Case Number 05756: Small Claims Court

THE GUNSMOKE MOVIE COLLECTION

Gunsmoke
Paramount // 1987 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Gunsmoke
Paramount // 1990 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Gunsmoke
Paramount // 1992 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // December 8th, 2004

The Charge

James Arness returns in his most famous role of Marshall Matt Dillon.

The Case

In the 1980s, reunion movies based upon classic television shows were all the rage. Notable examples include A Very Brady Christmas, Return to Mayberry, and Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis, all smash hits for CBS. So it was with this success in mind that CBS decided to bring James Arness's beloved character Matt Dillon out of the dust and return him to the saddle with a new TV movie in 1987. Four more Gunsmoke films would follow.

In May 2004, Paramount compiled the first three Gunsmoke TV movies into this three-disc collection. I rate them on a scale of zero to four stars.

* Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987)
Will Mannon (Steve Forrest, Dallas) has been paroled from prison after a lengthy prison sentence. He vows revenge against the man who put him there, Matt Dillon. Fellow convict Jake Flagg (Earl Holliman, Visit to a Small Planet) breaks out of jail to warn Matt of the impending showdown.
Rating: **1/2

* Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990)
Matt Dillon receives a letter from former flame Mike Gardner (Michael Learned, The Waltons). When he arrives at her ranch, she has startling news for him: They had a daughter, Beth, and she has been kidnapped by an Indian brave. Teaming up with cavalry scout Chalk (Richard Kiley, The Little Prince), Dillon decides to bargain with Chief Geronimo for the return of Beth.
Rating: **

* Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992)
Colonel Tucker (Pat Hingle, Batman) and his sons have been terrorizing the countryside as a vigilante group. Matt decides to investigate and finds himself stuck in the middle of a two-family war at the same time.
Rating: ***1/2

Paramount offers up full-frame transfers for all three films. Since these films were made for television before widescreen became the norm, the 1.33:1 aspect ratio is the proper one. The transfers are a mixed bag. To the Last Man is the best looking of the three, with a clean, crisp transfer devoid of heavy grain and serious defects. The worst looking of the trio is Return to Dodge. It says something when the vintage footage looks far superior to the newly shot material. The vintage scenes are clean, bright, and beautiful, while the new footage is far too grainy. The scratches, specks, and edge enhancement made me want to cry; a film from 1987 shouldn't look this poor. I wouldn't be surprised if the film looked better upon its premiere. The transfer for The Last Apache lies somewhere between, with some scenes having signs of damage while others look as new as the day they were developed in the lab.

The sound is an interesting puzzle. Return to Dodge is offered in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, whereas The Last Apache and To the Last Man are given Dolby Digital 2.0 surround tracks. My best guess is that since Return to Dodge contained vintage footage, the remainder of the soundtrack was mixed in mono to maintain continuity. Then again, The Last Apache also contains vintage footage, so that can't be the answer. Whatever the real answer is, what matters is that the tracks sound good. The first two tracks are adequate at best, with a strange muffled sound that never quite fades away. The surround track for To the Last Man is bloodcurdling in its power, with gunshots so loud that I ducked for fear of being caught in the crossfire. Dialogue is more clearly heard, with a better separation of music and effects than in the other two tracks.

The Gunsmoke Movie Collection is part of Paramount's line of budget-priced catalog discs, which means one thing: They are barebones to the barest possible degree. There is not a single extra to be found, not even a retrospective featurette. I suppose that any extra features will have to wait for the eventual Gunsmoke season-by-season boxed sets.

For hardcore fans of Marshall Matt Dillon and Dodge City, The Gunsmoke Movie Collection will have to do for the time being. No announcement has been made regarding the release of the original series as of press time. This set just screams "test the waters to see if any Gunsmoke product will sell." Those fans will just eat this set up, but casual fans will be better off waiting for the films to rerun on television or renting them at the local outlet.

Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Gunsmoke
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Gunsmoke
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gunsmoke
* None

Scales of Justice, Gunsmoke
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Gunsmoke
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gunsmoke
* None

Scales of Justice, Gunsmoke
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Gunsmoke
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gunsmoke
* None

Accomplices
* IMDb: Return to Dodge
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0093130/combined

* IMDb: The Last Apache
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0099721/combined

* IMDb: To the Last Man
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0104379/combined