DVD Review: Gunsmoke: Movie Collection

Gunsmoke was one of the longest running shows in entertainment when it popped up on the radio dial in the spring of 1952. Even though the radio show lasted nine years, the tales from Dodge City also popped up on the television in the Fall of 1955. People couldn’t get enough of Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc, Chester and Festus as the series lasted 20 years. The show was on the air so long that it went from a thirty minute black & white series to an hour long black & white to finally an hour long color show. It became a massive hit in syndication after it finally went off the air in the spring of 1975 and still airs on both TVLand and MeTV. But even with 635 episodes, fans wanted more. On September 26, 1987, they got another evening with Marshal Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty with a movie of the week. This was followed by a few more TV movies. Gunsmoke: Movie Collection brings together Return to Dodge, The Last Apache and To The Last Man.

Return to Dodge (1987 – 93 minutes) was the big return after a dozen years. Matt Dillon (James Arness) has given up his badge and lives in the wilderness as a trapper. His peaceful life in the country gets ruined when he crosses paths with a bunch of outlaws who stab him in the back. He kind of escapes by getting in a canoe and going down a river. But he’s heading to rough water. When he finally gets patched up in Dodge City with the help of Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), Matt gets the news that one of the guys he sent up the river to prison is coming back for a bit of revenge. The TV movie gave fans something they didn’t see at the end of Gunsmoke with Matt and Miss Kitty reunited. Blake had quit at the end of the 19th season. In a nice gesture, Fran Ryan (Private School) gets to return as Hannah, the woman who took over the Salon. Newly (Buck Taylor) remains the law on the streets of Dodge City. Milburn Stone wasn’t back as Doc since he died in 1980. Ken Curtis didn’t reprise his role of Festus because he thought the producers had lowballed him. But the producers got the last laugh since they included both Doc and Festus by pulling clips from the episode that featured the character of heavy Will Mannon (SWAT‘s Steve Forrest) before he returned all these years ago for revenge. Director Vincent McEveety had helmed several ’70s Disney live action films including The Million Dollar Duck, Gus, SuperDad, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, The World’s Strongest Man and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. The reunion movie proved that Gunsmoke still could be a hit even. What’s really remarkable is somehow Return to Dodge is now Rated R.

The Last Apache (1990 – 94 minutes) has Matt get a letter from an old girlfriend (The Walton‘s Michael Learned) that her daughter has been taken hostage by Apache Indians. Matt heads further west to try and negotiate a swap. This gets tricky when the captured Apaches are slated to be executed. This whole things get extra personal when Matt learns that the daughter might also be his own. Amy Stoch who plays Matt’s daughter would go on to play Bill’s mom in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Joining in on the fun are Geoffrey Lewis (The Devil’s Rejects) and Hugh O’Brian (Game of Death). None of the other original cast members are part of the TV movie. It’s a Matt Dillon solo adventure since by this time Amanda Blake had passed away. To The Last Man (1992 – 93 minutes) also has just Matt in the movie. He’s helping Pat Hingle (Batman) deal with cattle rustlers except they end up in the middle of the bloody Pleasant Valley War in Arizona. Is this finally the time Matt gets mowed down as part of standing up for what is right? Amy Stoch is back as Matt’s daughter.

James Arness proved he could still ride a horse even around the age of 70. I wouldn’t pick a fight against him. His weathered face look allows us to believe that Matt Dillon had been exposed to the element for all these decades instead of living a glamorous life. What interesting is that 2 of the 3 films were rated R for Violence even though they ran on broadcast TV in the ’80s and ’90s. Guess the MPAA has gotten a little tighter on firing off six shooters since there’s nothing even close to the graphic imagery found in an R-rated horror film. The producers did a smart move of not making every film about Dodge City since so many of the key regulars had passed away from the start of the TV movies until the end. Gunsmoke: Movie Collection shows how even after all those years on TV, Matt Dillon wasn’t ready to ride off into to sunset.

The video is 1.37:1 for all three movies. These were broadcast on TV in the standard definition era. The image brings out the beauty of the locations in Canada and Arizona. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo in both English and Spanish. The levels let you feel Matt Dillon when he lays down the law even if he’s not a lawman anymore. The movies are Closed Captioned.

No bonus features.

CBS DVD presents Gunsmoke: Movie Collection. Starring: James Arness, Amanda Blake, Buck Taylor, Pat Hingle and Amy Stoch. Rated: R, PG-13 & R. Boxset Contents: 3 Movies on 3 DVD discs. Released: August 25, 2020.

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