Gunsmoke: 50th Anniversary Volume 1 and Volume 2 Studio: Paramount Home Video Year: 2005 (Original episodes aired from 1955-1975) Rated: N/A Aspect Ratio: 4X3 Audio: English Dolby Digital mono Subtitles: None Time: Volume 1: 9 hrs. 4 min.; Volume 2: 10 hrs. 1 min. Disc Format: DVD-9 Case Style: 3 slim line cases in a slip case “Gunsmoke” is a television landmark that has a distinction which is about to be broken. It debuted on CBS in 1955 and ran an incredible twenty seasons (that’s 633 episodes), finally wrapping in 1975. No other television series had come close to this run until “The Simpsons” and “Law and Order”, which will more than likely meet and exceed “Gunsmoke”’s long held record. “Gunsmoke” ushered in the adult western genre that has seen its lineage in shows such as “Bonanza” and even HBO’s potty mouthed “Deadwood”. So what makes a television series last this long? Strong characters, great plots, interesting actors and that little bit of TV magic. “Gunsmoke” arose during the height of the western genre of the 50’s and gave the audience its weekly dose of gun slinging action without having to go to the local theater and laying out any cash. It also allowed the producers to chart new territory and establish rules as to how serialized drama could be done on this fairly new and fledgling medium. “Gunsmoke” follows the adventures of Marshal Matt Dillon, played by James Arness, as he assumes the role of lawman in Dodge City, Kansas in 1873. His Assistant Deputy Chester Goode, played by Dennis Weaver, and later Festus Haggen, played by Ken Curtis, joins him. Dillon frequents the local saloon, and one would assume, its owner, Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) on a regular basis to mull over his problem of the week and add in a romance angle for the female viewers. Anytime Matt takes a punch or a bullet a little too hard, he is treated by the local doctor, Doc Adams (Milburn Stone). At this point, Paramount and CBS have yet to commit to full season sets of this show. With 633 episodes, and the potential for as many as twenty box sets, one can hardly blame them. Instead, we are given two, three disc box sets, available separately as Volume 1 or 2, or together in a combined slipcase. The sets have a sampling of episodes from nearly every season and they highlight numerous and notable guest appearances of some young up and comers of the time, such as Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson and Bruce Dern. For this review, I watched various episodes from each set and scanned through the rest to evaluate the quality of the transfers. Volume 1 Episodes: Disc 1: “Matt Gets It”, “Hack Prine”, “The Killer”, “The Preacher”, “The Guitar” (Season 1); “Legal Revenge”, “Sins of the Father” (Season 2). Disc 2: “Romeo”, “Doc’s Reward” (Season 3); “Lost Rifle” (Season 4); “The Bobsy Twins” (Season 5); “The Blacksmith”, “Little Girl” (Season 6). Disc 3: “Chesterland” (Season 7); “Quint Asper Comes Home”, “Ash” (Season 8); “Prairie Wolfer” (Season 9). Volume 2 Episodes: Disc 1: “Hung High”, “One Killer on Ice” (Season 10); “Treasure of John Walking Fox” (Season 11); “The Jailer” (Season 12). Episodes from season 12 up are in color. Disc 2: “The Wrong Man”, “Quaker Girl” (Season 12); “The Pillagers” (Season 13); “The Prisoner” (Season 14). Disc 3: “Chato” (Season 15); “P.S. Murry Christmas” (Season 16); “A Quiet Day in Dodge” (Season 18); “Trail of Bloodshed” (Season 19). Video: Both sets are in 4x3. All of the episodes on Volume 1 are in black and white, which covers the years from 1955 to 1964. Episodes from season twelve up on Volume 2 are in color. Blacks and whites seem to crush into the grays in places and there is noticeable digital noise. Film dirt is evident in most of the episodes, but it is not overly distracting. Edge enhancement was minimal. Color on the color episodes is somewhat muted but flesh tones are accurate and you are able to notice differences in skin tones on the faces of the actors. It almost seems as if the crew was still adjusting to shooting in color since there are many contrasting colors on the costumes, to the point where some of the colors leap out at you, thus making for an inconsistent presentation. This seems to improve in the following seasons/ episodes presented here. Some of the color episodes also appear a bit soft in detail. Audio: Both of the sets are in big fat mono. Hiss is evident in the original track, and it is clearly dated. Overall, it still sounds fairly good for a 50 year old television series, but it is not a very dynamic soundtrack. Bonus Features: James Arness does brief introductions to each of the episodes pointing out any historic bits of information surrounding the episode, such as guest appearances. He also does similar intros to many of the bonus features. Paramount and CBS have taken the time to add a considerable amount of extras to this sampling of episodes. They should be commended for putting this effort into this historical show. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come if they decide to do full season sets later on. Volume 1, Disc 1: Episode introductions by James Arness The Ed Sullivan Show: James Arness as Matt Dillon. Sullivan introduces Arness; Arness does a scene from the “Gunsmoke” pilot. (6:33) The Ed Sullivan Show: Dennis Weaver as Chester. Sullivan interviews Weaver as Chester, with optional commentary by Weaver. (9:39) 1958 Emmy Awards: Best Dramatic Series – Westerns Channel Promo features a clip of the presentation of “Gunsmoke”‘s Emmy win. Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Dennis Weaver on “Gunsmoke” Trio) Weaver reminisces (1:00) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Dennis Weaver on James Arness) Weaver reminisces (1:09) Photo galleries of “Sins of the Father” and “The Guitar” Commentaries by James Arness on “Matt Gets It”, Dennis Weaver on “Hack Prine”, and Angie Dickinson on “Sins of the Father”. Volume 1, Disc 2: Episode introductions by James Arness Museum of TV & Radio seminar: 1989 Gunsmoke screening and seminar with Arness, Amanda Blake and producer John Manly where they answer questions from the audience. (29.55) Museum of TV & Radio promo with Kiefer Sutherland (1:05). Nothing specific to “Gunsmoke” 1959 Emmy Awards: Dennis Weaver, Best Supporting Actor (Commentary by Dennis Weaver) (1:50) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Dennis Weaver on James Arness) (1:00) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Dennis Weaver on his audition) (1:40) Photo gallery Commentaries by Barbara Eden on “Romeo”, and George Kennedy on “The Blacksmith” Volume 1, Disc 3: Dennis Weaver’s home movies with audio commentary: Behind the scenes from 1963 shot on 16mm film by Weaver. They are in color and he explains where the scenes were filmed, who is present and their relevance to the production. Quality on the reel is very nice for its age! (6:43) CBS affiliates gag reel – Outtakes from the 1960’s, put together for the affiliates convention. Plus, the sound crew has some fun with Arness. (5:25) 1961 Fall Preview Tuesday and 1962 Fall Preview Saturday (: 31 and 1:22, respectively) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Bill Cosby) (1:20) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Dennis Weaver on the limp) (2:00) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Dennis Weaver gets rid of the stiff leg) (1:15) Photo gallery Commentaries by Dennis Weaver on “Chesterland”, Adam West on “Ash” Volume 2, Disc 1: James Arness Birthday Surprise Blooper: (: 54) Amanda Blake on “The David Frost Show” (1972) (3:49) Blake discusses Kitty and her role in the show. CBS Fall Preview (1963) (2:46) Phil Silvers hosts the preview. Commentaries by Ed Asner on “Hung High” and Bruce Dern on “The Jailer” Volume 2, Disc 2: 1968 Emmy Awards: Best Supporting Actor Milburn Stone (2:16) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Dennis on Milburn) (1:15) Westerns Channel “Gunsmoke” Memories (Chester and Newly) (4:00) Two syndication promos (1:00) Commentary by Buck Taylor on “The Pillagers” Volume 2, Disc 3: Gag reel from 1973: (4:00) Outtakes from the cast wrap party in 1973, and you get to see “a typical CBS cancellation procedure”. Amanda Blake on “The Mike Douglas Show” (1974) (6:43) Blake talks about leaving “Gunsmoke”. A CBS executive remembers “Gunsmoke” (4:50) Photo gallery Commentary by James Arness on “A Quiet Day in Dodge” Conclusions: While we have yet to get full season sets of “Gunsmoke”, we now have something to keep us going until that potentially happens. By giving us a “best of” collection, long time fans are reminded of a simpler time in the American landscape, and new viewers can begin to understand what goes into making a television classic. Notes: This review was done on my secondary HT set up. You can see an equipment list by following the link below.