- Directed by Alan Rafkin
- July 10, 1968
A Philadelphia dentist heads into the American West to practice his craft but instead becomes embroiled in an effort to stop illegal guns being smuggled to renegade Native Americans.
Don Knotts was the Leslie Nielsen of comedy before there was a Leslie Nielsen in comedy. Why do I say that? Both men were comedians that relied largely on the visual aspect of their performances for their comedy. Both had some of the most rubbery and expressive faces in the business. Even if you only saw just Mr. Furley or Barney Fife, you know exactly how expressive Knotts’s face could be for comedic purposes.
As the bumbling dentist Dr. Jesse W. Heywood, Don Knotts is a mama’s boy that feels he’s been a lifelong loser. Going to the West is his chance to change that. No matter who or what he played, Knotts could get you to cheer for his character and you feel for his dentist here. He is just not sure of himself. Knotts makes for a charming bumbler.
Heywood’s life intersects with reformed stagecoach robber Penelope ‘Bad Penny’ Cushings (Barbara Rhoades) who is clearly out of his league. She uses her looks and charm to trick Heywood into a sham marriage so she can complete the deal with the government that got her a pardon. The two actors’ chemistry is good and when Penelope starts taking a shine to Heywood you actually buy it despite as I said before this woman being out of Heywood’s league.
I especially enjoyed the scene when Heywood is trying to buy his wagon to continue his trip West. It’s a classic bit of confusing comedy featuring Carl Ballantine as Abel Swanson who tosses a lot of information at Heywood. The ones that work best are where the audience gets confused as well bringing them into the scene and that happens here. Fun fact: in this scene there is a young Pat Morita as Swanson’s assistant Wong.
This may have been a rip-roaring laugh fest back in the day but now it’s just very family friendly. There are plenty of jokes that still land and land well though. You’re not just going to smile but you will laugh during the course of the story. Don Knotts was a bankable comedy name back in the day and is in very fine form here.
The dialogue in The Shakiest Gun in the West is snappy and all the performances are good. Nobody really phones it in. You’re not going to be saying to yourself someone is bad or not even trying.
I wish the element of Heywood being confused with a competent shootist was extended out a little bit as well as a little more effort done in building a romance between Heywood and Penny. The romance occurred rather abruptly and needed a little more padding. Both occurred far too quickly and with little impact on things yet both had a great deal of potential.
The Shakiest Gun in the West may not be the greatest Western comedy (it’s certainly no Blazing Saddles) but it is entertaining with competent performances and a good script. I will strongly recommend it just because it’s a fun Western and it stars one of the great comedic character actors.