Paramount // 1962 // 859 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // March 31st, 2013
"Luke's dead...What about Lem?" -- Marshal Matt Dillon
Dodge City certainly has changed some since the last time I passed through. Industry has grown, and so has the population. And the days seem...longer somehow. Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2 corrals the remaining seventeen adventures that make up the balance of the veteran Western's first season since switching over to the hour-long format.
I'll admit that I came to this assignment with some reluctance. I'd been having lots of fun discovering the original half-hour episodes (which had been in mothballs for decades, until CBS/Paramount began releasing them on DVD a few years back), amazed by the addictive quality of these sleek and spry shoot-em ups, especially compared to the slow-churning, saddle-backed soap opera I remember seeing in sixty minute installments as a child.
There's no argument that after six seasons -- totaling 233 episodes! -- a change was needed. The simplistic nature of the short stories was wearing thin, and a certain sameness about the events in and around Dodge threatened to turn Gunsmoke from must-see to already-seen-it TV. In best-case scenarios, doubling the length of each installment allowed for richer character development and muti-layered narratives, but in the worst, twice the time added up to twice the tedium.
Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2 features examples of both. "Old Dan," which opens the half-season set in fine fettle, pits the well-intentioned townspeople of Dodge against the Demon Alcoholism, as they try to rehabilitate the title character: a skint, drink-til-he-drops case, marvelously played by guest star Edgar Buchanan (Petticoat Junction). On the other hand, "The Widow," which concerns the wife of a slain army officer, determined to make her way into dangerous Indian territory, so as to claim her husband's body, succumbs to a toxic combination of too much talk and not enough action.
Fortunately, the set is heavily seeded with strong entries and some surprisingly effective guest performances -- would you believe Claude Akins as a Mexican bandit? Think again!
While outsiders tend to dominate in these expanded tales, my favorites were "He Learned About Women," which finds Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver, McCloud) running for his life from a blood-thirsty band of highwaymen. Joining him on the lam is the beautiful Chevela (Barbara Luna, The Devil At 4 O'Clock), whom Chester freed from their captivity, but who may or may not actually be aiding them in his recapture.
"The Gallows," presents the usually stalwart Matt Dillon with a crisis of faith, when the letter of the law requires the Marshal to bring a prisoner he believes has been wrongly convicted to an appointment with the hangman. Written by creator John Meston, and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (Bandolero!), "The Gallows" starts out as a seemingly clear-cut case of crime and punishment, but ends up taking more twists and turns than a Hula-hooping contest, in what surely represents the crowning achievement of this iconic series' twenty year run.
A little grain, an occasional glitch aside, these fifty year old episodes still look and sound fantastic. Holding with Gunsmoke tradition, extras are limited to "some scenes from our next episode" and a couple of original (and very brief) sponsor mentions. English subtitles are available.
Though it's not exactly sure-footed in navigating its new hour-long format, Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2 nevertheless sports sharp, rust-free spurs; just the thing for a long haul.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 859 Minutes
Release Year: 1962
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sponsor Material