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It Takes Don Knotts to Overturn a Dental Cliché

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Unlike courageous cops and snakelike lawyers, dentists are rarely portrayed on the silver screen: Their work isn’t fun, and they ply their trade inside the dirtiest place on humans — the mouth. When these root-canal repairmen are depicted, they’re usually seen as quackish. (Is it any wonder they have one of the highest suicide rates among professions?)

Look no further than 1924’s Greed , in which a failed miner trades in his pitchfork for a dentist’s drill to turn a quick buck. Or The Dark Command , which stars John Wayne as an unconventional dental assistant who finds that the easiest way to extract teeth is with the most common tool of them all: His fists.

In Marathon Man , Laurence Olivier famously played a Nazi war criminal whose unholy explorations in Dustin Hoffman’s mouth left audiences clenching their jaws. The trauma continued in Steve Martin’s uproarious role as the sadistic Dr. Scrivello, in Little Shop of Horrors , whose “talent for causing pain” is famous at dental school. (Martin would accept patients again in 2001’s Novocaine.)

One of the rare good-natured portrayals of the profession is in The Shakiest Gun in the West. Don Knotts plays a naïve but selfless fellow who wants to bring updated drilling techniques to the Wild West. Let’s just say the Lone Rangers he services aren’t too thrilled.

Click here to view a full schedule of The Shakiest Gun in the West on AMC.

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