DVD Review: Gunsmoke (The Eighteenth Season & The Nineteenth Season)

The world was changing in 1972 at a breathtaking pace. Everything was being covered in either bright shag carpeting or Astroturf. Hair was getting a bit more wilder. Mark Spitz would win 7 Gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Munich. Atari would release Pong. The first Popeye’s restaurant would open although people would have to wait another 48 years to get a Spicy Crispy Chicken sandwich. The future was coming fast. And yet there was Gunsmoke on the TV every Monday at 8 p.m. Here was a TV show that had started as a radio show in 1952 still in the Top 10 for it’s 18th season. The Rookies and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In weren’t making anyone flee from Dodge City. In the midst of the modern chaos, America wanted to spend an hour at Miss Kitty’s saloon. Gunsmoke: The Eighteenth Season & The Nineteenth Season are two boxsets that have third and second to last seasons of a show that defined epic television.

Season 18 starts with “The River” a solo adventure for Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness). He when he gets chased in the woods by a group of bank robbers led by Slim Pickens (Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles). They want Matt’s prisoner and more in this two-parter. “Bohannan” brings Matt together with Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), Doc (Milburn Stone) and Festus (Ken Curtis) in Dodge City, Kansas. Also joining them is Richard Kiley (Jurassic Park) as a faith healer looking to pull a fast one of the locals. Also along for the ceremony is Vincent Van Patten (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School). For those of you wondering what happened to Newly (Buck Taylor), he arrives on “The Judgement” about an army deserter who busts a wife beating husband. The episode stars Tim O’Connor (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Mariette Hartley (the Polaroid ads with Rockford) and Katherine Helmond (Soap). “The Drummer” has Victor French (Highway to Heaven) meet the son of an Indian he might have massacred. Along for this guilt trip are Bruce Glover (Diamonds Are Forever), Kiel Martin (Hill Street Blues) and Brandon Cruz (Courtship of Eddie’s Father). “Sarah” has Matt run into an old girlfriend (Honey West‘s Anne Francis) that’s running a bar on the same level as Miss Kitty. “The Fugitives” goes on the run with Vic Tayback (Alice) and Russell Johnson (Gilligan’s Island). “The Sodbusters” has farmers getting screwed on their water from ranchers. Leif Garrett (Walking Tall) is home on the range. “The Brothers” has Miss Kitty taken out a wanted man. Steve Forrest is a gunman this season before SWAT arrived. “Hostage!” captivates with both creepy superstars William Smith (Hawaii Five-O) and Geoffrey Lewis (The Devil’s Rejects) scaring people. “Jubilee” has Tom Skerritt (Alien) as party loving guy who pays little attention to his wife. Festus wants to change that. Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island) also gets dragged into this relationship repair. “A Quiet Day in Dodge” gets loud with the arrival of Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz). “Whelan’s Men” is rather historic because this episode teams of Harrison Ford (Star Wars) and Gerald McRainey (Major Dad). Ford had a stunt go bad and lost his front teeth while filming this episode. “This Golden Land” has Richard Dreyfus arrive in Dodge City that doesn’t like his Jewish culture. Soon after this episode, Dreyfus was off to make Jaws. Think about how two of the stars of the biggest box office hits of the ’70s, found their way on Gunsmoke.

Season 19 kept the same main cast as the core characters. But the ratings had dropped so that the show was only in the Top 30. This would become the penultimate season. The season opens with another Matt Dillon solo double episode. “Women For Sale” has a group of Indians kidnapping females in order to sell them to outlaws. Gregory Sierra (Barney Miller) is part of the abductions that Matt must stop. “Matt’s Love Story” has him getting close to a woman that nurses him back to health. It’s also about how Victor French can’t let go of Matt since he’s back for the third time in these two seasons as a different character. “The Boy and the Sinner” also brings back Vincent Van Patten to clean up an old drunk. “The Widowmaker” brings back Steve Forrest as a gunslinger. SWAT would make him a superstar when ABC debuts the cop series in the winter. “Kitty’s Love Affair” has her hooking up with Richard Kiley when he returns to the set. This time he’s got a dark secret during his time of romancing Kitty. “The Hanging of Newly O’Brien” has him on the wrong side of medical malpractice lawsuit. James Van Patten (Roller Boogie) is part of the accusation. “Susan Was Evil” seems like Susan (Hidden‘s Katherine Cannon) is wooing Matt’s prisoner to help him break out. But she has a bigger plan. “Like Old Time” has Charles Haid (Hill Street Blues) being part of a tale of safecracking wanting to go straight. “Trail of Bloodshed” is the classic tale of someone arriving in Dodge City looking for revenge against the man who killed a relative. But this time it’s Kurt Russell (Big Trouble In Little China) looking for blood. What’s interesting is his character’s name is Buck Henry. Sadly the real Buck Henry was not part of the episode although he’d soon be a regular guest star on Saturday Night Live.

Gunsmoke had only one more season until it would wind down to a few TV movies to keep viewers happy. But these two seasons have the series doing what it did best: give America a getaway. But it wasn’t a complete escapist hour since there was a lot of violence on the screen. People get shot and killed here as they did on the news with coverage of the Vietnam War. Maybe viewers could handle it better in Dodge City because this is where they’ve grown up for nearly two decades. Things were going to change soon for those viewers.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are so much better than what you’ve seen over the decades. Your father who loved the show will feel like this is a new series. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You’ll hear a lot of clanging spurs. The episodes are subtitled.

Ben and Beckey Talk Gunsmoke Season 18 (19:09) has the two historians of the series get deep into what was going on in the series behind the scenes. They also point out the big guest stars.

Audio Commentary from James Arness on “Quiet Day in Dodge” was recorded in 2005. Arness recounts the episode and show.

Photo Gallery from the season.

Episodic Previews (1:02) are provided for each episode.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Eighteenth Season. Starring: James Arness, Amanda Blake, Buck Taylor, Ken Curtis & Milburn Stone. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: February 11, 2020.

Audio Commentary on Part 2 of “Women For Sale” with Jim Byrnes and Ben Costello.

Photo Gallery has more pictures from the set and locations.

Ben and Beckey Talk Gunsmoke Season 19 (13:46) has the two authors breakdown the episodes and how things were as the show was winding down.

Episodic Previews (1:02) are provided for each episode.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Nineteenth Season. Starring: James Arness, Amanda Blake, Buck Taylor, Ken Curtis & Milburn Stone. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: February 11, 2020.

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