Suzanne Somers left.

That’s one of the reasons I got better stuff. They started throwing me the silly stuff they gave her when she was there. By the second season I was used to the production.

What else are you up to?

I just did a movie which will be out this summer called Pleasantville. It’s a fantasy about kids watching an old TV show and I’m a TV repairman. I’m able to get them into the TV set so they can interact with the characters. It’s wild and funny. Gary Ross [author of Big] wrote it. Jeffrey Daniels and Bill Macy are in it.

How much longer can you keep on working?

I don’t know.

In an interview I did recently with your pal Don Rickles, he said he’ll be working until they drag him off the stage by the ankles.

I remember when he was just starting out. He was on the Andy Griffith Show and Andy and I didn’t feel like rehearsing anymore that day and he said, “Hey c’mon, you guys have millions of feet of film between you and all I got are home movies of me and my cousin on the swing.'” [laughs] I can’t believe I still remember that line.

Did you guys rehearse with him?

Sure.

 

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18 of Don Knotts’ 33 films

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Mervyn LeRoy No Time for Sergeants (1958)
‘Mac Hyman’s hilarious barracks novel No Time for Sergeants was adapted for TV by Ira Levin in 1955, with newcomer Andy Griffith as bumptious Air Force draftee Will Stockdale. This TV version was soon afterward transformed into a Broadway play, and then a movie, again with Griffith in the lead. Brought to the Air Force base in handcuffs because his farmer father has been hiding his draft notices, good-natured Will becomes the target of ridicule for the other transcripts. Especially nasty is Private Irvin (Murray Hamilton), but Will is able to forgive him because he knows that Irvin is suffering from some mysterious disease called ROTC. Featured in a minor role as a “coordination officer” is Griffth’s future TV cohort Don Knotts.’ — collaged


Excerpt

 

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Stanley Kramer It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
‘There’s a documentary-like pleasure in watching so many legends of comedy share the screen… along with the disappointment of watching so many very funny people fail to be funny at all. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World remains a technological and creative marvel for reasons beyond its sometimes fitful ability to make audiences laugh.’ — collaged


Excerpt


Don Knotts discusses appearing in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”

 

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Arthur Lubin The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964)
‘While he is most famous for his hilarious portrayal of small town deputy sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, Don Knotts’ film career is distinguished by a handful of truly eclectic comedies like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), a haunted house farce, and The Love God? (1969), in which he inherits a girlie magazine and becomes a national sex symbol. The strangest one of all, however, is The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), an odd combination of live-action and animation which works as both a fantasy musical-romance (the songs by Sammy Fain and Harold Adamson include “I Wish I Were a Fish”) and an underwater espionage thriller. Set during the early days of World War II, Knotts plays Henry Limpet, a henpecked bookkeeper in Brooklyn whose only pleasure in life is his all-consuming interest in aquatic life. During an outing to Coney Island with his nagging wife Bessie (Carole Cook) and her admirer (Jack Weston), Limpet falls off the pier and is miraculously transformed into a dolphin. His new life underwater proves to be a lot more exciting than his former life as a man; he falls in love with a beautiful female dolphin called Ladyfish and he becomes the U.S. Navy’s secret weapon, tracking down and sinking Nazi U-boats in the Atlantic. Yet, despite a happy ending, there is a core of sadness at the center of the film – that of a loner who never finds his place in human society and instead chooses to live in an alternate fantasy world.’ — TCM


Excerpt


Don Knotts talks about “The Incredible Mr Limpet”

 

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Alan Rafkin The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
‘Forget Blair Witch, the Exorcist and Freddie. Our favorite all time scary movie goes back to the late 60’s and it’s one that you can watch with the entire family. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was Don Knott’s first film after he left The Andy Griffith Show and he plays a very Barney Fife-esque character who is a reporter that spends the night in a haunted house. The movie takes a cue from the old Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein genre in that it is a good mixture of scary and funny with Don Knotts doing a brilliant job of physical comedy. Don’s character works as a typesetter and wants to be a full-fledged reporter so he takes on the task of spending the night in the local town’s haunted house.’ — ITATS


Trailer


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Edward Montagne The Reluctant Astronaut (1967)
‘Don Knotts is Roy Fleming, a small town kiddie-ride operator who is deathly afraid of heights. After learning that his father has signed him up for the space program, Roy reluctantly heads for Houston, only to find out upon arriving that his job is a janitor, not an astronaut. Anxious to live up to the expectations of his domineering father, Roy manages to keep up a facade of being an astronaut to his family and friends. When NASA decides to launch a lay person into space to prove the worthiness of a new automated spacecraft, Roy gets the chance to confront his fears.’ — letterboxd.com


Trailer

 

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Alan Rafkin The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968)
The Shakiest Gun in the West is a remake of the 1948 Bob Hope comedy The Paleface, about a timid Philadelphia dentist who, through a series of misadventures, becomes a hero of the Old West. Mr. Knotts, who looks rather like that fetus who goes floating towards earth in the last scene of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is not a very subtle comedian, but he is often a funny one, and I think I can understand why his movies (The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Reluctant Astronaut) have been so popular in the hinterlands. Mr. Knotts comes on gently, fearing the worst, which inevitably happens, and remains constantly optimistic in spite of every dreadful turn of events. He starts out simply as a sight gag, wearing his bowler hat and Eastern suit in the cross-country stage coach (“I’m in teeth,” he tells a fellow passenger), but he becomes a genuinely appealing personality as he battles Indians, a predatory female and one badman named Arnold the Kid. There is one fine scene in which he attempts to examine the teeth of a particularly buxom doll, drops his mirror down the front of her dress and says, when she finally asks him why he isn’t married: “Well, I’ve always thought . . . I was a little too thin for marriage.” It’s good, simple low comedy, directed by Alan Rafkin, and seeing it is like being transported back to a Saturday afternoon in a small-town movie house 30 years ago.’ — NY Times


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Nat Hiken The Love God? (1969)
‘The concept of The Love God? is as amusing as it is absurd: Don Knotts not only as an unwilling Hugh Heffner, but also as an unaware object of unbridled feminine lust. (If Don Knotts as sex symbol seems beyond the realm of possibility, consider that in 1969, his separated at birth twin was precisely that.) Knotts plays his usual nervous-nebbish-with-a-heart-of-gold character, and the movie plays out very similar to his more famous works, save for the suggestive nature of the material. And it is only suggestive; it’s about the cleanest film you could ever make about a dirty magazine. Part of the charm of the film is how it’s both strangely out of time and exactly of it’s time. You couldn’t have made a family movie about a dirty magazine too much earlier than 1969 because it would have been too risque to get greenlight by Hollywood. And you couldn’t have gotten it made too much latter, because the Sexual Revolution quickly become so sacred that no one in Hollywood would have been willing to make such ruthless fun of it, or have an ending that rejected it for the wholesome joys of marriage. One of the films funniest running gags are the “hip” fashion atrocities they foist onto our blithe protagonist, which obviously couldn’t have come from any era but the late 1960s. By contrast, the “swinging” signature song “Mr. Peacock” would have been considered too old-fashioned for the 1950s, much less the era of Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. Also, the characters are mostly stock types that could have appeared in most of Knotts’ other films. For a film that came out the same year as Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, it has all the edge of a bowling ball.’ — Futuramen


Trailer

 

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Alan Rafkin How to Frame a Figg (1971)
‘Parents need to know that How to Frame a Figg is a silly 1971 slapstick comedy starring Don Knotts that feels dated thanks to ridiculously large supercomputers and women as seductive administrative assistants. In one scene, Knotts drinks alcohol and acts comically drunk by slurring his speech, repeating words, and stumbling. An older character frequently refers to those around him as “poop heads.” A character makes a joke about “the pill.”‘ — Common Sense Media


Review: How to frame a Figg

 

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Norman Tokar The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)
‘In a lot of ways, though, The Apple Dumpling Gang is a throwback to the Disney productions of two or three years ago, a period of overwhelming banality in the studio’s history. More recently, Disney has given us some genuinely inventive entertainments, especially Escape to Witch Mountain and Island at the Top of the World. With The Apple Dumpling Gang, we’re back to assembly line plots about the adventure of squeaky-clean kids. Everytime I see one of these antiseptic Disney films, I’m reminded of the thrills and genuine artistry that went into the studio’s films during its golden age in the 1940s and 1950s. Is it just that I’ve grown older, or were the Disney classics really better than their contemporary stuff? Up at the Biograph last weekend, they revived Alice in Wonderland, with its disappearing Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter and all. And you know, even though it’s been years since I saw it, I remember it better than The Apple Dumpling Gang.’ — Roger Ebert


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Norman Tokar No Deposit, No Return (1976)
No Deposit, No Return is a 1976 comedy film directed by Norman Tokar. It was written by Arthur Alsberg and Don Nelson. It is the story of two children (Tracy and Jay) who hold themselves for ransom, reluctantly aided by an expert safecracker and his sidekick (Duke and Bert). Don Knotts said that one day, while he was filming scenes for this project in the San Francisco airport, a director approached him and said he would like to cast him in a dramatic film one day. Although it never happened, Knotts said he was flattered by the offer. The director was Sam Peckinpah.’ — The Disney Archives


Excerpt

 

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Vincent McEveety Gus (1976)
‘It’s another one of those Disney movies about animals who are almost human – and characters who are almost human, too. The lines, gags and situations have been used so often before that it’s as if the Disney people only have to plug in a fresh premise to have a new movie. The inspiration this time is a mule that can place-kick so well it’s signed by a pro football team. The mule comes from Europe and kicks with its shoes off, thus resembling several other pro place-kickers. If we’ve seen enough other Disney movies, we know already that the mule will have to have a trainer. That the trainer will fall in love with a girl. That the team’s owner will bluster and bluff. That there will be bad guys whose function is to kidnap the mule, get it drunk, or otherwise prevent it from playing in the Big Game. And that at the end the mule, trainer, girl, owner and team will triumph and the villains will be left chewing their mustaches.’ — Roger Ebert


Excerpt

 

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Vincent McEveety Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)
‘A typical corny Don Knotts movie. In this case, he plays the part of a bumbling thief who accidentally crosses paths with Herbie the car. Pretty funny! The Herbie Movies use to be cute and entertaining. Hopefully there will be no Remakes. They were Unique.’ — collaged


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Robert Butler Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978)
‘And that was Hot Lead and Cold Feet. The movie itself isn’t really good, but if you’re looking for a fun little Western that’ll make you laugh every now and then, this isn’t a bad choice. All scenes with Jasper and Mansfield are hilarious as well as all the scenes in the race itself. There are even scenes that I didn’t mention. For example, Don Knotts and Jack Elam also appear in this film playing the Sheriff and a guy he’s feuding with, respectively. Throughout the movie, they try to have a duel, but it always goes wrong and hilarity ensues.’ — My Live Action Disney Project


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Vincent McEveety The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979)
‘There’s more trouble afoot as The Apple Dumpling Gang (Don Knotts and Tim Conway) can’t stop causing trouble — and laughs — even when they give up their life of crime! First the ditsy duo is accused of bank robbery as they try to deposit a check. Then they join the U.S. Cavalry and wind up in the stockade for inadvertently blowing up their fort. Although they escape this mess, the witless team who could never shoot straight still can’t seem to succeed in going straight. It’s riotous, raucous fun as THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG RIDES AGAIN!’ — collaged


Excerpt

 

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Lang Elliott The Private Eyes (1980)
‘Now THIS is what I’m talking about. THIS is how you do a spoof. Unlike today, where “spoof” movies copy shots from popular movies and attempt to make a joke of them, this movie spoofs an entire genre by honoring it. Don Knotts and Tim Conway were a great comedy duo. Knotts was forever the straight man, and Conway is one of the great improvisational comedians the world has ever known. Here they play two bumbling detectives investigating the murders of a rich English couple. We get the usual motley collection of suspects, the creepy castle setting, secret passages, trap doors, and a mysterious, shadowy figure who may or may not be responsible for everything happening. Not only is the movie funny, but it also provides a genuine mystery. The setting is fantastic, the characters are interesting, and the two lead actors are at the top of their games.’ — RJ MacReady


Excerpt


Excerpt


Lengthy excerpt

 

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Hal Needham Cannonball Run II (1984)
‘Fans of Don Knotts, Jim Nabors, Sammy Davis Jr., car crashes and trained orangutans may want to celebrate the opening of Cannonball Run II today. For anyone else, it’s a mixed blessing at best. Directed in slam-bang style by Hal Needham, the film is an endless string of cameo performances from a cast whose funny participants are badly outnumbered and whose television roots are unmistakable. When Doug McClure turns up as the blond-haired slave of an Arab sheik, explaining that he’s an actor and he hasn’t had a series job in seven years, the movie is as clever as it’s going to get. The fact that Cannonball Run II isn’t much good may not prevent it from becoming this summer’s best- loved lowest-common-denominator comedy, if only because of the utter absence of any competition.’ — Janet Maslin


Excerpt

 

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Steve Miner Big Bully (1996)
‘Much to my surprise, I was actually finding this to be an amusing film for the first hour or so. I laughed more than a few times, and there was a touch of humanity that seemed to fit rather well. Then, for no good reason, the writers tacked on a pathetic ending that left a bitter taste in my mouth. I would even say that this was a good movie for the most part, but the STUPID showdown at the end killed all credibility that had been created. How aggravating.’ — Tito-8


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Gary Ross Pleasantville (1998)
‘In the twilight of the 20th century, here is a comedy to reassure us that there is hope–that the world we see around us represents progress, not decay. Pleasantville, which is one of the year’s best and most original films, sneaks up on us. It begins by kidding those old black-and-white sitcoms like “Father Knows Best,” it continues by pretending to be a sitcom itself, and it ends as a social commentary of surprising power. Pleasantville is the kind of parable that encourages us to re-evaluate the good old days and take a fresh look at the new world we so easily dismiss as decadent. Yes, we have more problems. But also more solutions, more opportunities and more freedom. I grew up in the ’50s. It was a lot more like the world of Pleasantville than you might imagine. Yes, my house had a picket fence, and dinner was always on the table at a quarter to six, but things were wrong that I didn’t even know the words for. There is a scene in this movie where it rains for the first time. Of course it never rained in 1950s sitcoms. Pleasantville’s people in color go outside and just stand in it.’ — Roger Ebert


Trailer

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. Greetings from Port-de-Bouc, a seaside town about a hour’s train ride west of Marseilles, where Zac and I showed PGL last night. Today we’re headed for Marseilles itself. As for you, I thought I would break up the blog’s sort of generally serioso outlay by restoring Don Knotts Day. There you go. The blog’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll see you on Saturday.

4 Comments

  1. Well, finally saw ‘PGL’. Breathless. Such a Genius Masterpiece. Just LOVE it. Most definitely among my Greatest Films of the XXI Century and my Favorites Films of all Time. Masterfully and Superbly Written, Directed, Photographed, Acted. A complete and total Tour De Force if there ever was one. And that Production Design and choice of locations!!!… Fuck me… And, on top of everything else; in a day and age where almost ALL movies are the fucking same, here’s a Film that’s *NOTHING* like I’ve ever seen before in my life.

    so…

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    and

    THANK YOU!!!

    Good day; good luck,

    a.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Armondo.

    Don Knotts was such a delightful character. Tim Conway passed away yesterday

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