DVD Review: Gunsmoke (The Complete Series)

The fact that Gunsmoke: The Complete Series is the largest DVD boxset that’s ever shown up in my mailbox feels appropriate. The show lasted 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975. The series was able to be split up into three different syndication packages. The first six seasons with 233 episodes that were 30 minutes long was retitled Marshal Dillon. Later the next five seasons with 176 hour long and black and white episodes were bundled. Finally the last nine seasons with 226 in color were run for decades on your local stations and cable channels. Putting all the 635 episodes together and you’d be glued to the TV set for 440 hours and 32 minutes. There’s 143 DVDs in the boxset. The boxset is large enough to take up half a shelf on a bookcase. The box used to hold the six large plastic cases must be larger than the soundstage used for Miss Kitty’s Salon. If you’ve been faithfully collecting the DVD sets as they’ve been released starting in the summer of 2007, Gunsmoke: The Final Season wraps the show up without making you repurchase the previous 19 seasons.

The final season opened with a bit of a shocker as Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) had split Dodge City. After 19 years of running the bar that at one point might have been a brothel, Miss Kitty was gone. Amanda Blake had grown tired of commuting from her place in Phoenix, Arizona to Hollywood California in order to act like she was in Dodge City, Kansas. The show kept her so busy that she didn’t have time to do films when she was in her prime. What’s interesting is that most people have completely forgotten that she left right before the end since there’s so many episodes with her in them. By this time the series had done shows that focused less and less on the ensemble cast so people might have thought Miss Kitty wasn’t a part of the solo Matt Dillon (James Arness) adventure. Maybe she’ll be back next week? After 24 weeks, there were no more weeks for fresh Gunsmokes.

The season opened with “Matt Dillon Must Die.” Nobody noticed Miss Kitty missing since Matt was being chased through the mountains by the Wakefield family led by Morgan Woodward (Cool Hand Luke). They want revenge on the lawman. “Town In Chains” has a pack of outlaws dress up as Union soldiers. They convince a small town that the Indians are going to raid them so all their valuables need to go to the town’s bank. They’re going to rob the bank and wipe out the entire town. Matt and Newly (Buck Taylor) are the only shot at stopping the big heist. “The Guns of Cibola Blanca” is a two parter that has Doc and Lyla (Klute‘s Dorothy Tristan) get kidnapped by a group of Comancheros and ex-Confederate soldiers. It’s up to Newly, Matt and Festus (Ken Curtis) to rescue them by posing as gunrunners. “The Wiving” has three of the ladies working at the saloon getting kidnaped by men wanting wives. Can their plot succeed? This one has Hannah (Pale Rider‘s Fran Ryan) taking over Miss Kitty’s saloon. “The Iron Men” has Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace) hanging with Matt. “The Tarnished Badge” has Matt dealing with a power hungry sheriff played by Victor French (Little House on the Prairie). Nick Nolte (The Deep) and William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) guest star. “Island in the Desert” has Festus shot and having to drag himself through a wasteland to get help. His only hope is Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke & The Wild Bunch).

“The Colonel” has a drunk Lee J. Cobb (The Exorcist) unsure if he’s overheard a bank robbery plan. “The Squaw” has Matt tracking down robbers only to catch the one with the loot. The others come hunting down Matt. John Saxon (Enter the Drago) enters this mayhem. “The Hiders” has Ned Beatty (Superman) as part of a group of squatters who are losing their sense of squat. “Larkin” has Newly nab a killer only to discover three bounty hunters aren’t wanting to give up their chance at bringing him in dead or alive. “The Fires of Ignorance” has a farmer beat a school teacher for daring to educate his children. John Vernon (National Lampoon’s Animal House) and the recently departed Allen Garfield (Nashville) are part of the lesson plan. “Brides and Grooms” has a farmer upset that his sons have found brides and he’s still alone. So he makes a move on Fran Ryan. This wedding centric episode features Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H*), David Soul (Starsky and Hutch) and Jim Backus (Gillian’s Island). “Hard Labor” has Matt railroaded into working in a judge’s silver man. It’s an all star episode with John Colicos (Battlestar Galactica), William Smith (Hawaii Five-O), Gregory Sierra (Barney Miller) and Gerald McRaney (Deadwood). “The Busters” has a cowboy being given a few days to live after being kicked in the head by a horse. His partner bends over backwards for his buddy. But was Doc right? Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story) and John Beck (Rollerball) are the cowboy and buddy. “Manolo” has a sheepherding family going through a strange ritual that upsets people in the town. People around the sheep include Nehemiah Persoff, Robert Urich (VEGA$) and Brion James (Bladerunner). “The Sharecroppers” is the final episode, but it doesn’t feel like an end to Dodge City. It’s about Festus getting dragged into a family after he mistakenly shoots the father in the leg. Victor French makes his 18th guest star appearance on the show. People will argue if Gunsmoke should have had a real ending, but the series has never gone off the air since it wrapped 45 years ago.

Father’s Day is coming up and nothing would say let your dad know that you’re thinking of him better than Gunsmoke: The Complete Season. This will also allow you and dad to work together on a new project – building an extension to his house so the boxset will fit inside.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are so much better than those battered masters that ran on TVLand for all those years. There’s a crispness to the image that transports you back to the old west. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. You’ll hear Matt draw his gun so cleanly. The episodes are subtitled.

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

Photo Galleries cover many of the seasons.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ben and Beckey Talk Gunsmoke Season 20 (15:42) has them give an overview from when the show started on radio and how those early scripts were adapted to the TV series. They bring up the fact that Amanda Blake was going to come back for season 21. Except the show was canceled.

Episodic Previews (1:02) are provided for many of the episodes.

Sponsor Spots includes plugs for L&M Cigarettes and the Remington electric razor. The whole cast takes a smoke break outside the soundstage.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Final Season. Starring: James Arness, Buck Taylor, Ken Curtis & Milburn Stone. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: May 5, 2020.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: The Complete Series. Starring: James Arness, Amanda Blake, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Weaver, Buck Taylor, Ken Curtis & Milburn Stone. Boxset Contents: 635 episodes on 143 DVDs. Released: May 5, 2020.

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