Directed by Ted Post et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 526 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Release Date: January 8, 2008
Review Date: December 30, 2007
The second season of Gunsmoke is when the series really began to capture the attention of the entire country. It was not rated among the top thirty shows during its first season, but by the end of its second year, it ranked seventh on the list of the year’s most popular series. This three disc set covering the first half of the second season shows reasons for its growing mainstream appeal.
Gunsmoke is indeed an adult western. It is much more concerned with moral lessons that could be learned in the space of a half hour than it is in presenting non-stop action and firepower. Yes, there are gunfights occasionally, and there are plenty of confrontations with folks both wicked and merely misled. But despite a few action-oriented episodes, most of them are more humanistic in nature, allowing wrongdoers to either be punished for their crimes or, if they somehow manage to outwit the law, find themselves worse off for their moral turpitude
James Arness makes an even greater impression as Marshall Matt Dillon in the second season. So strong was his impact, in fact, that he earned his first Emmy nomination as Best Actor for his work in Season Two. About half of the box’s twenty episodes allow him to introduce the episode waxing philosophically while wandering through Dodge City’s infamous Boot Hill cemetery. Dennis Weaver is around to steal all his scenes as the sweet-natured, drawling deputy Chester Goode while Milburn Stone continues as the irascible Doc Adams and Amanda Blake serves up whisky and an attentive ear as Miss Kitty Russell of the Long Branch Saloon.
Gunsmoke didn’t go the guest star route in casting its series episodes, but quite a few famous faces turn up during the first half of the second season. Among the most familiar faces are Tommy Kirk, Denver Pyle, Claude Akins, Richard Deacon, Carl Betz, Stuart Whitman, Mike Connors (though he went by “Touch Connors” then), Marian Seldes, Cloris Leachman, and Angie Dickinson as the most unconvincing Indian in the history of television. And speaking of stars, a few scripts are written by Sam Peckinpah who would also go on to further glory in the years to come.
Here’s the list of the first half of season two’s episodes contained in this set:
1 - Cow Doctor
2 - Brush at Elkader
3 - Custer (the most Twilight Zone-like of the episodes)
4 - The Round Up
5 - Young Man With a Gun
6 - Indian White
7 - How to Cure a Friend
8 - Legal Revenge
9 - The Mistake
10 - Greater Love
11 - No Indians
12 - Spring Term
13 - Poor Pearl
14 - Cholera
15 - Pucket’s New Year (a rare comedic episode)
16 - The Cover Up
17 - Sins of the Fathers
18 - Kick Me
19 - Executioner (my favorite episode of the set)
20 - Gone Straight
Paramount has done a remarkable job in bringing these fifty year old masters to DVD. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the original broadcasts is retained, and the black and white images are truly impressive with deep, rich blacks and shadow detail that many of today’s programs would be envious to have. There is light to moderate grain in many of the images and some random specks of dirt, but it’s never intrusive while sharpness couldn’t be better (good enough to see clearly a fever blister on Arness‘ lower lip in one episode and the stand-ins for Arness and Weaver in long shots). There are occasional line twitter and moiré patterns in some tight weaves in clothing, but it doesn’t happen often. The episodes have been divided into 5 or 6 chapters depending on whether the episode contains one of Dillon‘s introductory ruminations on the meaning of life.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is decoded by Dolby Prologic IIx into the center channel. The mono track does contain some light hiss and in some early episodes an occasional hum, but otherwise the sound is exactly the way one would expect a television series from this era to sound.
The only bonus offered in this set is a series of sponsor spots featuring James Arness (and in one, Arness and Amanda Blake) extolling the virtues of L & M cigarettes. Arness also plugs Remington electric shavers in one spot ad.
Gunsmoke is a real meat-and-potatoes western of the golden age looking far better than it has any right to look in this three disc set. The episodes are not always gripping drama and don’t possess any sophisticated sociological or psychological insights. They do provide about twenty-five minutes at a time of sweetly nostalgic entertainment well presented for fans of the show.