Monday, February 17, 2014

Otis on Four Wheels

"I never realized when I was elected county sheriff that the main requirement for this high office was to be read up on Grimms' Fairy Tales."

Andy (Andy Griffith)

As town drunks go, Otis (Hal Smith) on the Andy Griffith Show wasn't bad. He was usually pretty good–natured. He didn't seem to be abusive or despondent. He was almost childlike, hardly a threatening presence.

But on this night 50 years ago, he represented a genuine threat to the well–being of every citizen in Mayberry. For it was in the episode that aired on this night in 1964 that Otis appeared to be on the verge of buying a car.

Andy and Barney (Don Knotts) had no idea what Otis planned to do, only that he was going to buy something he had had his heart set on for a long time. It was so important to him that he asked Andy and Barney to wake him up at 8 a.m. the next day.

After waking Otis at the appointed time and seeing him off, Andy and Barney speculated about what Otis had in mind — right up to the time that Otis drove up to the courthouse and honked the horn to get their attention.

Andy demanded to know if Otis had a driver's license.

"Oh, sure," he replied. "I've had one for years. Just never had a car before to use it on."

Barney was aghast.

"It's bad enough having a plain old town drunk," he told Andy, "but now we got a mechanized one. ... As of this minute, we are living in a disaster area!"

Barney tried to take steps to prevent that disaster by giving Otis a driver's test, but that didn't work, and Andy told Otis he could leave.

"Send a man out there with a deadly weapon," Barney said. "See if I care."

Andy told Barney he could follow Otis around during his first weekend on wheels if it would make him feel better, and Barney jumped at the chance.

"He won't even see me," Barney assured Andy. "I'm an old hand at stakeouts. I'll just melt into the shadows, and he won't have the faintest notion I'm within 100 miles."

Well, that isn't exactly the way it was, but Barney did find Otis passed out drunk on (not in) his car, which he believed validated his concerns.

When Barney asked if Andy could imagine what would have happened if Otis had managed to get behind the wheel, Andy suggested that there might be a way to make that work in their favor.

They took the unconscious Otis back to the courthouse, put him in his cell and pretended that he had been killed in a car accident. The idea was to scare him into giving up driving.

"If only he hadn't tried to drive in that condition," lamented Andy. Otis tried to get their attention, but Andy and Barney both acted as if he wasn't there.

It turned out that Otis had sold his car before taking his first drink. He didn't even have the keys. He regarded the whole thing as a "nutty nightmare" and confided that "I have 'em all the time."

The episode was noteworthy in the series for the fact that only three people — Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Hal Smith — had speaking lines in it.

Beyond that, it was a clever, funny and — dare I say it? — sweet entry in the annals of the Andy Griffith Show.

It showed the lengths to which some people will go to protect their friends. Well, the supposed lengths. To be honest, I'm not convinced that there were any people then who would go to such lengths, and I am even less convinced that there are people like that today.

But there were people like that in the Mayberry universe.