The Shakiest Gun in the West

the shakiest gun in the west


Jesse W. Haywood graduates from dental school in Philadelphia in 1870 and goes west to become a frontier dentist. As a “city slicker”, he finds himself bungling in a new environment.

On his way west, the stagecoach is held up and robbed by two masked bandits. A posse catches one of them, Penelope “Bad Penny” Cushing.

Facing prison, Penelope is offered a pardon if she will track down a ring of gun smugglers that also involves a local Indian tribe. She tricks Haywood into a sham marriage as a disguise.

Haywood inadvertently becomes the legendary “Doc the Heywood” after he guns down “Arnold the Kid” and performs other exploits (all with covert assistance from Penny).


Someone asked me one day if Don Knotts was attached to the hip of Andy Griffith because it seems like he was never in anything without him. Well, that’s not true. There was his stint on Three’s Company, The Incredible Mr. Limpett, and a slew of films, including The Shakiest Gun in the West. Can Knotts carry a film on his own, though?

What is this about?

Don Knotts steps in to play bumbling dentist Jesse Heywood, a role made famous by Bob Hope in the original version of the movie. On his way West, Jesse encounters the alluring Penny, who helps him fight off attackers with her superior shooting skills. Only trouble is, Jesse thinks his own gun fired off the rounds that scared the bandits. But in no time, he discovers that although he’s a mite cowardly, he really is a gunslinger at heart.

What did I like?

Light and fun. Most of the films I’ve watched of late have been a bit on the dark side, if you will, so it was great to get back lighter faire. Unlike most of today’s society, I actually like to not want to feel like jumping off a building when I finish watching a movie. Thank goodness this film doesn’t go anywhere near the dark side and is just a fun romp.

Knotts landing. I’ve long been a fan of Don Knotts. Even in small cameo roles like he has in No Time for Sergeants the guy is hilarious. Give him a full-length film to star in and he really shines, which answers the question of whether he can do anything without Andy Griffith (may they both R.I.P.)

Family friendly. Think for a moment about how many westerns are really family friendly. There are some out there, but I can’t think of them, at least the ones that are worth watching. I’m not a family man, but I didn’t see anything in here that would be iffy for a family movie night, unless you have issues with Barbara Rhoades’ cleavage in a couple of scenes, which is really a stretch, if you ask me.

What didn’t I like?

Remake. *SIGH* Nowadays, it seems that Hollywood just remakes films just because they can. As it turns out, this is not a new practice, as this is actually a remake of the Bob Hope western comedy The Paleface. Why did they remake it and was it an improvement? I have no idea and no, but it does do something no remake that I have seen has been able to do and that is create its own identity.

Dentistry. For a film about a guy who just became a dentist, there sure is a lack of dentistry to be found. Yes, there is the opening segment where Knotts is taking his dentistry school final, but other than that, it is like he totally loses his dentist identity more and more and the film moves along. I can’t help but wonder why they took that away from him after working so hard to establish it in the beginning.

With a title like The Shakiest Gun in the West, one would expect to see typical nervous Don Knotts almost re-creating Deputy Barney Fife. At least that is what I was expecting. Does that mean this isn’t a good vehicle for him? By all means, no! I actually highly recommend this film. It turns out that it is one of those films that is sure to bring a smile to your face, so give it a shot!

4 out of 5 stars


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