Paramount // 1959 // 521 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // October 20th, 2011
"Just looking at a grave, you can't tell if it holds a good man or a bad one. But if you saw the man himself -- while he was alive -- you could tell easy." -- Matt Dillon
I've just been watching the CBS show about a tough guy who's handy with a gun and his eccentric partner with a limp step in to rescue people in trouble. Actually, I've just been watching two shows that fit that basic description: the new Person of Interest and the vintage Gunsmoke. Of course, Marshal Matt Dillon and Deputy Chester Goode don't have an empathetic supercomputer, as Reese and Finch do. Even so, it does suggest that Westerns just got a reboot instead of winding up on Boot Hill.
Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1 features twenty episodes on three discs:
* "Target" -- A landowner wants to chase gypsies off his property, but his son has fallen for a gypsy woman. John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath) and Darryl Hickman (Network) guest.
* "Kitty's Injury" -- A rattler scares Kitty's horse, causing her to fall. Dillon (James Arness, The Thing) takes Kitty (Amanda Blake, Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard) to a bizarre family's farmhouse to rest until Doc can come to help her out.
* "Horse Deal" -- Ranchers are calling for the head of the thief who sold them someone else's horses, putting pressure on Dillon.
* "Johnny Red" -- A widow is happy that her long-lost son has returned, but Dillon knows the son was reported dead at Shiloh and suspects that the newcomer may be an outlaw.
* "Kangaroo" -- After Chester (Dennis Weaver, McCloud) and Dillon rescue a man accused of "riotous living" from a zealot's justice, the zealot and his sons come looking to give Chester a bad taste of religion.
* "Tail to the Wind" -- A father and son are trying to force landowners to sell out, but Dillon can't get anyone to swear out a complaint.
* "Annie Oakley" -- A married woman accuses a man of flirting, just before her husband is found dead.
* "Saludos" -- A Pawnee woman rides toward Dodge after being attacked in Choctaw Basin. Dillon and Chester find three suspects, and bring them all back to Dodge. Jack Elam (Rio Lobo) guests.
* "Brother Whelp" -- A man returns to Dodge to find that his brother has inherited the ranch and won the heart of his sweetheart -- and he's not happy.
* "The Boots" -- The man who humiliated a once-proud gunslinger returns to Dodge to put the squeeze on him. The orphan boy that the gunslinger adopted may be the one who has something to say about it.
* "Odd Man Out" -- A rancher comes to Dillon's office to whittle and talk. It seems his wife left him. When her clothes turn up, Dillon starts to wonder what happened.
* "Miguel's Daughter" -- Dillon's afraid a Mexican rancher might take the law into his own hands to defend his daughter's honor.
* "Box O' Rocks" -- Dillon's on hand at a funeral to certify a violent death, but he discovers that the coffin contains only rocks. The rocks may hold a clue to what happened.
* "False Witness" -- A lone witness could be enough to convict a man of murder, but Dillon doubts the testimony. Wayne Rogers (M*A*S*H) guests.
* "Tag, You're It" -- Chester's taken an interest in a dance hall girl, but she's taken an interest in the hired gun who's making Dodge residents "so doggone nervous and jumpy," as Doc puts it.
* "Thick 'n' Thin" -- Perkins and McCoy, two elderly homesteaders, take potshots at each other. Once Dillon's involved, their "private war" lands them in his lockup.
* "Groat's Grudge" -- A man orders a coffin and asks Chester where he can find a preacher for a funeral. Is there a body? "Oh, no, not yet."
* "Big Tom" -- A drunken ex-boxer is prodded into a rematch, but it's Dillon who ends up in a bare-knuckles fight in the Long Branch.
* "Till Death Do Us Part" -- Who would try to kill a man of faith? Quite a few people would like to, as Dillon finds out.
* "The Tragedian" -- Dillon helps out a starving Shakespearian actor, but the thespian lands in jail anyway. Naturally, it's just as a killer looking for the marshal is heading to Dodge.
This was my second batch of early Gunsmoke episodes on DVD, so I could usually figure out how things were going to play out, which occasionally made for a slow episode. However, strong performances, often by character actors who are now largely forgotten, create interesting characters, from the troubled prodigal son in "Johnny Red" to the battling homesteaders who are really friends in "Thick 'n' Thin." This set is light on now-familiar faces, one of the main joys of watching a vintage series, but you can't have everything.
While Marshal Matt Dillon is known for gunfights such as the one in the opening titles, the stories don't always end with Dillon shooting down a bad guy. At times, Dillon's just an observer in some feud that ends tragically. At others, Dillon manages to talk sense into people instead of reaching for a gun; that's comic in "Thick 'n' Thin" and impressive in "Brother Whelp." He's also good at playing psychological games with suspects, shown best as he works on three possible killers during a long ride in "Saludos." Dillon seems to know everyone in Dodge City, and James Arness can adeptly persuade, empathize, or intimidate with a few words, depending on what's needed.
Dillon doesn't have a supercomputer, but he's often prodded into action by saloonkeeper Kitty Russell, played with both weariness and compassion by Amanda Blake. She's always urging Dillon into action with a comment like, "Hanging's too good for whoever did this." Kitty, Chester, and Doc Adams (Milburn Stone, The Atomic City) are just as handy with needed information as Finch is.
The picture quality is good for a series that's more than half a century old. This was one of the most popular shows on TV, and CBS has taken good care of it.
Where this set loses opportunties is in the extras. A "James Arness: In Memoriam" tribute lasts only about 2 minutes. Given that Gunsmoke lasted twenty years, there's probably lots to say about Arness and the famous character he created. If you haven't seen Arness' sponsor spots for L&M cigarettes on another Gunsmoke set, they still have some novelty value, but you only have to see him step out of character to tout smokes once. It's time to work up some extras that tell viewers about the impact Gunsmoke and Arness had on 1950s television and pop culture.
Michael Emerson's limp is much more natural and convincing than Dennis Weaver's. Some aspects of television performance have improved since 1959.
You might scoff at my opening comparison, but Gunsmoke is still an entertaining show, and the underlying theme of heroism with compassion is always up-to-date. The Fifth Season: Volume 1 isn't a bad place to start sampling Matt Dillon's adventures.
Not guilty. Fit Dillon and Proudfoot with earbuds right away.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 521 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sponsor Spots
* Arness Tribute