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Francis in the Haunted House

Francis in the Haunted House(1956)


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On a gloomy night outside the old MacLeod castle, Francis, a talking mule, witnesses the castle's curator, Mr. Jason, and handyman Hugo murder lawyer Roger Andrews, who is on his way to discuss the late MacLeod's will with his daughter and inheritor, Lorna. Francis then learns that David Prescott, who as a child on his uncle's farm called Francis "Sarah" but treated him kindly, has recently been hired by Mayor Hargrove to end a feud between the MacLeods and the townspeople, and visits Dave at a party to warn him to keep out of the increasingly dangerous MacLeod affair. Although the bumbling Dave is at first dumbfounded to learn that "Sarah" can speak, he immediately trusts the mule and races to inform police chief Martin. The police take Dave to the site of the murder, the road leading up to the castle, where Dave ignores Francis' counsel and reveals more details about the killing. As Dave cannot reveal that his source is a talking mule, he is, as Francis had feared, arrested on suspicion of committing the murder himself. Although Martin and his lieutenant, Hopkins, search the castle, they find nothing, and while housekeeper Mrs. MacPherson blames MacLeod's ghost, Lorna's guardian, Neil Frazer, accuses Dave of concocting stories to frighten Lorna away from the castle, the ownership of which will be transferred to the town if she does not stay there for six months. That night, Martin receives a telegram warning him that Andrews' legal partner, Edward Ryan, is heading for the castle with the will and is in grave danger. Martin questions Dave, who recognizes that the telegram's sender┬┐"Sarah"┬┐is Francis, and together they go to the castle, where they find Ryan in good health. On their way to town, they are stopped by Francis, who secretly blocks the road with a log and then acts like MacLeod's ghost to frighten them back to the castle. There, two masked figures are attacking Ryan, and while the police try to break into the room, Dave finds a secret passage. Unfortunately, the police burst in just after the attackers abduct Ryan and place a gun in Dave's hand, and once again Dave is arrested for murder. Although he reveals the truth about Francis, no one believes him until the mule visits District Attorney Reynolds and launches into a friendly chat, replete with legal expertise, that leaves the official convinced he is suffering a mental breakdown. Reynolds releases Dave, who races to Lorna to proclaim his innocence and is rewarded with a kiss. Seeing something in the trees outside, Dave investigates, only to find Francis, wet and chilled from searching the moat for clues. Together they explore a secret tunnel under the moat and come upon a storeroom filled with paintings that Francis identifies as forgeries. Realizing that art fraud is being perpetrated, Dave jumps in his car to inform Reynolds, but is attacked by Jason, who is hiding in the back seat. Dave overwhelms Jason and drives him to the police, but by the time the officers collect the curator from the car, he has been stabbed, and they arrest Dave for his murder. Despite a battery of tests performed by top criminologists, the police cannot break Dave's story about the talking mule. Hargrove begs Dave to save the administration's reputation by confessing, and Dave convinces him to visit Francis. Escorted by a battalion of policemen, they go to Francis' barn, but the ailing mule has developed laryngitis, and Dave's only hope is to escape on Francis' back. Reynolds reluctantly allows Dave and Francis to hide in his garage, while at the same time the police investigate yet another missing attorney from Andrews' firm, Howard Grisby. Trying to tip off Dave to the real killer, Francis pantomimes the name Neil Frazer, and Dave immediately races to the castle to protect Lorna. He sneaks in just as Frazer is brandishing a gun at Lorna, but after Dave steals it away and hands it to Lorna, she turns it on him, revealing she is in cahoots with Frazer. Dave stumbles through the hallways, now chased by the police, who have just arrived, and Hugo and Malcolm, another of Frazer's henchmen. Hugo captures Dave and drops him into the castle dungeon, where he meets fellow prisoners Ryan, Grisby and the real Lorna MacLeod. She explains that Frazer hired an actress to play her in order to win her fortune, and is now killing off the lawyers, the only ones who know what the real Lorna looks like. Soon after, Frazer hatches a plan to disguise himself as MacLeod's ghost, who appears as a knight on a horse, lure the police to shoot at him, and leave behind Dave's murdered body, in order to convince the police that they have shot Dave. As Hugo and Malcolm knock out Dave and dress him in armor, however, Francis kicks them both out of the way and urges Dave onto his back. In the courtyard, Frazer challenges them to a joust that ends when each rider is knocked unconscious. The police then arrive, discover the dungeon and arrest Frazer. By nightfall, the real Lorna has renamed the castle the Prescott Museum, and as she kisses Dave in thanks, Francis finally speaks to an astonished Martin and Hargrove.