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 three 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 one-time “carrot” monster from The Thing. Gunsmoke started before all of the big westerns and was around when most of them had departed.
You get 20 more episodes on three discs. It’s another half season of classic television western adventure. In Love Of A Good Woman, Dillon and Doc’s pasts meet up. Doc is visited by his old war nurse, while a gunslinger is out for Dillon for putting him in jail. The nurse ends up having to care for the gunslinger. Kitty has an admirer in Kitty’s Rebellion. He decides to fight for her honor each time he feels she’s been insulted. That’s going to be a lot of fighting, and this poor sap’s going to get himself killed if he doesn’t cut that out. In Doc Quits, Doc faces competition from a new fancy young doctor in town. But the new Doc almost gets a patient killed, and Dodge City learns a little respect for the doctor they’ve been taking for granted. In The Coward, a gambler tries to incite someone to kill Dillon.
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.
It’s another 20 episodes of gunfights and saloons on the streets of Dodge City. At this rate we’re all going to be old and gray before all of the episodes of the classic western finally make it to DVD. In fact, I’m not sure anyone will even know what a DVD is by then. But for now you can pick up another 20 episodes that will surefire find you “headed for Dodge, looking for trouble”.