DVD Review: Gunsmoke (The Sixth Season, Volume 1)

While Gunsmoke is the longest running TV western with 20 seasons produced, Gunsmoke: The Sixth Season, Vol. 1 marks the end of the show in the half hour format. Starting in season seven, the scripts would lose their concise nature as Matt Dillon (James Arness), Chester (Dennis Weaver), Doc (Milburn Stone) and Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) had twice the time to cover as much plot. The slot expansion made sense since Gunsmoke finished season six on top of the ratings for the 4th straight year. A big bonus was the expanded show allowed the thirty minute version of Gunsmoke to be syndicated under the title Marshal Dillon. This was during a time when first run shows waited until the network ax before entering the lucrative world of syndication. There were quite a few shows that were prematurely ended so producers could sell the reruns. Perhaps Gunsmoke wouldn’t have lasted another 14 seasons if the 233 half hour episodes had been stuck in the film vault? Gunsmoke: The Sixth Season, Volume contains the first 19 episodes of the last time things were tight in Dodge City.

“Friend’s Pay-Off” puts a bullet in the back of Matt Dillon’s pal. The injured guy won’t tell Matt who shot him. Things get messy when the truth rides into town. “The Blacksmith” is George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke). He’s ordered bride from Germany and most of the town turn up for the wedding. A few locals give Kennedy the gift of arson. Kennedy won’t take Matt’s help in tracking down the firestarters. He wants to dish out a little blacksmith justice. “Small Water” puts the dad of Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) behind bars based on a wanted poster. He won’t let his daddy be found guilty. “Shooting Stopover” exposes poor planning in the stagecoach industry. Matt and Chester are escorting a prisoner to Wichita. Also on board is a fortune in gold. Matt has to worry that the stage might get held up either by robbers or the prisoner’s gang members.

“The Peace Officer” drags Matt into a domestic violence situation between a couple. “Don Matteo” makes Matt stop his old riding buddy after the guy gets drunk and rough with the ladies at the Long Branch. “The Worm” forces a violent buffalo hunter to prove he didn’t kill someone when he was drunk. Two escaped convicts take Matt hostage in “The Badge.” Matt has to turn the convicts against each other to give him hope of escaping. “Ben Tolliver’s Stud” sounds like a Cinemax After Dark title. Truth is that Ben takes a stud horse from his former employer as back wages. The employer swears Ben is a horse thief. “The Wake” brings Denver Pyle (Dukes of Hazzard) to Dodge City with a dead friend. He wants to throw a big wake at Miss Kitty’s bar with free drinks for all. Things just don’t seem right to Matt and Chester. They investigate the deceased to find a strange truth. What’s Denver really doing? “Old Fool” has a dirt poor golddigger wanting to hook up with Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies). She must know about all his Texas tea. Matt’s not sure how to protect Buddy’s fortune. Amongst the guest roles is Hampton Fancher. You might not recognize him, but he’s the co-screenwriter of Blade Runner. “Bad Sheriff” brings legendary movie cowboy Harry Carey Jr. (The Searchers and Back to the Future III) onto the show. Is he really bringing a prisoner for the reward? “Tall Trapper” makes Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch) upset when is wife flirts with a trapper. How upset? Doc wants to do an autopsy on her. Strother takes off with her body.

Gunsmoke: The Sixth Season, Volume 1 gives tight tales of this little town on the edge of humanity. Matt Dillon keeps up the law during a time when there weren’t much CSI action. He had to solve things off his gut fielding and a touch of observation rather than lab tests and technicians. Matt proves over and over that his eyes are better at spotting a guilty bastard than a microscope. Plus he had half the time to make the connections. The final episodes of season six are due out October 16 to bring an end to a time when they packed an hour’s worth of Dodge City action in 30 minutes.

The Episodes
“Friend’s Pay-Off,” “The Blacksmith,” “Small Water,” “Say Uncle,” “Shooting Stopover,” “The Peace Officer,” “Don Matteo,” “The Worm,” “The Badge,” “Distant Drummer,” “Ben Tolliver’s Stud,” “No Chip,” “The Wake,” “The Cook,” “Old Fool,” “Brother Love,” “Bad Sheriff,” “Unloaded Gun” and “Tall Trapper.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the detail in the black and white cinematography. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. You can hear the crack of the bullets and the jingle of the spurs. The episodes are subtitled.

There are no bonus features.

Gunsmoke: The Sixth Season, Volume 1 starts the final season of the show in the 30 minute format. Matt Dillon keeps the law in a land that can easily turn into anarchy.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Sixth Season, Volume 1 Starring: James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Milburn Stone and Amanda Blake. Boxset Contents: 19 episodes on 3 DVDs. Released: August 7, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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