Another release, and it’s another half season of that iconic western, Gunsmoke. Among the 20 episodes found on 3 discs you’ll find Claustraphobia. Dillon has to arrest his old friend Ollie who kills a man because he killed Ollie’s hogs. In Ma Tennis, you’ll meet the ultimate Mama’s boy. When a man ends up in Dillon’s jail, his mother breaks him out. In Sunday Supplement, a couple of newspaper writers come to Dillon looking for a juicy story, even if they have to instigate one themselves. In Texas Cowboys, Dillon closes up all of the shops in town until they are willing to tell him who committed a murder. A woman comes to Dodge wanting Matt to kill her in Amy’s Good Deed. In Hanging Man, there’s a vigilante out there killing folks and making it look like suicide. Dillon’s got a serial killer on his hands now. Chester is nearly killed in a break out attempt in Chester’s Hanging. Finally, in The Gentlemen, Dillon gets caught up trying to keep the peace with a torrid love triangle brewing in Dodge.
The setting for Gunsmoke was the by now famous Dodge City, circa 1870’s. Phrases like “get out of Dodge” would enter the popular lexicon as a result of this resilient series. Marshall Dillon (Arness) was charged with keeping the peace in Dodge City. The only other character to see the entire 20 year run was kindly Doc Adams (Stone). Star Trek’s own Doc, Leonard McCoy, took many of his traits from Doc Adams. He was the humanitarian of the city, always looking to help someone. Like McCoy, he had a taste for bourbon and a soft heart underneath a rather gruff exterior and was always ready with free advice. Dillon’s love interest throughout most of the series was Miss Kitty Russell (Blake). While there were certainly a few romantic undercurrents, the romance never came to fruition. Miss Kitty was a prostitute on the radio and was likely one here as well, but CBS chose to underplay that aspect of her character as a “saloon girl”. Finally Dillon’s faithful sidekick deputy was Chester (Weaver). Chester often found himself in trouble and was the naïve son figure to Dillon.
Gunsmoke is the longest running scripted live action television show in history. The series ran from 1955 to 1975. At first it was a half hour black and white show that evolved into a color hour by 1967. It actually started before the days of television, premiering on radio in 1952. Then it was William Conrad as the tough as nails Marshall Matt Dillon. When television came into its own, Gunsmoke made the jump to the bright living room box and made history. Westerns would ride across our small square screens for the next 3 decades, making it the most successful genre of that time, and it was Gunsmoke that started it all. The television version of Gunsmoke was originally conceived as a vehicle for John Wayne, who opted to remain in movies. Yet it was Wayne himself who suggested James Arness, and it turned out to be a career for the once “carrot” monster from The Thing. Gunsmoke started before all of the big westerns and was around when most of them had departed.
Each episode of Gunsmoke is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. The series was shot in black and white. The transfer is not a great one, but you just can’t expect a heck of a lot from a master that is over 50 years old. The detail is actually pretty nice, and the prints are pretty solid, again allowing for age. The real problem is the amount of grain present throughout. The problem is likely the original film stock and can in no way be considered a flaw with the transfer. Black levels fluctuate quite a bit but are usually fair.
The Dolby Digital Mono track delivers exactly what you are looking for and nothing more. The dialog is clear, and that’s all you’re going to get out of this minimalist presentation.
Original Sponsor Spots: This is a short collection of clips of James Arness pushing a product. In the case of this collection, most are for L&M cigarettes. Paramount includes a disclaimer warning that smoking is not being recommended by them; of course in the 1950’s it most certainly was. The rest are for electric shavers.
Here we go again with another half season. There were over 600 episodes of Gunsmoke, and at this rate it’ll take 15 years to finally get them all on DVD. Just in time to toss the old DVD player in the closet with your laserdisc and VHS players. “Hey, this is crazy.”