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 25 episodes on six discs total. The only extras are a few episode promo spots.
Highlights from the season include: The season opens with one of the show’s best episodes. I’m talking about The Wreckers. Dillon and Kitty are on a stagecoach where Matt is escorting a criminal to Dodge City. The crook’s gang sabotages the coach to break down, which causes Dillon to be injured and the crook out cold. When the gang shows up, Kitty puts Dillon’s badge on the crook, making them believe he is the lawman. A good chance for the Kitty character to shine. A muckraking newspaper pushes two outlaws to go gunning for Dillon when their buddy is shot in the back in The Prodigal. They come looking for revenge, because the speculation in the paper puts Dillon behind the cowardly shot. Comedy reigns in Hard Luck Henry. The titular character is cousin to Festus and seeks his help to split a cache of gold coins among the clan. Of course, Henry’s antics get in the way of an earnest Festus. Festus is also the center of attention in Major Glory. Soldiers are in Dodge City and one of them has a run-in with Festus. Now Dillon’s stuck in the middle to keep the soldiers from taking Festus away to be punished. The character of Newly O’Brien is introduced this season in The Pillagers. Newly and Kitty get kidnapped because the crooks think Newly is a doctor. The character would end up appearing in 174 episodes over the remaining run of the show. Newly starts as a gunsmith and ends up a deputy on the show.
Guest stars in this collection include: Ed Begley, Joe De Santis, Richard Hale, Michael Constantine, Victor French, Anthony Zerbe, Mark Lenard, Beverly Garland, James Gregory, Richard Mulligan, Pernell Roberts, John Voight, Carroll O’Connor, John Ireland, Kim Darby, Lew Ayres, and Burt Reynolds.
After almost facing cancellation in its 12th year, Gunsmoke regained ground and reputation in year 13. Gilligan’s Island ended up taking the cancellation hit originally intended for Gunsmoke. You can almost look at this season as the resurrection and beginning of the final seven years of the show’s run. The show also moved from its late 10:00 PM Saturday night slot into a family-friendly Monday at 7:30 timeslot. As for the fans of the time, “If you think they weren’t grateful …”