Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Shakiest Gun in the West Review

The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968)
Dir. Alan Rafkin
Starring: Don Knotts, Barbara Rhoades

Don Knotts stars as Jessie Heywood, who decides to relocate to the west to practice dentistry. Once there, he unwittingly gets used by Penelope “Bad Penny” Cushings (Barbara Rhoades), a bandit that is being used by the government to find some gun runners that have been selling weapons to some Indians.

This film is a remake of the earlier Bob Hope/Jane Russell film The Paleface, (slightly) reworked to accommodate the comedic stylings of Don Knotts. The plot is pretty threadbare, existing only to movie to provide reasons for comedy. Woman bandit gets recruited by Feds to find gun runners that are selling to Indians, but she needs a husband to travel on the wagon train. But that doesn’t matter too much because the comedy works. Don Knotts was a great comedic actor, always knowing how to use his amazing facial expressions to add to scenes. A good but of the humor in the film comes from him trying to look cool/tough and failing. Uses the “fires gun while holstering it” bit from the Andy Griffith Show. He even reuses the “fires gun while holstering it” bit that was frequently used on the Andy Griffith Show. The best thing about the movie is the female lead, Penelope “Bad Penny” Cushings played by Barbara Rhoades. Her character is a confident, independent woman that is the most proactive character in the film, which is very progressive for the time. There are two scenes where her shooting skills saves Heywood from danger, and she is the character that primarily moves the plot forward. I’d recommend watching the movie for her alone, she gives a great performance, and she has a lot of good chemistry with Don Knotts.  

Alan Rafkin was predominantly a television director, having previously worked on 27 episodes of The Andy Griffith show and the earlier Knotts film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Visualy the movie feels flat but the comedy scenes work. The scene at the General store with the wagon is good, as is the scene later in the film where the two villains are talking and throwing about a bunch of humorous Indian names. There’s a bit where Heywood is wander through the desert that is a typical oasis/mirage gag, and it leads exactly where you expect it to lead but the scene still works, primarily due to Knotts.

The most troubling thing about the movie it is full of some very cartoony, characters are stereotypes. Indians feel like they were pulled out of a Warner Brothers cartoon, which while funny feels a bit wrong. The most impressive that Pat Morita plays the Asian character rather than a white actor in yellowface. But really there isn’t anything in the movie that feels like it would be too offensive to anyone.

This is a good comedic western, with some predictable gags that work due to the abilities of Don Knotts. It’s a good movie to show to kids, similar The Apple Dumpling Gang films and Hot Lead and Cold Feet, the family geared westerns Knotts would end up making for Disney in later years. Enjoying the movie depends on how you feel about Don Knotts. I do like him, so I enjoyed the movie, but if you hate him this movie isn’t going to do anything to change your mind about him. But if you do like him then this is a fun way to spend an hour and a half.

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