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

What company doesn’t want to double its success? After six seasons of being a top show on TV, the folks at CBS wanted to expand Gunsmoke from 30 minutes to a full hour. This was a slight risk. The series was based off the half hour radio scripts. The fans had grown used to the time slot. Could they grow restless with the extra time and act structure? Or would it be more of a good thing for viewers craving for more time on the streets of Dodge City? The answer is rather obvious since Gunsmoke aired for 20 seasons. Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 1 begins the expanded episodes that allowed viewers to get a larger vision of life in the old West.

“Perce” puts the life of Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) in jeopardy. He’s saved when ex-con Perce (Ed Nelson) takes action during an ambush. He becomes a hero for doing the right thing. But his new outlook on life gets changed when a greedy saloon girl makes him consider his old lifestyle to maintain her pricey dreams. “Old Yellow Boots” announces the surprise marriage between a drifter and a spinster. Matt’s not too excited about the news since it coincides with the death of the bride’s brother. Was this a murder-marriage arrangement? Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love) is part of the deadly engagement. “Miss Kitty” suggests the saloon keeper (and possible bordello madame) has a secret family. Frank Sutton (Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.) is part of the mystery. “All That” gets Buddy Ebsen ready for his role on The Beverly Hillbillies. He’s a poor prospector who strikes paydirt with three bags of gold. Everybody in the town wants to be his friend including his ex-wife.

“The Squaw” turns a family reunion into an ugly situation. A son isn’t happy when dad brings home his new wife and she turns out to be an Indian. “Chesterland” is an accidental marriage for Matt’s main man. Chester (Dennis Weaver) gives up the law to become a farmer for the sake of his new wife (Sondra Blake). Can he really work the soil? “Milly” is another tale of marriage. A girl (Jena Engstrom) is sick of her drunk father and wants to get hitched so she can leave the family. “Indian Ford” takes Matt into Indian country to help the military swap for a captured woman.

“Apprentice Doc” turns Doc (Milburn Stone) into a bit of an angel when he turns an outlaw (Ben Cooper) into med student. “Nina’s Revenge” is a complicated scheme when a husband seeks to blackmail his wife’s father. Can he make the set up stick? “Marry Me” puts Miss Kitty into an involuntary relationship. A local goofball decides she’s gonna be his wife no matter what. Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) is ready for the reception. “A Man A Day” brings trouble in the form of a gang’s bribe. They will pay Matt to leave town for a few days so they can proceed with their criminal plans. If he refuses to their deal, they’ll kill one man a day until Matt cooperates. Amongst the evil outlaws is Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek). “The Do-Badder” sets up a rich prospector as a philanthropist. Except things don’t work out like the Ford Foundation when he passes out the cash. Warren Oates and Strother Martin from The Wild Bunch get in on the action. “Cody’s Code” shows what happens when a settler makes the wrong friend on the frontier.

The hour long black and white episodes are rather rare to catch on TV since most cable channels prefer to run the color episodes. The stories on this boxset haven’t been played out by constant reruns on TVLand. Expanding to an hour didn’t hurt the show in creativity or popularity. It allowed the characters to breath during the plot. One of the strange elements of the expanded show is that they use the same short opening credits with Matt’s brief showdown. Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 1 contains vivid tales of the old West without feeling like Matt Dillon was mainly killing time.

The Episodes
“Perce,” “Old Yellow Boots,” “Miss Kitty,” “Harper’s Blood,” “All That,” “Long, Long Trail,” “The Squaw,” “Chesterland,” “Milly,” “Indian Ford,” “Apprentice Doc,” “Nina’s Revenge,” “Marry Me,” “A Man a Day,” “The Do-Badder,” “Lacey” and “Cody’s Code.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer black and white transfers bring a richness to Dodge City. You can see the wheel ruts in the dirt main street. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The mix is fine between Matt Dillon’s voice, his gun shot and his theme music. The episodes are subtitled.

Episode Previews (1:03) are provided for eight episodes.

Sponsor Spots (1:08) are plugs for L&M Cigarettes and Remington Shavers.

Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 1 expands the tales of Dodge City to an hour long. Marshal Matt Dillon doesn’t seem so rushed while keeping the peace. The change worked out well since this is the first of 14 seasons at an hour long.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 1. Starring: James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Milburn Stone and Amanda Blake. Boxset Contents: 17 episodes on 5 DVDs. Released: December 11, 2012. Available at Amazon.com

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