Festus is coming! Festus is coming! Festus is coming! That’s right, after eight seasons on the air, the most beloved character to roam the streets of Dodge City finally arrived on Gunsmoke. Ken Curtis appeared on Gumsmoke six times including a previous time as Festus so he wasn’t new to viewers. Chester (McCloud‘s Dennis Weaver) was ready to limp off his gig as Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) so it was time for a change. Curtis had a full showbiz career even before joining the cast. He was the singer that replaced Frank Sinatra in Tommy Dorsey’s band. He starred as a singing cowboys in various musical westerns. He produced two classics of Creature Double Feature horror: The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster. But he became universally beloved as the cantankerous Festus. Gunsmoke: The Ninth Season Volume 1 & Volume 2 could be called Exit Chester: Enter the Festus!.
The transition to Festus isn’t immediate as Chester is around for the first half of the season. “Kate Heller” convicts a kid of killing a salon girl that wasn’t wanting to settle down with him. But Matt swears the wrong man is going to hire and goes out to find the right man before the wrong boy hangs. Burt Reynolds is back as Quint this season. “Lover Boy” is a strange episode since it has Ken Curtis not playing Festus. He’s Kyle, a smooching cowboy who might kiss himself into a murder rap. It might have confused audiences when he showed back up as a regular. But the producers scruffed him up for the Festus role. “Tobe” features L.Q. Jones, the director of A Boy And His Dog as a bit of trouble for a guy dating a saloon girl. Those saloon girls appear to be a bit of trouble in Dodge City. Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love) has a bit part. “Quint’s Trail” give Burt a solo episode where he guides a family along the trail to Oregon. He gets a bit wrapped up in their reason for the big move. “Extradition” is a rare two-part episode. Matt loses his charge while in Texas. The guy escapes into Mexico. Matt won’t stop his pursuit at the Rio Grande. He must get his man even if the Mexican police aren’t going to help. In fact Matt gets in trouble with them. “Pa Hack’s Brood” brings trouble to town with a drifter and his equally grifting family. His daughter is ready to lure a man out of his land. George Lindsey (Goober on The Andy Griffith Show) is part of the family swindle.
“Prairie Wolfer” brings Ken Curtis back to the set as Festus. He’s hired by the local ranchers to kill the wolves. He discovers something else is killing the cattle. If he doesn’t get Matt’s help on the case, he’ll be the next big victim. Noah Beery Jr. (The Rockford Files) gets tangled in the hunt. “Friend” has an odd bit of casting with Butch Patrick (The Munsters) getting to appear with Glenn Strange who played Frankenstein’s Monster in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. “Once a Haggen” lets the viewers now that there’s a new deputy in town. Festus needs Matt’s help to prove that Slim Pickens (Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddle) didn’t kill a Poker player after a game. Festus can’t let Slim swing. You can tell that Festus is part of the cast with “May Blossoms.” This is the traditional woman comes to town intent to marry a regular cast member episode. This time Festus is the intended groom of Lauri Peters. Charles H. Grey ( Charro!) prepares to throw rice. Chester has one last big case in “Bently”.” A dying man admits he committed a crime that he beat in court. Chester thinks the deceased is covering from someone. He won’t leave without finding the real guilty party.
Why did Dennis Weaver leave a long running show? He was offered the lead in Kentucky Jones as a horse vet. Sadly the show only lasted one season. Gunsmoke was still on the air for another 11 seasons. Weaver wasn’t sitting around the living room throwing hotdogs at the TV set every time Festus appeared. The former cast member was extra busy starring in Gentle Ben, numerous guest parts, the lead in Spielberg’s first film Duel and finally becoming McCloud. The only bad thing about Weaver’s departure is that his nearly 300 episodes were all in black and white. There’s been quite a few generations that have only been exposed to color Gunsmoke episodes so they have no clue about Chester. But they do love their Festus.
“Kate Heller,” “Lover Boy,” “Legends Don’t Sleep,” “Tobe,” “Easy Come,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” Quint’s Trail,” “Carter Caper,” “Ex-Con,” “Extradition” (two-parter), “The Magician,” Pa Hack’s Brook,” “The Glory and the Mud,” “Dry Well,” “Prairie Wolfer,” “Friend” and “Once a Haggen.”
“No Hands,” “May Blossom,” “The Bassops,” “The Kite,” “Comanches Is Soft,” “Father’s Love,” “Now That April’s Here,” “Caleb,” “Owney Tupper Had a Daughter,” “Bently,” “Kitty Cornered,” “The Promoter,” “Trip West,” “Scot Free,” “The Warden,” “Homecoming,” “The Other Half” and “Journey for Three.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers look sharp. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You’ll get an earful of Festus’ drawl. The episodes are subtitled.
No bonus features.
Gunsmoke: The Ninth Season, Volume 1 & Volume 2 is the third of the five seasons where the hour long version of the show was shot in black and white. It’s a shame that CBS remained black and white in 1963. America never knew what Chester looked like in color.
CBS DVD present Gunsmoke: The Ninth Season, Volume 1 & Volume 2. Starring: James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, Burt Reynolds and Ken Curtis. Boxset Content: 36 episodes on 10 DVDs. Released: August 6, 2013.