The year is 1878, and the location is
BART: You hit me in the head with a cork? (Kid nods “yes”) It was a mistake, wasn’t it? (Kid nods “no”) You deliberately did it? (Kid nods “yes”) Mister, did you come in here to commit suicide?
KID: Talker? (Looking around) This is a town of talkers…men carry guns and they talk…
BART: Stranger—do you know who I am?
KID: I hear you’re a pretty fast gun…
BART: That’s right…
KID: Prove it!
BART: Mister—are you actually lookin’ for a fight with me?
KID: Lookin’…but not findin’ one…
BART: You found your fight, stranger… (Backing away and preparing to draw) I never refuse any man a fair fight…
KID: Fair fight?
BART: That’s right…
KID: Okay…if you insist upon a fair fight… (The Kid removes his pistols from their holster and lays both of them on the bar. He then takes several paces back from where they lay, then claps his hands) Draw!
BART: Draw? Look where your guns are!
KID (Looking around in every direction) What does he want from me? All right… (The Kid then takes off his eyeglasses and sets them on the bar as well) That oughta even it up… (To a bystander) Will you point me toward my guns?
BART (to the crowd): Who is this guy?
MAYOR: How does it feel, Bart? To finally meet a man who isn’t afraid of you?
BART: Afraid of this joker? All right…put on your glasses and get your guns…we’re startin’ even…
KID (feeling around for his eyeglasses and guns) All right—you heard him…I gave him his chance; you’re all my witnesses… (Puts guns back in holsters) I want your signed statements right after the autopsy… (Claps hands again) Draw! (Clicks his fingers) Start countin’…
BART: One… (The Kid reaches over the bar and grabs a hard-boiled egg, then taps it on the bar) Two…you crazy—what are you doin’?
KID: What am I doin’? I’m eatin’ an egg, that’s what I’m doin’…
BART: I’m countin’! We start shootin’ on three!
KID: You’re only up to two, aren’t ya?
KID: Plenty of time…Bartender! Salt! (The bartender—on the floor, behind the counter—hands him a salt shaker)
BART: He’s got plenty…who is this guy?
BLAKE: Yeah, what’s the matter?
BART (helplessly watching The Kid devour his egg) All right, stranger…you ready to die?
KID (he throws away the remains of the egg and shaker, wipes his mouth, and claps his hands): Count!
BART: One! (music sting) Two! (music sting)
(But before Bart can reach three, the Kid holds up his hands and pleads for his life)
KID: Don’t shoot! (Running to embrace Bart) Don’t shoot, I was only fooling, Mr. Bart!
BART (throwing him off): Stand up and go for your guns, you yellow dog!
KID: No! No! I like ya…I can’t…it was his eyes …I like ya!
The Kid faints dead away after Bart shoots off his pistol in the bar to shut him up, and that’s when saloon owner and gang boss Nick Nolan (Bruce Cabot), picking up the Kid’s hat, discovers the stranger’s identity: The Silver Dollar Kid, “the yellowest man in the West.” The outlaws in town soon skitter away from the Kid like roaches once the kitchen light has been turned on—they know that any man who guns down the Kid will see his reputation suffer for the rest of their days on Earth.
Up in the boudoir of dance hall girl Kathy McQueen (Jean Willes), The Kid fesses up to his cowardice after first trying to put on a brave front:
KATHY: Now listen to me…I’m a dance hall girl, I drink with strange men, I smoke…but you get one thing straight—I’m not the kind of a woman you think I am…
KID: You’re not?
KID: Nothin’s gone right for me today!
KATHY: No, and you didn’t too well with Black Bart, either…
KID: Oh…you saw the fight?
KATHY: I was the woman you hid behind…
KATHY: You didn’t answer my question—what’s wrong?
KID: What’s wrong with me? (Puddling up) I’m yellow…that’s what’s wrong with me! I’m a coward, I’m yellow… (He sprawls out on the bed and begins to kick furiously) I’m the yellowest man in the west…yellow…yellow...
KATHY (sympathetic) Oh, now, now…Silver Dollar Kid…
KID: You know what? That’s not even my real name…I’m just plain little ol’ Fletcher Bissell the third of
KID: Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of the Bissell family…the famous yellow-bellied Bissells? Four hundred years of straight cowardice without a single break…that’s why I came out West to prove that at least one Bissell could be brave…
KATHY: You mean not one Bissell has ever been brave?
KID: And my father? Bull Bissell? He was a general in the Civil War!
KATHY: Bull Bissell? What did he do?
KID: What did he do? The only battle he was in, they named after him…
The Mayor and
KID: All right,
(Ike walks back over to where Nolan and the rest of the gang are standing at the bar)
IKE: I can’t do it!
NOLAN: It’s your turn, you gotta do it!
IKE: Look, Nolan—I’ve got a reputation to protect…I killed thirty-two men by givin’ every one of them a fair draw…he won’t draw his guns and you know it…
NOLAN: Sure he will...he’s all steamed up about being sheriff…just provoke him, he’ll draw…come on…
(Ike walks back over to The Kid)
IKE: Hello, Sheriff…
KID: Sheriff, sheriff! I’m just plain Fletch…you call me Fletch…
IKE: I’m callin’ you a yellow dog…a dirty, crawlin’ skunk—that’s what I’m callin’ you!
KID: Now see here,
IKE: I ain’t takin’ none of it back!
KID: All right! You asked for this…you’re out of the Glee Club!
With the town becoming more and more respectable by the minute, the bad guys realize they have to resort to desperate measures to rid themselves of the Kid…so Bart comes up with an idea: find an individual who’s even more of a coward than “Fletch.” The answer comes in the form of “Chicken” Finsterwald (“He shot an eighty-four year old woman…in the back…”), played by Silvers’ “special guest star,” Jack Benny.
I realize that I’m a ready-made audience for “The Slowest Gun in the West,” simply because I revere both Phil Silvers and Jack Benny, and also because I believe that Nat Hiken was one of the best comedy writers ever (a man who’s got both The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where are You?—not to mention the Fred Allen and Milton Berle radio shows—on his resume clearly wasn’t phoning it in). It’s well-written, well cast (many of the western “heavies” like