At the time Gunsmoke was brought to television, the western hadn't really been a genre that catered much to the adults of the world. Most of the time the good guys won without any sign that each win was sometimes a defeat. Gunsmoke brought to the screen the shades of grey of being a hero of the west.
James Arness (The Thing From Another World) is United States Marshal Matt Dillon, a tall, hardened man who wears the job on his face and in the way he relates to the people of Dodge City, the town in which he enforces the law. Amanda Blake plays Kitty Russell, the owner of a rather rowdy saloon that Dillon often frequents for drinks and to converse with Kitty. Due to the fact that television had a touchy relationship with pre-marital relationships at the time of the show's original run, the "conversation" never became more than just that, albeit with subtle hints here and there in the later seasons.
Milburn Stone and Dennis Weaver round out the cast as Doc Adams, the local doctor and Chester Goode, Dillon's slightly dim-witted but noble deputy. Part of the charm of this series, to me anyway, is that every supporting character is relevant in some way even if the story doesn't always call for it. Doc Adams often verbally spars with Chester and Matt over how much work they actually do in Dodge, while Chester often clowns Doc over how much of an old fool he is. In a show in which the opening sequence showcases a showdown between Dillon and an unknown gunslinger, what often took place within the show's 30-minute run was different from what was typical for this genre.
Everyone, good or bad, has a story of their own, which makes viewers care for them in their best and their worst moments. Very often Westerns had trouble creating a sense of what real people, especially those who enforced the law, dealt with in those times. In Dodge, it seems Dillon is always given something to do given that half of the visitors to the city were gunfighters looking for work or shady gamblers looking to score a quick fortune.
Some of the episodes are not Dodge-centered, especially the ones that are included in this set of episodes from the second half of the show’s third season. One of the best of these is “The Cabin,” in which Matt Dillon by pure dumb luck is held up in a house with two men wanted for robbery and murder who hold another young woman hostage. The whole episode is rather tense, almost to an uncomfortable degree. That was one story where I believed the bad guys need a thousand bullets at story’s end.
Of course the men weren’t the only thing in Dodge City that shady to the extreme. In episodes such as “Carmen”, the women of the old west are shown to be just as capable of committing murder or assisting in one for the purpose of robbing as in this episode’s case. Due to the standards of television, unless I missed something, women never seemed to have a showdown with Dillon at Dodge.
Aside from Dennis Weaver (who would leave the series later on), everyone seems comfortable with their roles. Despite never having much to do beyond being the owner of a bar and being the Marshal's girl, Amanda Blake stayed on the show until the show’s next to last season in 1974. James Arness and Milburn Stone would stay on until the very end when the series ended in 1975 after 20 years on the air.
You don’t get many special features with this disc set. However if you are a serious buff of what old school television openings were like, there’s a feature which includes the opening sequence of this particular era of Gunsmoke with a few words from advertisers. I found these to be a bit off-putting considering the thrilling sequence you see before the actual ad that comes in.
It would have been nice to see an interview, any interview for that matter, with someone connected with the show at some point during its 20-year run. I would have even settled for some old interviews with the cast to get a sense of what it was to work and act in such a long-running series. Still, perhaps in this case it’s good sometimes for a DVD to stand on its own merits without a lot of extras.
Although this set doesn’t include the complete third season and is only half of the episodes, you should have no problem getting into the series if you’ve never watched Gunsmoke in your life. If you want a unique view on the old west, Gunsmoke is your ticket.