Friday, July 25, 2014


It's funny what you remember about certain films. Take THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST (1968) for instance.

In 1965 both my father and his mother (my paternal grandmother) passed away. This left my Grampa Campbell alone in Austin. He was originally from Euclid, Ohio and while he and my grandmother had lived in Austin for many years and had many good friends through their church, he was nonetheless a recent widower and a man who had lost his second son (my father's adopted brother was killed in WWII). My father's sister, Mary Lou, and her family lived in far off Rainelle, West Virginia. Shortly after the deaths of my father and grandmother, Grampa Campbell sold his house and moved in with my us. He didn't stay very long (he eventually moved to West Virginia to live with Aunt Lou and Uncle Dan) and I don't remember a lot of specific things about his stay except for this one thing that has stayed with me forever.

It seems that Grampa had a lady friend of sorts. I don't recall the woman's name but I believe she lived in the Rebbeca Baines Johnson Retirement Center on Town Lake in downtown Austin. One afternoon, Grampa rode the bus downtown, picked up his "date" and then the two of them rode the bus over to either the Paramount or State Theater to see a matinee movie. The movie was THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST, starring Don Knotts. I remember him telling me about it when he got home that evening. He said it was silly (he was right) but I suspect he had a good time at the picture show. Funny thing, I never got around to seeing SHAKIEST GUN on first release, even though I was a big fan of Don Knotts.

I've seen the film a couple of times now in the years since and every time I watch it, I can't help but think about my grandfather seeing this picture with his "lady friend". That memory always makes me smile and it makes me like the film that much more.

SHAKIEST GUN is one of five films that Knotts made at Universal Studios after his departure from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. The films were THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966), THE RELUCTANT ASTRONAUT (1967), THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST (1968), THE LOVE GOD? (1969) and HOW TO FRAME A FIGG (1971). I have the first four films on DVD in a Don Knotts collection box set and Judy and I have watched them all at least once.

We watched SHAKIEST GUN again the other evening with our house guest Holly. Knotts plays a dentist from Philadelphia out to make his way in the wild west. He runs across the oh-so-lovely Barbara Rhoades, a ex-outlaw who is now working for the U.S. government to discover who is selling rifles to the native Americans. There are plenty of sight gags and slapstick humor along with some pretty good one-liners. The supporting cast is peppered with veteran television and movie bit players like Dub Taylor, Hope Summers, Jackie Coogan, William Christopher, Pat Morita and Carl Ballantine. The film cost a million dollars to produce and was shot in less than a month on the back lot of Universal Studios and some California locations.

It's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. But I have always liked watching Knotts do his stuff. He's one of my favorite comic actors and he was very good at what he did. Silly? Yes, my grampa and I both agree on this but it's a fun little movie that holds a special place in my heart.

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