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.
The two season halves have been released at the same time. It offers you the opportunity to buy it all together, and why wouldn’t you? You get 29 episodes on eight discs total. The only extras are a few episode promo spots.
Highlights from the season include: The opening episode Snap Decision. The Marshall ends up killing an outlaw who had helped him out of a jam. The guilt drives him to quit. Of course it doesn’t stick. We still have eight episodes to go, but it was actually one of the highest-rated episodes of the series. Bette Davis stars as a widow who kidnaps Kitty and lures Matt where she intends to hang him just as her dead husband was hanged. She blames Matt in The Jailer. Darren McGavin guest stars as a murderer-for-hire out to kill Matt but ends up hurt when he does the right thing in helping another man. Maybe that’s why they called it Gunfighter RIP. In Mad Dog, can you believe that Festus gets mistaken for a ruthless gunslinger? It’s true. He gets offered $300 to run a gang out of a town they are plaguing. In Muley, yet another gunslinger out to kill Matt gets distracted. This time it’s one of Kitty’s saloon girls that grabs the killer’s attention. The season ends with the explosive Nitro 2-part episode. A drifter is forced to mix the dangerous explosive for a gang who want to use it to “open” a bank.
Guest stars in this collection include: Martin Landau, Denver Pyle, Warren Oates, Morgan Woodward, Carroll O’Connor, Ed Asner, John Ireland, Jon Voight, William Shatner, Alan Hale, Tom Skerritt, Fritz Weaver and Kim Darby.
This was nearly the end of the series. It had actually been cancelled when the network president reversed the decision at the last minute. It would change nights to Monday. The 12 season was made famous by Pink Floyd when they used a line from the episode Fandango on The Wall album. It’s one you’ll hear spoken in the background from a audio clip of the show. Even though Matt Dillon was slated for television limbo that year, “The stubborn, ornery United States Marshal’s gonna recover.”