Francis the Talking Mule was a mule celebrity, featured in seven movie comedies in the 1950s. The character originated in a novel by writer David Stern, and Universal Studios bought the rights for a film series, with Stern adapting his own script for the first entry, simply titled Francis.
The book and series focused on the exploits of Francis, an experienced Army mule, and Peter Stirling, the young soldier whom he befriends (and stays with through civilian life and then back into the military). In the original 1950 film, the mule identifies himself to the commanding general as “Francis…123rd Mule Detachment…[serial number] M52519.” Donald O’Connor received top billing as Peter, but the true star was undoubtedly Francis. With a plot device like the later series Mister Ed, Francis would usually only talk to Peter, thus causing problems for his nominal “master.” The first six movies were directed by Universal comedy veteran Arthur Lubin, previously known for helming Abbott and Costello vehicles, who would go on to produce and direct Mister Ed for television.
As the titles indicated, each film had a different setting or gimmick, exposing the world-wise mule and the naive GI to race track excitement, the world of journalism, and many branches of the military, from West Point to the WACs to the Navy. The basic plots were fairly similar, however. Stirling, with the sage but sardonic advice of Francis (gleaned from overhearing generals plan strategy or from discussions with other equines), would triumph over his own incompetence. However, inevitably, he would be forced to reveal that his advisor was a mule, and be subject to mental analysis (sometimes more than once per movie!) until the grand reveal, when Francis displayed his talent (usually either to individuals, or to a large group). The astonishing existence of a talking mule was conveniently forgotten by the next movie, however.