Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection – DVD Review

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John Meston and Norman MacDonnell

James Arness….Marshal Matt Dillon
Milburn Stone….Dr. Galen “Doc” Adams
Amanda Blake….Kitty Russell
Ken Curtis….Festus Haggen
Glenn Strange….Sam Noonan
Dennis Weaver….Chester Goode
Burt Reynolds….Quint Asper

Paramount Home Video presents Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection. Series ran from Sept 10, 1955 to March 31, 1975. Running time: 9 hours 45 minutes. DVD released Nov. 14, 2006.

While Gunsmoke was constantly on our TV when I was growing up, it wasn’t my favorite show. No matter what baseball game or cartoon was on TV, dad took control of the remote if a Gunsmoke rerun appeared. And for the next hour, we were stuck watching Marshal Matt Dillon keeping the peace in Dodge City, Kansas. Even though I enjoyed Westerns, there’s was more talking on Gunsmoke than shoot outs. Half of the plots seemed to involve Bruce Dern riding into town to get revenge for a relative that Dillon had put in the grave. Thankfully this was before the era of TVLand’s weekend long marathons so it was only an hour to appease father. Gunsmoke was a form of punishment instead of entertainment. Over the years my loathing of the show has lessened. I’ve made my peace with the man that carried the peacemaker.

This was the longest running prime time series with 635 episodes over 20 seasons (1955 – 1975) plus a few reunion movies. The boxsets for the series have been samplers and this is no exception. The 15 episodes featured on Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection focus on noted helmers that called the shots and actors that decided to take the reins of the camera instead of a horse.

The boxset demonstrates that quite a few talented helmers got early experience in Dodge City. Ted Post directed 55 Gunsmoke episodes before he made the classic Clint Eastwood western Hang ‘Em High. Robert Stevenson became Disney’s prime live action director with Old Yeller and Mary Poppins. Arthur Hiller went on to make Love Story and Silver Streak. The big name left out of the collection is Sam Peckinpah. Bloody Sam directed nearly a dozen episodes before he devised The Wild Bunch. Hopefully they’re going to package all of his shows together in the future.

The actor-director rank shows a few folks performing double duty. Dennis Weaver played Chester, Matt’s deputy for the first half of the series. The producers let him direct four episodes. The one featured in the collection, “Love Thy Neighbor” has Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton. The duo alone is worth getting this boxset. Victor French of Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven played over a dozen different characters on the show besides calling the shots. Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible also gets to shine as director. Although when his episode ends, your DVD player will self-destruct. The most intriguing actor to sit in the director’s chair is William Conrad. The star of Cannon and Jake and the Fat Man was the radio voice of Matt Dillon. But Conrad doesn’t make a cameo in the episode. He probably didn’t want to confuse fans by having the two voices of Matt Dillon on the same episode.

The 15 episodes chosen are some of the better ones I’ve seen. “Mannon” features a cold-blooded killer who takes over Dodge City as he waits for Dillon to return for a final showdown. “Chester’s Mail Order Bride” reminds us that sending the wrong photos to impress potential lovers wasn’t invented on the internet. “The Legend” has Jan-Michael Vincent trying to avoid being tainted by his father’s outlaw legacy. Perhaps the most vital of the shows is “Us Haggens” which introduced Ken Curtis as Festus. This was done years before he became the new deputy. None of the episodes were nearly as painfully boring as my childhood memories of the show.

The first DVD contains 30 minute black and white episodes from seasons one to six: “Magnus,” “Chester’s Mail Order Bride,” “How to Kill A Woman,” “Buffalo Man,” “The Constable,” “Old Flame” and “Love Thy Neighbor.” The second DVD has 60 minute black and white episodes from seasons eight and eleven: “Us Haggens,” “Cotter’s Girl,” “Ten Little Indians” and Which Dr.” The third DVD episodes are 60 minute color episodes from seasons 14 to 20: “Mannon,” “Captain Sligo,” “The Legend” and “Brides and Grooms.”

A few weeks ago, I dropped by my folks’ house. Dad was watching Gunsmoke on TVLand. Instead of running out of the family room screaming, I sat down on the sofa and asked what’s Festus screwed up this time. This boxset is the perfect Christmas gift for any relative that dominated the clicker when Bruce Dern road into town bent on revenge.

The DVD:

The Video:

The show is 1.33:1 full frame. The first 11 episodes are black and white. The final 4 are color. The transfers are sharp and better than the versions running on TVLand. The only bad part about getting such a great transfer is the backdrops are pretty obvious at the end of the street.

The Audio:

Audio is Dolby Digital mono. No subtitles. Commentaries include John Rich on “How to Kill a Woman,” Arthur Hiller on “The Constable, Dennis Weaver on “Love Thy Neighbor,” Andrew V. McLaglen on “Us Haggens,” Harry Harris Jr and Mariette Hartley on “Cotter’s Girl,” Mark Rydell on “Ten Little Indians,” and Peter Graves on “Which Dr.”

Special Features:

Have Gun – Will Travel clip (2:16) has Ken Curtis use his Festus charm on another oater.

Amanda Blake on the Mike Douglas Show 1/24/1972 (6:28) – Amanda Blake admits that Miss Kitty was a madam and the bar was a brothel. Who knew it was a full service waitress staff?

Radio Broadcasts (24:20 each) Gunsmoke began as a radio show back in 1953 with William Condad as the sheriff. Many of the early radio scripts were turned into the half hour TV shows. Here’s four of the radio episodes that run with TV versions so you to compare who was a bolder Matt Dillon.

Soundtrack Scoring Session (9:10) has the raw audio tape of the music being recorded for the show.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection
(OUT OF 10)