Since Paramount has stepped up their releases, I have stepped up my viewing of this venerable series. This past week I have watched the first half of Season 9 (18 one-hour episodes). I get the feeling that Chester will soon be leaving Dodge as he appears to be featured in so few episodes. His role seems to be similar to Matt always being away, he has a token scene with Matt, Doc or Kitty and then disappears. Quint doesn't have much to do either and we see Festus twice even though Ken Curtis makes a third appearance as a love 'em and leave 'em cold-blooded manipulator. The first half includes the following episodes: Kate Heller (9.1) Mabel Albertson, Tom Lowell. A teen tries to impress a saloon girl by committing murder, gets laughed at, shoots Matt as he is going home and then has to nurse him back to health hoping he is not recognized. Great character study of a boy longing to be grown up. Lover Boy (9.2) Ken Curtis, Sheree North. Kyle Kelly, a love 'em and leave 'em guy just drifts along until a former scorned lover creates trouble for him. Kyle has a new married girlfriend who suggests setting up her husband. If I had no knowledge of Ken Curtis as Festus, this could have been an exceptional episode. Being very familiar with Festus, the episode just struck me as a bit creepy. His Festus is just so indelibly imprinted over the actor. Still, it did show his range better than Festus ever did. I guess this was interesting for a change of pace. Legends Don't Sleep (9.3) William Talman, Scott Marlowe, Hope Summers. A young man searching for a purpose meets one of his childhood heroes (outlaw) and tries to learn from him. World weary performance from Willam Talman just makes this episode. Modern day trope - murder by cop. Tobe (9.4) Harry Townes, Mary LaRoche, Philip Abbot. A down on his luck farmer gives up farming and takes a job with Mr. Jonas. Chester introduces Tobe to Hanna (who is on the run from an abusive gambler/former partner). This was the first story focused on Chester this season. Easy Come (9.5) Andrew Prine, Carl Reindel. Bespectacled and slight of frame, Elmo Sippy looks like a schoolteacher, but he's a cowboy who likes to gamble. When he arrives in Dodge and loses money to a gambler he knows will kill if he's not paid, Elmo ducks out of the Long Branch and steals the money from the till of the general store. It's his first foray into dishonesty, and he's elated to find it was "easy"--so much easier than being a cowpoke. When a little later he finds it necessary to use violence to get the money he wants, he discovers that killing is easy, too. Soon, the slight man on whom a gun belt looks absurd is a one-man crime wave, killing for the apparent joy of it. My Sister's Keeper (9.6) Nancy Wickwire, James Broderick, Jennifer Billingsley. A widower with nothing to live for goes to work for and live on the farm of a widow woman and her sister. Quint's Trail (9.7) Everett Sloane, Sharon Farrell, Dan Haggerty, Shirley O'Hara. Starts out as a Chester story and morphs into a Quint story. Quint is hired to escort a family on the first leg of their journey to Oregon. On the way, he learns the reason for their going, a motive that could have repercussions for Quint. Carter Caper (9.8) Jeremy Slate, Barney Phillips, Anjanette Comer, William Phipps, Rayford Barnes. A man with a grudge hits upon the perfect revenge when he spreads the word in Dodge that short-tempered Billy is so good with a gun that he shot down the famous gunfighter, Beau Carter. Ex-Con (9.9) Jeanne Cooper, John Kellogg, Richard Devon. On his way to Larned, Matt, feverish, spends the night at an abandoned shack. When he wakes up after losing a day, a recently released convict who swore to kill Matt, is himself found against a wall, dead, unarmed, shot twice, and the murder weapon appears to belong to the marshal. A whodunit that Matt has to unravel. Extradition Part 1, Part 2 (9.10, 9.11) Gilbert Roland, Gene Evans, Anna Novarro, Alex Montoya, Walter Burke. Matt crosses into Mexico searching for a fugitive felon who killed a friend of his. Was this the first two-parter? The Magician (9.12) Brooke Bundy, Lloyd Corrigan, Tom Simcox. A mild old peddler of patent medicines and card tricks arrives in Dodge with his grown daughter, hoping to settle down, but instead they find their worst luck yet, beginning with a card game with a rich man and his spoiled son. Implied rape scene. Nice little tale of what goes around comes around. Pa Hack's Brood (9.13) Milton Selzer, George Lindsey, Lynn Loring, James Hampton, Marianna Hill. A repugnant drifter hopes to use his nubile daughter to get his hands on a piece of land. The Glory And The Mud (9.14) Kent Smith, Marsha Hunt, James Best, Robert Sorrells. A retired lawman and showman wants only to settle down with the Dodge seamstress he left behind twenty years ago, but a young whippersnapper hopes to make a name for himself by challenging the aging gun to a duel. Dry Well (9.15) Ned Glass, Tom Simcox, Karen Sharpe. It's a test of wills when Quint witnesses a murder and the father of one of the prime suspects lowers Quint into a well to try to force him to promise his silence. Prarie Wolfer (9.16) Ken Curtis, Noah Beery, Jr., Don Dubbins, Holly McIntire. Ken Curtis appears to be joining the cast as Festus with this one. Festus returns to Dodge from wolfing and is hired by the Cattleman's Association to hunt down the wolves killing everyone's cattle. What he finds is that what's been doing the preying may wind him up in prison if he doesn't get Matt's help. Friend (9.17) Tom Reese, Jan Shepard, Ben Wright, Butch Patrick, George Keymas, Ralph Moody. A man carrying a tempting sum of money is attacked from behind by someone who beats him and leaves him for dead. Lucky for the injured man, an old friend of Matt is there to take him in to Doc Adams for mending. Once A Haggen (9.18) Slim Pickens, Ken Curtis, Elizabeth MacRae, Kenneth Tobey. Bucko, a close friend of Festus, is accused of murdering a man to whom he lost at poker. When his alibi witness lies out of fear, Bucko is sentenced to hang, and Festus, who'd begun to see the marshal as a friend, vows Bucko won't swing. Note: Received Gunsmoke - Season 18 and Gunsmoke - Season 19 in Friday's mail. Come on Season 20.