A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Shakiest Gun in the West is as much a parody of Western movies as it is an opportunity for Don Knotts to engage in slapstick buffoonery. As a comedic and slapstick take on the Western, the biggest concern is the amount of drinking going on. In the saloons, characters down shots; in a fit of despair, Knotts' character gets drunk and laments his fate, slurring his speech and falling over. During a celebration, Native Americans are shown passing a whiskey bottle around and drinking to excess. While perhaps this is to be expected -- after all, a western without whiskey would be like a third grade little league game without Capri Sun -- the comical intoxication may be a bit much for families hoping to avoid explaining such behavior to younger kids.
What's the story?
It is the year 1870, and Jesse W. Haywood (Don Knotts) has just graduated from a dental school in Philadelphia. He plans to move west, to tame wild teeth and spread positive dental hygiene. But along the way, he meets a cattle rustler and stagecoach robber named Penny (Barbara Rhodes) who has just cut a deal with the feds to break up a gun-smuggling operation between two con artists posing as ministers and Native Americans. Penny pretends to fall in love with Jesse, using him as a way to get to the West, and along the way, Jesse does battle with Native Americans and appears to be the one defending the caravan of wagons when it's Penny all along. Bolstered by what he believes is his sharpshooting, and heralded as a hero by those around him, Jesse starts to act the cowboy, until he crosses paths with one Arnold the Kid, who challenges him to a shootout. With Penny's help again, Jesse wins, but when Penny is taken prisoner by the very Native Americans she's committed to stopping, it is up to Jesse to show he has the courage on his own to rescue her.
Is it any good?
THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST is the kind of campy-fun movie they stopped making in the late 1960s or thereabouts. Not a great film by conventional standards, but as mindless entertainment for its own sake, it isn't bad. Don Knotts takes his Barney Fife character from The Andy Griffith Show -- replete with gun misfirings and nervous twitchings at the signs of any danger -- and applies it to this spoof of Westerns. Slapstick, pratfalls, and wonton silliness abounds.
Made in 1968 (and a remake of a 1948 Bob Hope film called The Paleface), not all the humor will resonate with kids, over 40 years later. The excessive drinking and Native American stereotyping should call into question the idea that "movies were way more wholesome than they are today," but for those who find humor in clumsiness and gun misfirings, The Shakiest Gun in the West is an enjoyable send-up of Western movie conventions.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what a parody is. What is this movie making fun of? What elements of a traditional western does it recreate and what does it exaggerate?
As the "hero," how is Don Knotts' character much different from the "strong, silent type" who typically personifies the hero of a Western movie?
How is the "heroine" of the movie different than most women in Western movies?
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