The ’70s arrived and Gunsmoke was still riding high on the TV range. There were two constant things on CBS since the mid-50s: Gunsmoke and Lucille Ball. The difference between the two is Here’s Lucy was Ball’s third variation sitcom since I Love Lucy. Gunsmoke still featured the core cast of Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness), Doc (Milburn Stone) and Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) working on the dirt streets of Dodge City, Kansas. The show had been on the air for so long that after leaving the role of Chester after season nine, Dennis Weaver was the lead in the series Kentucky Jones and Gentle Ben and was starting his iconic portrayal of McCloud. In an America that had changed so much, Gunsmoke was a strange constant on the TV dial. While other shows were axed by Fred Silverman during CBS’s “Rural Purge,” Gunsmoke survived. Gunsmoke: The Sixteenth Season and The Seventeenth Season has two boxsets that wants to take viewers back to the wild west and away from any current events.
Gunsmoke: The Sixteenth Season kicks off with “Chato.” Matt has to go into the wilderness to track down a killer who has already taken out plenty of guys with badges. Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island) puts up a good fight as he seems to be the distant relative of Khan from Star Trek II. There’s a bit more future spacemen action when Tom Skerritt (Alien) arrives in Dodge City. He’s looking for a bit of avenging his father’s hanging death with a recreation that includes Matt and Doc. Before she became a CBS fixture on The Bob Newhart Show, Suzanne Pleshette plays the daughter of a guy getting blackmailed in Stark. “Sam McTavish, M.D.” brings a woman doctor into Dodge City. Doc isn’t in favor of this female horning in on his domain. Vera Miles (Psycho) is McTavish and she brings her experience in the Westerns to the small screen since she was also in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Searchers. “Snow Train” is a two-parter that has Matt stuck on a train that gets bogged down in a blizzard. Waiting to get plowed out gets nasty when local Indians arrive furious that some white guy sold them poison instead of booze. Matt must solve the case before innocent people are slaughtered. Clifton James guests on this episode before he’d become a worldwide sensation as the goofy Southern cop in James Bond’s Live and Let Die and Man With the Golden Gun. “The Gun” has a teenage kid take out a legendary gunslinger only to discover everyone else in the hired gun market have a target on him so they can be the one who took out the guy who killed the icon. L.Q. Jones from The Wild Bunch is part of this resume building scheme. Speaking of Alien and Live and Let Die, Yaphet Kotto arrives in a bad way when his family’s camp ground gets attacked by Indians. Along for the massacre is Cicely Tyson (Roots and Slim Pickens (Dr. Strangelove). “Sargent Holly” has Forrest Tucker (F Troop) busted for deserting and swiping a military payroll. “Captain Sligo” is a weird tale of a whaling captain arriving in town and looking for love. The seaman is played by Richard Basehart after being the submarine commander on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The episode was directed by William Conrad who’d soon be Cannon and was the radio voice of Matt Dillon. “Lavery” has David Carradine in the west just before he’d change the western with his upcoming series Kung Fu. The season wraps up with the two-parter “Pike” that features Ross Hagen from Sidehackers, once featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
At this point Gunsmoke was down to only 24 episodes a season so now an entire season is in a single boxset instead of split in half. Even more exciting news is that you don’t have to wait for The Seventeenth Season since it’s also coming out at the same time. The season give Kitty a major story when she gets lost in the woods and her only help is a raised by wolves kinda girl. “New Doctor In Town” has Doc wander away after he screws up a patient’s treatment. Dr. John Chapman (Batman‘s Pat Hingle) arrives as the replacement, but the people are missing Doc bad. In reality, Stone had to have heart surgery and was away from the show for a few months. “The Legend” features the legend that is Jan-Michael Vincent (World’s Greatest Athlete). He’s fighting to stay out of the family business which is all trouble. “Drago” has Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) playing a mountain man who joins Matt’s posse, except he has a different set of targets on his dead or not alive list. Gold Train: The Bullet is an epic three part episode about Matt getting shot in the spine on a train and Doc having to operate. These episodes felt like they were rerun for months at a time in my youth. P.S. Murry Christmas brings together the magic of Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs), Erin Moran (Happy Days) and Willie Aames (Zapped). Now that’s a Christmas special. “One for the Road” has Jack Albertson as a dirty old drunk who looks like Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “The Predators” gives us the double team we’ve always wanted Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo) and Jodie Foster (Freaky Friday). He’s out for revenge and she’s out to make him a nice new dad. “Blind Man’s Buff” gives us the interesting sight of George Lindsey on the Range. How strange it is to see Goober from The Andy Griffith Show being a cowboy. “Alias Festus Haggen” has Matt’s right hand man busted in a case of mistaken identity and nobody wants to believe the truth. “The Wedding” marks the arrival of Sam Elliott (Road House) into Dodge City. You think such a moment would wrap up the series, but turns out there would be three more seasons to come before the end.
Gunsmoke: The Sixteenth Season and The Seventeenth Season keeps the show going with stories that are about the Wild West instead of using the elements to reflect the conflicts going on during the ’70s. There weren’t that many people showing up to avenge their family on the Six O’Clock News. Gunsmoke was a time away from the times for millions of viewers.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The new transfers bring out the beauty of the color and the sets. This is better than what’s been bouncing around in syndication for decades. This is like watching the show for the first time. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels will get the clinging of the spurs front and center. The episodes are subtitled.
Episodic Previews (1:00) are the teasers for all the episodes.
Ben and Beckey Talk Gunsmoke: Season 16 (14:15) has the two authors discuss the background of the season. Both have written books about the series and are very knowledgeable. They point out Stone was the only cast member from Kansas and had a sense of his home state’s history.
Photo Gallery consists of a dozen shots from the season.
Ben and Beckey Talk Gunsmoke: Season 17 (17:45) allows them to discuss Stone’s heart surgery during the season. Beckey talks about how an astronaut took Matt Dillon’s bullets into space and brought them back to the cast. I really wish CBS had them talking about all the seasons.
CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Sixteenth Season. Starring: James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, Ken Curtis & Buck Taylor. Boxset Contents: 24 Episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: December 10, 2019.
CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Seventeenth Season. Starring: James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, Ken Curtis & Buck Taylor. Boxset Contents: 24 Episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: December 10, 2019.
Tags: Gunsmoke, James Arness, Jodie Foster