Paramount // 1963 // 962 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // June 5th, 2013
Everything's up to date in Dodge City, Kansas -- and that ain't good.
The 'sixties are coming to Dodge City; the nineteen sixties, that is. Racism, violent confrontations with the law, and even an episode that reflects "the troubles" of Ireland, when two ranchers -- one named Finnerty, the other named O'Ryan -- start warring with each other over property rights.
The nineteen episodes rounded up for Gunsmoke: The Eighth Season, Volume 2 paint a pretty grim picture, especially for new series regular Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds), the handsome and kindly town blacksmith, who, in the course of a half-season, is branded as a horse thief, accused of rape and pulped to a mess of bruises by a gang of eight, bent on vigilante justice. Could it be that this spate of ill will results from Quint being Comanche on his mother's side?
"Oh, if I only knew which half of you is Injun, I'd put three bullets in it right now," says one citizen, who feels Quint has answered his question unsatisfactorily.
Could it be pure coincidence that this passel of stories about the difficulty of minorities trying to mix with white society just happen to reflect what was going on in 1963 (when these shows originally aired), during the heated days just before passage of the Civil Rights Act?
Two stories make Matt Dillon (James Arness) a target for assassination. In "Blind Man's Bluff," the marshal wanders into Elkader, a one horse hamlet that prides itself on lawlessness -- its last sheriff was run off six months prior. An ad hoc welcoming committee beats Matt senseless (and sightless) on his first day in town, with plans to finish him off the next day. "Anybody Can Kill A Marshal," on the other hand, makes the prospect of taking Matt out almost a sporting matter.
Unfortunately, 1963 audiences were frequently being reminded of what a serious matter assassination really was, with the names of Medgar Evans, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dihn Diem and U.S. President John F. Kennedy, (not to mention four African-American girls killed by a bomb planted in a Birmingham, Alabama Church), all cropping up in the headlines during that year of bloody confrontation.
It's another sad fact that real tragedy often tends to inspire creativity, and this here set is as about as fine a collection of Gunsmoke episodes as I've yet come across. I wasn't initially enthusiastic about the series switching from a half hour to full hour format, but there's no denying that the new set up has been exploited for maximum effect here, with the show's runners using the extra time for suspense building and character shading -- Bulls-eye!
Score another Bulls-eye for Paramount, bringing out yet another set of sterling full-screen transfers for this black and white TV treasure. While I occasionally found a need for the English SDH subtitles myself, I certainly can't fault the 2.0 mono audio track, either. Extras round up the usual suspects: a few scenes from "our next episode," and a few sponsor shout-outs over the opening titles.
By the way, Chester (Dennis Weaver) is back, putting in several notable appearances here: a-limpin' and a-sangin' and a-talkin' about the Widder Feemster's pie crusts, which're just as light and flaky as...Aw, heck, drop on by and let him tell you all about it hisself.
It's your lucky day, Pod'ner -- Now git, before I change my mind!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 962 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sponsor Material