Gunsmoke [1953]

Genre: Western
Gunsmoke: 50th Anniversary Edition Volume 1 is a winning collection of episodes from the long-running CBS Western's first nine seasons, with an accent on special guest stars who had yet to find fame. A few key storylines are in the mix, too, including Gunsmoke's first episode, dated September 10, 1955 and introduced by John Wayne, who more or less suggests that the series' beefy star, James Arness, is cut from the same heroic cloth as the Duke himself. No matter who drops in for a guest spot, however, or whether Gunsmoke was a half-hour or hour-long program (the show doubled its running time by season 8), the running storyline and core characters are as constant as the prairie stars. Arness plays plain-speaking U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, who keeps the peace over a wide territory from his perch in Dodge City, Kansas, a rough-and-tumble town where prospectors, farmers, bounty hunters, outlaws, and the occasional lunatic pass through. Dennis Weaver lends support as Dillon's deputy, Chester, a courageous clown; Amanda Blake is saloon keeper Kitty; and Milburn Stone plays irascible Doc, apparently Dodge City's only physician. Volume 1 highlights feature a couple of episodes with Charles Bronson, including "The Killer," in which the future Death Wish star portrays a psychopath preying on the weak. Mogul Aaron Spelling, at one time a character actor, appears as a spacey wanderer who nearly gets lynched in "The Guitar." Cloris Leachman is very good as a woman with a diabolical edge in "Legal Revenge," Angie Dickinson is memorable as an Arapaho Indian whose marriage to a white settler incites racial anger, and Jack Lord portrays a pair of brothers who threaten Doc's life. Burt Reynolds, who joined the cast of Gunsmoke as the half-white, half-Comanche character Quint, is introduced in the very effective drama "Quint Asper Comes Home," while Ken Curtis, whose goofy Festus effectively replaced the departing Chester in season 9, enters the series in "Prairie Wolfer." --Tom Keogh

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