DVD Review: Gunsmoke (The Seventh Season, Volume 2)

What’s strange about the expansion of Gunsmoke to an hour long show was that the producers didn’t take advantage of the biggest time killer to keep down production costs. They didn’t revamp and extend the opening credits. They kept the same Matt Dillon (James Arness) showdown footage that’s a scant 22 seconds long. Producers didn’t feel the need to create a 2 minute credit sequence with a theme song that tells us about life in Dodge City. They kept it short and sweet so viewers got straight into the action instead of wondering it was a rerun after all that time. Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2 contains 17 episodes that don’t come up with cheap solutions to extend 30 minute scripts to an hour’s worth of show.

“Old Dan” reminds us that there was rehab before Betty Ford and Promises. Dan (Petticoat Junction‘s Edgar Buchanan) is a drunk who gets dragged out of a ditch by Doc (Milburn Stone). Dan’s a nice enough guy so the townspeople do their best to dry him up and give him a new life. But when Dan thinks he can drink a little, the consequences are huge. “Catawomper” makes Chester think he’s in an innocent relationship with a woman. She’s just so nice to him. There’s a harsh price for her home cooking. Little does he know this is her plot to make her old lover extremely jealous. The trouble involves Dick Sargent (Bewitched) and Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle). “Half Straight” brings a hitman to Dodge City with Matt Dillon’s name on a bullet. But before the guy can do his job, he falls in love. Can he pull the trigger or will he be a target by his employer?

Matt Dillon escorts a homicide suspect back to Dodge City in “The Gallows.” When Matt gets shot, the alleged killer sticks with him. Joseph Ruskin (Guest Star Legend) plays the judge that must fact this act of kindness into the courtroom. “Reprisal” starts with a drunk rancher going out of control so that Matt has to shoot him. His wife doesn’t take kindly to being made a widow. She wants her revenge on Matt. “The Widow” takes Matt out to Indian country when Joan Hackett wants to retrieve her dead husband’s body. “Durham Bull” does not star Kevin Costner. Instead a kid and his grandfather arrive in town with a breeding bull only to get wrapped up with a bunch of bull.

“Wagon Girls” hints at a human trafficking operation when a group of women cut through town thinking they’re marrying rich miners. Ellen Burstyn is part of the scam with William Schallert (The Patty Duke Show). “The Dealer” is a really awkward romance. Gary Clarke kills a card dealer in self-defense. Afterwards, he falls madly in love with the dead guy’s daughter. She’s not too keen on hooking up with him.

“The Summons” makes a gang member decide to get rich quick by killing a member for the bounty. He gets in a little trouble collecting the reward. “The Dreamers” springs riches on two guys. They’re heading east to buy a riverboat, but one has their heart run aground on Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake). Trouble is she doesn’t want his love. “Cale” reminds people to be careful where they nap. Cale takes a slumber in a barn and wakes up branded a horse thief. “Chester’s Indian” is a case of Chester (Dennis Weaver) thinking an Indian is a robber. He shoots the guy only to discover the truth. “The Prisoner” breaks out of a federal institution. He flees to Dodge City only to end up hiding with a family that might be worse than jail. “The Boys” turns a snake oil business into a fatal pitch. George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love) and Michael Parks (Kill Bill) take part in the danger.

One of the people who doesn’t get credit for being part of the cast is stuntman Hal Needham. He takes quite a few bullets during the season. He’d go on to stardom as the director of Smokey and the Bandit & Cannonball Run. He recently received a Lifetime Oscar for his work as a stuntman.

The Episodes
“Old Dan,” “Catawomper,” “Half Straight,” “He Learned About Women,” “The Gallows,” “Reprisal,” “Coventry,” “The Widow,” “Durham Bull,” “Wagon Girls,” “The Dealer,” “The Summons,” “The Dreamers,” “Cale,” “Chester’s Indian,” “The Prisoner” and “The Boys.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers are sharp and crisp. The location work shines. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The mix brings out the sharpness of the gun shots. The episodes are subtitled.

Preview Trailers (1:03) are provided for four episodes.

Sponsor Material (1:15) are the opening credits with plugs for Remington Electric Shavers and L&M Cigarettes. Don’t smoke.

Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2 wraps up their first season at an hour long running time without the stories gasping for air. The longer time allows the characters to inhabit Dodge City without being in a rush. Only 13 more seasons to go until the entire run is out on DVD.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2. Starring: James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake and Dennis Weaver. Boxset Contents: 17 episodes on 5 DVDs. Released: Feburary 5, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.

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