Gunsmoke dodged a bullet this year. The tale of Dodge City held the crown as TV’s longest running drama with 20 seasons. Law & Order appeared secured at snagging a 21st season to bust the record but somebody at NBC yanked the plug before the victory lap. Now they are tied, leaving Gunsmoke as “TV’s Longest Running Western” and one of the longest running television shows ever. Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season: Volume 1 packs 19 episodes from when the series was only half an hour.
The series still focuses on three elements of town living: Medical, Vice and Law. Medical is treated by Doc Adams (Milburn Stone). Vice gets represented by Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) and her ladies at the saloon. Finally there’s the law in the form of Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) and his assistant Chester (Dennis Weaver). It’s not always a matter of justice when strangers arrive on the streets of Dodge City. Although odds are high that Marshal Dillon will have a major role even if he doesn’t have to draw his gun. But there’s plenty of bullets flying around the dirt covered main street. This isn’t town for the timid.
“Matt for Murder” startles everyone when Matt gets accused of gunning down an innocent man. His only true shot of innocence and recovering his badge involves legendary Wild Bill Hickock. Easy to tell that the fix is in since Bruce Gordon (Frank Nitti of (The Untouchables) is involved. “The Patsy” has another messed up homicide when a hostess at the bar swears she saw a drover kill a man. Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible) gets back to be shady. “Thoroughbreds” gives us future Bonanza star Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwright). He gets tangled up with a gunfighter that rubs Matt wrong.
“Lost Rifle” brings the early star power of Charles Bronson (Death Wish). The gruff wonder gets pegged for a murder. But since he’s a pal of Matt, there’s no immediate justice dished out. “Land Deal” signs up Ross Martin (The Wild Wild West). There’s a scammer in town selling land that supposedly will be tied to the railroad. Along with making off with their cash, he makes a grab for a victim’s wife. “How to Kill a Friend” might be familiar since it was accidentally placed on the second season’s volume one. “Grass” sends two henchmen to spook a guy. They act like Indians. The genius plan backfires and the boss wants revenge.
“Robber Bridegroom” turns a reluctant stage coach robber into a gangster of love. He snags the loot and a female passenger. They grow to love each other except her fiance wants to kill the highway man. “Snakebite” involves the worst crime of the west: killing a man’s best dog. Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) finds Matt on his trail. “Gypsum Hills Feud” sticks Matt and Chester in a neighborly shooting gallery. “Marshal Proudfoot” brings Chester’s uncle to Dodge City. Trouble is Chester’s been lying to relatives that he’s really the Marshal. Will Matt play along? What’s interesting is that Chester wasn’t even a deputy. How did he have the ability to work with a gun without a badge? “Passive Resistance” slaughters a lot of sheep. The victim refuses to name his attackers. Matt wants to dish out justice no matter what the Good Book says.
Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season: Volume 1 has plenty of fresh faces getting shot up. This keeps the town’s main characters busy. Miss Kitty has to provide the liquid courage to inspire things spiraling out of control. Doc has to patch them up. Marshal Dillon and Chester have to bust the guilty. Dodge City solves the problems it creates to keep people coming onto its dusty streets.
“Matt for Murder,” “The Patsy,” “Gunsmuggler,” “Monopoly,” “Letter of the Law,” “Thoroughbreds,” “Stage Holdup,” “Lost Rifle,” “Land Deal,” “Lynching Man,” “How to Kill a Friend,” “Grass,” “The Cast,” “Robber Bridegroom,” “Snakebite,” “Gypsum Hills Feud,” “Young Love,” “Marshal Proudfoot” and “Passive Resistance.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers are crisp and detailed. There’s plenty of contrast to brings out the darker edge in the bad guys. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels let the bullets pop out of the speakers.
How to Cure a Friend (26:22) is the misplaced episode from season 2 that was missing from the DVD set. Somebody screwed up and put “How to Kill a Friend” on it.
Sponsor Spots (4:10) bring back the days when Remington shavers and L&M Cigarettes sponsored the series. James Arness reminds us that L&M stands for Live Modern or Less tars and More taste. There’s also a major contest from Remington for fat dollars. Shame you can’t enter it anymore.
Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season: Volume 1 keeps the stories tight with the half hour running times. Nobody stands around long waiting for action. There’s plenty of great guest stars especially Charles Bronson testing his ability to be likable on the screen instead of his usual blood thirty outlaw image. Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season: Volume 2 is slated to be released on December 14th so by the time you finish watching these 19 episodes, the next 20 will be ready.
CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season: Volume 1. Starring: James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake and Dennis Weaver. Boxset Contents: 19 episodes on 3 DVDs. Released on DVD: October 11, 2010.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.