Appellate Judge James A. Stewart can't remember the last time he shut both eyes. Now that's insomnia!
Our reviews of The Gunsmoke Movie Collection (published December 8th, 2004), Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1 (published October 20th, 2011), Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 2 (published December 17th, 2011), Gunsmoke: The First Season (published July 18th, 2007), Gunsmoke: The Second Season, Volume 1 (published January 28th, 2008), Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 1 (published December 26th, 2012), Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2 (published March 31st, 2013), Gunsmoke: The Sixth Season, Volume 1 (published August 31st, 2012), and Gunsmoke: The Sixth Season, Volume 2 (published December 16th, 2012) are also available.
"I haven't shut both eyes for as far back as I can remember. You're not the first man who's tried to kill me."—Marshal Matt Dillon
That's not an insomnia research subject talking. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness, The Thing from Another World), as generations of TV viewers know, is the U.S. marshal protecting Dodge City, Kansas, sometime vaguely in the late 1800s.
I sort of remember having seen Gunsmoke, since it lasted until 1975 for a twenty-season run that's still tied with Law and Order for longevity. What I saw here was better than I remember. Those episodes from my childhood were in color, but Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season: Volume 2 is in black-and-white from 1959. The episodes are also half an hour long.
Facts of the Case
The twenty episodes from the back half of Season 4 are on three discs:
• "Kitty's Rebellion"
• "Doc Quits"
• "The Bear"
• "The Coward"
• "Renegade White"
• "Murder Warrant"
• "Change of Heart"
• "Buffalo Hunter"
• "There Never Was a Horse"
• "Print Asper"
• "The Constable"
• "Blue Horse"
Sponsor Spots: James Arness peddles L&M cigarettes and Remington shavers in vintage ads.
There are convenient plot twists aplenty—note the way the killer tries again just at the right time to clear the ex-con in "Love of a Good Woman"—to move these half-hour episodes along, and a few of those gunfights feel obligatory. Still, Gunsmoke has some clever stories—note The Twilight Zone irony of "Sky" and the humor of "Murder Warrant"—and interesting guest turns.
James Arness' performance as Matt Dillon looks standard at first, but it grows on you and starts to show nuances. He's good at calmly talking people down in most episodes, but the best one ("The Coward") finds him scared—enough to shoot an innocent man by mistake, and almost shoot deputy Chester Goode—after learning of a threat on his life. With twisty writing and a good performance, Arness makes Dillon's devotion to justice a little less predictable than you'd expect.
He's supported well by Amanda Blake as saloonkeeper Miss Kitty, who mixes a self-deprecating humor with a head that may be cooler than Dillon's in a crisis (offering free drinks to calm angry cowboys works better than whipping out a gun, and no one dies), and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams, who's grumpy but equally levelheaded. Dennis Weaver doesn't do badly as limping deputy Chester Goode, but he doesn't get much to do in the episodes in this batch; moving on to McCloud was definitely a good career move.
There's an occasional fleck or hint of grain but the prints here look good. CBS took care of a vintage asset.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Judge Dylan Charles points out in his reviews of the first two seasons that these shows aren't camp; they're solid dramatic stories. Ironically, that could be the dealbreaker for viewers who didn't get tuned in to Westerns when they were younger. Those with a taste for modern drama might find these stories superfluous.
If you're a fan of the series, snagging a set of these is a must. Western fans who don't count Marshal Dillon among their favorites should also give these a look. I still prefer the dodgy wanderers (like Maverick or Rawhide) to the law, but these stories are good. From Judge Dylan Charles' reviews, I'd reckon that anywhere after the uneven first season is a good place to start.
Some of you might be wishing they'd skipped to the '60s and the color episodes that you remember, but give these a try. My memory's a little fuzzy, but from this sampling, it looks like Gunsmoke's best days were in these early episodes.
Not guilty, but let Marshal Dillon get a good night's sleep once in a while.
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