DVD Review: Gunsmoke (The Eleventh Season, Volume 1 & 2)

The amazing thing about Gunsmoke is that even after nearly a decade on the air, Dodge City was still in black and white. This was the Fall of 1965 and somehow CBS didn’t want to give color film to its flagship show. This would be like CBS insisting CSI be only broadcast in standard definition with the academy aspect ratio. Gilligan’s Island and The Lucy Show were in color that season. Even the network’s new Western The Big Valley featured Lee Majors with hues. But Matt Dillon (James Arness), Festus (Ken Curtis), Doc (Milburn Stone) and Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) would remain stuck in black and white on Gunsmoke: The Eleventh Season, Volumes 1 & 2.

The season starts off with a dark episode “Seven Hours to Dawn.” A gang of outlaws being led by John Drew Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s dad) take over Dodge City and take out Matt. It’s up to Doc and Festus to get revenge and save the place. “The Storm” places Matt in a hard place when a man is about to get hung for a murder. Turns out the guy is innocent since the real killers know Matt. Who will hang at Dawn? Forrest Tucker (F Troop) and Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files) guest star. “Ten Little Indians” counts among its cast Zalman King (Red Shoe Diaries), Bruce Dern (Big Love), John Marley (The Godfather), Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) and Nehemiah Persoff (ever show in the ’60s & ’70s). “Kioga” has an Indian arrive looking for real revenge since he doesn’t trust the legal system. Naturally Neville Brand (Without Warning) gets in the way of justice. “The Pretender” is a tale of cattle rustling involving Tom Skerritt (Alien). “South Wind” is a tale of a son wanting to avenge his father’s death. Naturally it guest stars Bruce Dern. “The Hostage” ransomed my attention by joining together Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland years before they’d unite on Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

“The Avengers” has Doc, Festus and Miss Kitty taken hostage by James Gregory (The Manchurian Candidate). James wants justice for the death of his son. John Saxon (Enter the Dragon) might not be so innocent. “Sweet Billy, Singer of Songs” is about a man looking for a woman to marry. Of course he hits on two women who had major husbands during this time. Diane Ladd was hooked up with Bruce Dern. Judy Carne was hitched to former cast member Burt Reynolds. He would probably have better luck marrying Slim Pickens (Dr. Strangelove). “The Raid” is about an organized group of outlaws hitting banks. They’re led by Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey). “My Father’s Guitar” swoons to the sounds of Beau Bridges (Jeff’s brother). “Wishbone” makes Festus snap a bone. Lyle Waggoner arrives fresh from not getting the gig as Batman. “Which Dr.” brings us the subtle acting of George Lindsey (Goober on The Andy Griffith Show). “Harvest” reaps the talent that is James MacArthur (Hawaii Five-O, George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) and Lesley Ann Warren (Mission: Impossible). “The Treasure of John Walking Fox” puts Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) in jeopardy when he pays things off with serious amounts of cash. Robbers make him their next mark. “My Father, My Son” makes a family want revenge against a gunman. The guests in Dodge City include Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and more Zalman King. “Prime of Life” wraps up the season with John Don Baker (Walking Tall). A fast draw expert might have to prove his talent against Matt.

This marks the end of the five seasons where Gunsmoke was an hour long and black and white. In a way these seemed to be the rarest of episodes since in the ’70s, TV stations wanted to rerun color episodes. Even today TVLand wants the color Gunsmokes. Why the producers and CBS played tight with the budget is unfathomable. These were good episodes that would have probably received thousands of additional reruns over the last 50 years. The good news is that Gunsmoke would still share in the syndication riches since there are still nine more seasons to come.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the black and white details for the last go around. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The mix is good enough to hear footsteps on the wood walkways. The episodes are subtitled.

No bonus features.

Gunsmoke: The Eleventh Season: Volumes 1 & 2 is a final journey to Dodge City in the black and white era. There’s a lot of revenge episodes this season.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Eleventh Season: Volumes 1 & 2. Starring: James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake and Ken Curtis. Boxset Contents: 32 episodes on 8 DVDs. Rated: Unrated. Released: December 9, 2014.

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