TV shows change over the years although mostly it involves cast members coming and going. Gunsmoke found itself going through several transformations of time and film stock during its run from the ’50s to the ’70s. First was going from a successful radio series to a 30 minute black and white TV series. After six seasons, the network expanded the show to an hour. Since it was on CBS, the new hour long version was still in black and white. The ratings slipped as Western fans flocked to the colorful Bonanza. Finally in 1966, CBS accepted the belief that color was more than a fad like Smell-o-vision. America would finally get to see the hues of Dodge City. Gunsmoke: The Twelfth Season, Volume 1 & 2 has all 29 episodes for the last major format change in the longest running Western.
“Snap Decision” puts Matt Dillon (James Arness) on the trail of an outlaw. When the guy grabs a gun and warns Matt that there’s someone behind him, Matt shoots him dead. Only it turns out there are gunmen behind Matt and they fire on him. Matt feels so guilty about his first “innocent” kill that he gives up the badge. Instead of Festus (Ken Curtis) taking over, it’s up to Claude Akins to keep the law in Dodge City. This must of been how his resume landed him the job of Sheriff Lobo on BJ and the Bear. Doc (Milburn Stone) and Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) can’t believe Matt is no longer in charge. Matt can’t handle retirement since even without his star, he still thinks he needs to keep the peace. Michael Cole (Mod Squad) plays the dead guy’s son who might be fixing to get revenge for his old man. “The Goldtakers” puts the new color film to work with a dazzling heist. Outlaws swipe a shipment of gold, disguise themselves, take over Dodge City’s Blacksmith to cover up their loot for easier transport. Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible) and Denver Pyle (Dukes of Hazzard) are part of the subterfuge. Even more gold arrives in “The Jailer” when Bette Davis arrives looking for revenge against Matt. She and her sons kidnap Matt and Miss Kitty so they can execute the pair for what they did to her husband. Even more amazing is that her sons are played by Bruce Dern (Big Love), Tom Skerritt (Alien) and Zalman King (Red Shoe Diaries).
“Gunfighter R.I.P.” has Darren McGavin (Kolchak) hired to kill Matt. However he gets in an accident and falls in love with the woman nursing him back to the health (France Nuyen). He no longer has the attitude necessary to be a cold blooded killer. The people who hired him aren’t happy and hire people to kill him. “The Wrong Man” has Carroll O’Connor (All in the Family) upset at being cheated in cards. He gets his money back, but things get messy when the cheater turns up dead. “The Whispering Tree” has John Saxon (Enter the Dragon) return after a few years in prison. He’s looking for the loot he buried. Others want to dig it up and bury him back including Ed Asner (Lou Grant). “Stage Stop” has the meeting of two great faces when Joseph Ruskin comes eye to eye with Sid Haig. Does it matter that this is about and inside job? “Quaker Girl” also has a fantastic guest double team of William Shatner (Star Trek) and Timothy Carey (Paths of Glory). “Champion of the World” has a Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island) arrive in town looking to put down roots. But can the ex-champion fighter get peace in the showdown capital?
“Mad Dog” is a lighter episode where Festus gets mistaken for a gun for hire by goofy brothers that include George Lindsey (Goober on The Andy Griffith Show). Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster) also guest stars. “Ladies from St. Louis” brings back Claude Akins except now he’s on the wrong side of the law. When he saves a bunch of nuns, the sisters want him to go straight. Can he use divine intervention? Vic Tayback (Alice) also has to deal with the sisters. “Nitro” is a two-parter about a guy who gets suckered into the dangerous job of drawing nitroglycerin out of dynamite. Who gets blown up first?
Going to color wasn’t a ratings boost to Gunsmoke. The show was still in the Top 30. CBS canceled the show, but it saved by fans and the network owner’s wife. Color was nice, but the real salvation happened when CB swapped it from Saturdays at 10 p.m. to Mondays at 7:30 p.m. It went from #34 to #3 which is an amazing bump for a show already on the air for a decade. It reminds us that in the pre-DVR era, time slots truly meant everything to a TV show. Going to color proved to be a smart move since these are the episodes that have been rerun over the last 40 years on cable. Gunsmoke proved that time and color could only keep it going until it became legendary.
The videos is 1.33:1 full frame. The color transfers look a lot more sharper than the fuzzy episodes that aired on TVLand. This is the perfect Christmas gift for your father who would enjoy a bit more detail in Miss Kitty’s Salon.
Episodic Previews (1:06) are featured on many of the episodes.
CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Twelfth Season – Volume 1 & Volume 2. Starring: James Arness, Ken Curtis, Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone. Volume 1 Contents: 15 episodes on 4 DVDs. Volume 2 Contents: 14 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released: October 4, 2016