The Incredible Mr Limpet (1964) poster

The Incredible Mr Limpet (1964)


USA. 1964.


Director – Arthur Lubin, Screenplay – Jameson Brewer & John C. Rose, Adaptation – Joe di Mona, Based on the Novel by Theodore Pratt, Producer – John C. Rose, Photography – Harold Stine, Music – Frank Perkins, Animation Supervisor – Vladimir Tytla, Art Direction – LeRoy Deane. Production Company – Warner Brothers.


Don Knotts (Henry Limpet), Carole Cook (Bessie Limpet), Jack Weston (George Stickel), Andrew Duggan (General Harlick)


Downtrodden clerk Henry Limpet is obsessed with fish, he believing that as man once evolved from the fish so shall he one day so return to the oceans. He becomes unhappy after his wife orders him to remove all his fish from the house. While on a seaside picnic, he falls off a pier into the ocean. Under the water, he suddenly devolves back into a porpoise. He finds that he has now developed a powerful roar and is able to use it to fulfill his wish of becoming a hero by helping the Allied warships destroy German U-boats.

The Incredible Mr Limpet was a film vehicle for Don Knotts (1924-2006), a popular comic of the era. Knotts emerged out of stand-up in the early era of live television and then made the move to drama. He endeared himself to audiences with his continuing role as Deputy Barney Fife on the popular The Andy Griffith Show (1960-8) where he honed the role of the hapless, elastic-faced klutz. During this time, Knotts also made various tentative steps out onto the big-screen with the likes of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968) and this, most of which proved to be box-office flops. Knott’s nervous screen presence failed to endear itself to audiences and in the 1970s and beyond Knotts retired into the twilight hinterlands of supporting parts in various tv sitcoms and Disney live-action comedies.

The Incredible Mr Limpet is a very silly film. The premise – man devolves into a porpoise – usually leaves people scratching their heads. The film comes filled with all manner of patriotic nonsense but it is not without a certain charm. Once Don Knotts attains his fishy state and the film goes underwater, it becomes animated.

Don Knotts and his animated porpoise self in The Incredible Mr Limpet (1964)
Don Knotts as Mr Limpet and his animated porpoise self

The appeal in the these scenes comes in the fine intermingling of animation and live-action, a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). The use of real cruisers and U-boats, whether stock or documentary footage or model, is made to blend in exceptionally well. Knotts works with an amiable hangdog expression and the film proves quite genial, indeed is the only one of Don Knotts’s screen outings that is in any way likable.

In recent years the idea of a remake featuring Jim Carrey was briefly floated, although nothing has ever emerged of this.

Arthur Lubin was a prolific director who made some 70s films between the 1930s and 1950s. His other films of genre note include:- the transplanted brain film Black Friday (1940); the Abbott and Costello film Hold That Ghost (1941); the Claude Rains Phantom of the Opera (1943); Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944); the fantasy Night in Paradise (1946); the talking mule film Francis (1950) and sequels Francis Goes to the Races (1951), Francis Goes to West Point (1952), Francis Covers the Big Town (1953), Francis Joins the WACS (1954), Francis in the Navy (1955) and Francis in the Haunted House (1956); the comedy It Grows on Trees (1952) about trees that grow money; and The Thief of Bagdad (1961).

Trailer here

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