DVD Review: Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1

James Arness passed away last June after playing Marshal Matt Dillon for four decades. He wore the badge from 1955 until 1994 in 640 episodes and TV movies. There are real lawmen that retire with less time on the force. Arness seemed destined to have a long run on the show. Westerns were all the rage. The radio version was a hit. He had John Wayne’s seal of approval to play the character. Praise and prior success is never a sure thing in the TV ratings business. Many potential hits have vanished upon broadcasting. Luckily for Arness, Gunsmoke was the gig that never really ended for him. Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1 takes us back to those early days when Matt wasn’t close to cashing out his 401K.

“Target” escalates a family feud. A son (Darryl Hickman) falls hard and heavy for a gypsy woman that’s camped on his family’s property. His dad (John Carradine) doesn’t like the gypsies and really doesn’t want to be a father-in-law to them. He uses their camp as target practice. It’s up to Matt to restore the peace and explain love. “Miss Kitty’s Injury” tosses her (Amanda Blake) off a horse. A nearby farmer refuses to help and his son turns out to be a complete nutjob. Some people who settled the West weren’t stable no matter how many horses they kept in the barn. “Horse Deal” brings a horse thief to Dodge City. There’s few things lower than a horse thief in the old West or at least in Old Westerns. “Johnny Red” returns to town claiming to be the son of Mrs. Crane. Matt has his doubts cause the son supposedly died at Shilo. Abel Fernandez (Agent William Young Fellow on The Untouchables) has a guest part. “Kangaroo” does not bring the creature Miss Kitty’s bar. A family gets caught bullwhipping a cowboy. Matt and Chester (McCloud‘s Dennis Weaver) free the guy. The goofball family kidnap Chester and put him on trial. Can Matt rescue him from the Kangaroo court?

“Annie Oakley” isn’t one of those famous Western icons visit the show moments. This is merely the nickname of a wife that becomes a widow after she swears she’ll kill her husband. Did she really go through with it? Or did she merely have bad timing and is taking the rap? “Saludos” shoots an Indian woman. It’s up to Doc (Milburn Stone) to keep her alive while Matt rounds up a few suspects. “Brothers Whelp” brings a Lew Gallo back to town after three years. His return isn’t so happy when he discovers his girlfriend has married his brother. Nowadays he’d just drag his brother on The Jerry Springer Show. “The Boots” is a touching tale of a washed up gunfighter promising a kid a pair of boots for his birthday. Since he’s not exactly rolling in the big bucks, the gunfighter adapts his old profession and robs to fulfill his birthday promise. “Odd Man Out” features what’s supposedly a runaway wife. Except her clothes end up being sold by a third party. Matt investigates if the wife is buried around town. “Miguel’s Daughter” turns Simon Oakland (Kolchak) into a vengeful dad. “Box o’ Rocks” buries an almost empty coffin so Packy Roundtree can fake his death properly. Packy is not related to Richard Roundtree (Shaft). “Tag, You’re It” brings a hired killer to town. He’s gunning for a man that turns out to be a woman. He doesn’t like this surprise, but he also can’t screw up the job. “Groat’s Grudge” settles a Civil War score. “Big Tom” brings boxing to the dusty streets. Matt has to prevent the fight since challenger has a bum ticker. He might have to swap blows in the ring to prevent a riot.

Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1 gives us a time when Matt Dillon was the unrivaled authority in Dodge City. His reputation had been sealed as a lawman who hated to use his gun. But it wasn’t because he was a coward. He just knew it was the moment he became judge, jury and executioner in one swift motion. He was only paid to be the Marshal. Arness’ ability to maintain that attitude kept him convincing as Matt Dillon for all those years. It made him endearing to so many who thought the actor and the character would never die.

The Episodes
“Target,” “Kitty’s Injury,” “Horse Deal,” “Johnny Red,” “Kangaroo,” “Tail to the Wind,” “Annie Oakley,” “Saludos,” “Brother Whelp,” “The Boots,” “Odd Man Out,” “Miguel’s Daughter,” “Box o’ Rocks,” “False Witness,” “Tag, You’re It,” “Thick ‘n’ Thin,” “Groat’s Grudge,” “Big Tom,” “Till Death Do Us” and “The Tragedian.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the contrast of the black and white Dodge City. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The mix is fine enough to hear the footsteps on the plank floors. The episodes are subtitled.

James Arness: In Memoriam (2:20) includes John Wayne’s approval of Arness being cast as Matt Dillon. Along with clips from the series are behind the scenes footage of James between takes. Arness talks about his approach to the character.

Sponsor Spots (2:08) lets Arness plug L&M cigarettes and the announcer hypes Remington Shavers.

Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1 keeps up the 30 minute version of the series when the stories were told with extreme efficiency. Characters don’t have time for aimless pursuits. Marshal Dillon dominates the action with his desire to maintain peace without drawing his peacemaker. By this point in the series, Arness and Dillon had merged which is good since he’d have the role until the end of his career.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1 Starring: James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Milburn Stone and Amanda Blake. Boxset Contents: 20 Episodes on 3 DVDs. Released on DVD: October 11, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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