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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Drama > TV > Gunsmoke - 50th Anniversary - Volumes One & Two

Gunsmoke – 50th Anniversary: Volume One & Two Sets


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B+     Episodes: B+



When TV first became the hot new medium, Westerns were the hottest of all the genre shows in production.  They dominated the airwaves from the dawn of TV until the early 1960s, when they began to become overtaken.  CBS was the #1 network from that time until the mid 1970s and the one series that earmarked that dominance was the most lavishly produced series of them all.  Gunsmoke made James Arness a bigger star than ever and though not as existentialist as some other series of the time, it was consistent in its high quality and knack for getting the top, up and coming talent in the business over and over again.  The two volumes that make up the 50th Anniversary sets remind us why.


Volume One starts in 1955 with the first broadcast show, including the introduction by no less than Arness’ good friend John Wayne, who highly recommends the show and sees a big future for it.  Even he could not have imagined at the time how right he was.  The titles are as follows, including notes on guests and commentaries in some cases by those guests:


1)     Matt Gets It (Arness commentary)

2)     Hack Prine (Dennis Weaver commentary)

3)     The Killer (Charles Bronson)

4)     The Preacher (Chuck Connors)

5)     The Guitar (Aaron Spelling stars!!!)

6)     Legal Revenge (Cloris Leachman)

7)     Sins Of The Father (Angie Dickinson)

8)     Romeo (Barbara Eden commentary)

9)     Doc’s Reward (Jack Lord)

10)  Lost Rifle (Charles Bronson)

11)  The Bobsy Twins (Richard Chamberlain)

12)  The Blacksmith (George Kennedy commentary)

13)  Little Girl

14)  Chesterland (Dennis Weaver commentary)

15)  Quint Asper Comes Home (Burt Reynolds, James Doohan)

16)  Ash (Adam West commentary)

17)  Prairie Wolfer (Ken Curtis joining the cast)



If that was not impressive and terrific enough, the show continued its winning ways as it grew in popularity, reputation and become a survivor after many other TV series (especially Westerns) came and went.  It was not easy, but CBS backed this show like crazy and made it (no pun intended) one of their great workhorses.  Volume Two has the show form 1964 to its close in 1974.  Once again, the titles are as follows, including notes on guests and commentaries in some cases by those guests:


1)     Hung High (Ed Asner commentary)

2)     One Killer On Ice (Dennis Hopper & John Barrymore, Jr.)

3)     Treasure Of John Walking Fox (Leonard Nimoy)

4)     The Jailer (Bette Davis, Tom Skerritt and commentary supplier and co-star Bruce Dern)

5)     The Wrong Man (Carroll O’Connor)

6)     Quaker Girl (William Shatner)

7)     The Pillagers (Buck Taylor commentary)

8)     The Prisoner (Jon Voight, the same year as Midnight Cowboy)

9)     Chato (Ricardo Montalban)

10)  P.S. Murry Christmas (Jack Elam, Jodie Foster, Jeanette Nolan, Erin Moran)

11)  A Quiet Day In Dodge (Margaret Hamilton, John Fiedler, J. Pat O’Malley and an Arness commentary)

12)  Trail Of Bloodshed (Kurt Russell, Janit Baldwin, Craig Stevens)



The show was a winner all the way and though this critic is not its biggest fan, there is no doubt it was a high quality show and Arness was one of the reasons, demanding the best and getting it.  Writers and directors over the years included Sam Peckinpah, Alan Crosland, Jr., actor Peter Graves, Arthur Hiller, Alf Kjellin, Buzz Kulik, Vincent McEveety, Bernard McEveety, Donn Mullally, Joseph H. Lewis, Leo Penn, Christian Nyby, Ted Post, Arthur Rowe, Mark Rydell, Joseph Sargent, Robert Stevenson, Andrew V. McLaglen, actor William Conrad (who played Marshall Dillon on the original radio version that preceded this series) and even Dennis Weaver.  The actual list is much longer and it had to be to produce 633 episodes overall.  This is a stunning “sampler” to say the least and an ace job in choices and extras overall.


The 1.33 X 1 image varies throughout, especially covering over two decades worth of shows.  The show was running so long, it did more than just go from black and white to color, but permanently went from a half-hour to an hour before color was an issue.  The black and white looks decent for its time, shot on film similar CBS series at the time like The Twilight Zone and Have Gun Will Travel (reviewed elsewhere on this site) were.  The color shows vary more in quality like EastmanColor starting to fade in various ways on the second set, though some of the shows look closer to the way they would have looked in original broadcast than others.  All have some degree of a slight digititis haze affecting detail throughout, but the richness of the images helps make up for it.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 is monophonic on all the shows, though the commentaries and extras are simple stereo at best.


Special note should be made about the many composers who contributed music to the series, including Elmer Bernstein, Bruce Broughton, Luchi De Jesus, Gerald Fried, Ernest Gold, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Alex North, Morton Stevens, Franz Waxman and even Van McCoy, best know for his later dace hit The Hustle!  That is quite a diverse set of talents and not event he entire list, but as I watched, the music played an even more vital role in making these shows work than I ever expected or remembered.


Extras are numerous and impressive, including brief audio introductions on all the episodes by Arness himself and the commentaries noted above.  Other extras include several Emmy acceptances, several Ed Sullivan Show segments on the first set, promos of its recent run on The Western Channel, a few blooper reels, stills, Museum Of TV & Radio seminar with Arness and Amanda “Miss Kitty” Blake, CBS and syndicated promos, Blake’s appearances on a 1972 David Frost Show and 1974 Mike Douglas Show on the second set.


The last time we looked at the show, it was in its three revival telefilms, which made us wonder about when the shows were coming out.  Though Paramount/CBS has some work to do on the shows and have not announced individual seasons, these 50th Anniversary sets will make fans who have old videotapes or bad copies otherwise very satisfied.  This is the best “best of” release for a classic TV series on DVD to date, even if it was spilt into two sets.  Despite some aged moments and those that the most picky would consider “politically incorrect” or the like, the show was bold in dealing with racism, women’s rights and a changing world, much of which did change as the show grew and grew.  Its arrival on DVD is very welcome.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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