Gunsmoke: The Twelfth Season, Volume 1 DVD Review

It's the first time in color for this classic western series 4 Stars

While Matt Dillion’s presence is always missed when he’s not a part of the main action, his absence usually doesn’t dissipate the purely entertaining dramatic value of the episodes in the first volume of season twelve of Gunsmoke.

Snap Decision (1966)
Released: 17 Sep 1966
Rated: TV-PG
Runtime: 60 min
Director: Mark Rydell
Genre: Drama, Western
Cast: James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, Ken Curtis
Writer(s): Richard Carr
Plot: Matt quits his job as Marshal when he shoots Ray Gilcher, a prisoner and wartime buddy, dead in apparent self defense and it turns out Glicher was actually trying to save Matt's life.
IMDB rating: 8.0
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: CBS
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 12 Hr. 31 Min.
Package Includes: DVD
Case Type: Amaray case with leaves
Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
Region: 1
Release Date: 09/20/2016
MSRP: $45.98

The Production: 4/5

Two momentous events climaxed the twelfth season of CBS’ western perennial Gunsmoke: it was the first season to be broadcast in color (all of the remaining series on CBS’ schedule went to color in the 1966-1967 season), and it was the lowest rated of the show’s twenty seasons on the air. In fact, its ratings had diminished so much that the network head honchos had it scheduled for cancellation, saved only by the wife of the CBS President who loved it. Afterwards, with a schedule switch from late Saturday to early Monday evenings at the start of its 13th season, the show returned to hit status where it remained for the remainder of its run.

While the switch to color didn’t have immediate payoff for the veteran western, its sinking ratings might have been more due to the absence of star James Arness from many of its episodes. When the program was a half hour, the episodes more often than not revolved around Matt Dillon with the supporting players occasionally appearing in a spotlight episode of their own but more likely than not appearing on the periphery of the action. Once the show switched to the hour format, however, the show become more centered on the stories of newcomers to town with Matt or his colleagues somehow becoming entwined in the stories of others. Three of the fifteen episodes in volume one of the season twelve set find Matt in the spotlight, and it’s no coincidence that they are by far the strongest episodes in this first half of the season. In the season premiere “Snap Decision,” Matt mistakenly kills an old friend who had gone bad and wrestles so fiercely with his conscience that he even resigns his job as marshal for the Kansas territory. In “The Jailer,” Matt and Miss Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake) are kidnapped by a vengeful widow (guest star Bette Davis) out to make Matt suffer in the same way her husband had suffered before he was hanged. And speaking of hanging, “The Hanging” finds Matt, best friend Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), and assistants Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis) and Thad Greenwood (Roger Ewing) preparing for a hanging in Dodge while the prisoner’s gang makes elaborate plans to either kill their confederate (who knows all their names but has so far kept silent about their roles in some killings during a bank robbery) or abduct him before the hanging can take place.

In addition to those highlights, the supporting cast of the show also gets episodes in which they play the leading roles. Doc Adams and several other survivors of a stagecoach attack are pinned down in a way station while bandits close in on their position, little realizing that one of their number is in league with the crooks. Thad Greenwood falls in love with a Quaker lass when he and an escaped prisoner (William Shatner) he has captured are taken in by the Quakers and kept under guard until they can figure out who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. And Miss Kitty must endure the boorish business attentions of the ex-heavyweight champion (Alan Hale) who’s determined to buy her saloon in one of the show’s few but often heavy-handed comic installments. But most of the stories find the guest-star heavy roster in the spotlight for their particular stories with only an assist from the Dodge City Marshal’s office. Some of those very strong stories include Darren McGavin as a hired gunman on Matt’s trail who gets sidetracked by an injury and falls in love with the Chinese woman (France Nuyen) who tends to his wounds. A bank robber (John Saxon) finally out of prison after eight years returns to his wife and family who have cultivated his farmland so much that he can’t find where he buried his stolen money. And a brutal drought in the area makes things tense for the citizens of Dodge.

The switch to color hasn’t brought forth any changes in the strong acting of the show’s core cast. James Arness’ Matt is as stalwart as ever, Amanda Blake’s Miss Kitty is as accommodating, Ken Curtis’ Festus is as gabby, Milburn Stone’s Doc is as cantankerous, and Roger Ewing’s Thad as innocent as ever, all agreeable characterizations whose company is always a pleasure. If the Long Branch Saloon doesn’t seem as expansive in color as it was in black and white and if the Dodge City street seems less realistic and more a combination of facades and painted backdrops (and in one memorable shot, the camera tilts up enough to show us the cyclorama backdrop and overhead arc lights), it’s still a thrill to see the familiar faces and surroundings in color. As for the guest stars, in addition to the ones already previously named, the fifteen episodes also offer Hank Patterson, Claude Akins, Michael Cole, Martin Landau, Denver Pyle, Bruce Dern, Tom Skerritt (in different roles in two distinct episodes), Julie Sommers, Warren Oates, Jim Davis, Michael Conrad, Carroll O’Connor, Kevin O’Neal, Clifton James, Ed Asner,  Guy Raymond, John Ireland, Jon Voight, Karl Swenson, Ben Wright, Ben Johnson, Mike Kellin, and Henry Darrow.

Here are the fifteen episodes contained on four DVDs in this first volume of season twelve:

1 – Snap Decision

2 – The Goldtakers

3 – The Jailer

4 – The Mission

5 – The Good People

6 – Gunfighter R.I.P

7 – The Wrong Man

8 – Whispering Tree

9 – The Well

10 – Stage Stop

11 – The Newcomers

12 – Quaker Girl

13 – Moonstone

14 – Champion of the World

15 – The Hanging

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The program’s original 1.33:1 television aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in these bright, colorful transfers. Sharpness is outstanding in these shows with only an occasional nod to glamor photography for Amanda Blake. Color is really rich and solid with flesh tones very appealing. The transfers have obviously been remastered (one glance at the episode previews attached to many of the shows with their very soft look and faded color will be enough to understand the great amount of work which has gone into making these shows look so good), but there is still occasional speckling in some of the programs (“The Jailer” has the most obvious speckling), and the new color gunfight sequence that opens the show has some flicker and clouding. There is some slight edge enhancement to be seen occasionally and some aliasing, too, but nothing too distracting. Each episode has been divided into 7 chapters.

Audio: 4/5

The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix offers a strong era-representative aural experience. Dialogue is always very easy to understand, and the background scores provided sometimes by masters like Jerry Goldsmith mix beautifully with the speech and sound effects. There is some occasional distortion in the mix, but engineers have done an excellent job removing age-related problems with hiss and crackle from the soundtracks.

Special Features: 1/5

Episodic Previews: thirteen of the fifteen episodes have attached to them in the menu a 1:04 promo preview which CBS used to advertise that episode the week before it aired.

Overall: 4/5

While Matt Dillion’s presence is always missed when he’s not a part of the main action, his absence usually doesn’t dissipate the purely entertaining dramatic value of the episodes in the first volume of season twelve of Gunsmoke. Fans are in for a treat with these color episodes looking better than they have ever looked on home video. Recommended!

Published by

Matt Hough



  1. Can’t wait to pick these up when they drop in price as $32 for a half year is nuts, expecially when they drop in price pretty quickly, if they were $20 each season it would be an instant buy. Glad to see they’ve been remastered as the color years of Gunsmoke have always looked Terrible

  2. I only requested Volume 1 because of the plethora of TV season sets that come out during August and September. I currently am working on The Good Wife and have Modern Family waiting after it (not to mention a whole bunch of films upcoming in the next few days) so I have to spread the wealth around..

  3. it's not all guest star features – there's plenty of action featuring Matt, notably in; 'Snap Decision', 'The Mission', 'Fandango', 'The Jailer', 'The Well', 'The Hanging', 'Saturday Night', 'The Favor',  'Mistaken Identity',  and he has prominent roles in 'The Gold Takers', 'The Wrong Man', 'The Good People', 'The Lure'

    one thing you really notice in color is the switch from studio filming to location…like in 'The Gold Takers' where one end of town is a studio set….then on turning a corner it's an outside location town ! – color really highlights that

  4. Thanks Matt for the review…Looking forward to getting Gunsmoke season 12…great to hear that the episodes look great in the usual first class CBS remastering…the cast of this show are like old friends, and I've always felt at home in Dodge City and environs…if Matt Dillon told me to get out of town, however, I'd be on the fastest horse in Kansas…not to even mention his fast gun hand, the dude could deliver a nasty backhand…just saw him lay out Richard X. Slattery in season 10's "The New Society"…wow…I'm not nearly as tough as Claude Akins or Robert J. Wilke, so I'd never get up, ha, ha…

  5. Good point Neil Brock,… I completely assumed that these episodes would be original and unedited…the only season 12 episodes that were previously released on dvd in the 50th anniversary volume 2 set released in 2005  were "The Jailer". "The Wrong Man" and "Quaker Girl"…all heavily edited syndication sources and faded as well…I think on some of them, up to 3 and a half minutes were edited out…running 46:30 or so versus the proper 50:30 – 51:00 for original airing in '66 – '67…the release info says "12 hours 31 minutes" , divided by 15 episodes would yield 50 minute running times…I hope Matt or Jeff or somebody could let us know if this new release is unedited…anything less is unthinkable, and would bring back bad memories of 2011…the year that CBS backslipped and gave us RAWHIDE season 4 and BONANZA season 2 not remastered…if these are edited, no sale for me…despite this being one of my very few highly anticipated fall releases…

  6. note in 'The Gold Takers' the character of Caleb Nash is 'brought back to life' (he died back in the b/w days in a 1964 episode)

    – the covering  closing credit is;

    Denver Pyle 're-creating the role of Caleb Nash'

    so there's hope for  anyone who was killed off….!

    (Steve Forrest's evil 'Mannon' clearly took note)

  7. I'm currently awaiting my copy on pre-order – I have the 12th season of the show on tape from  reruns on CBS Action channel here in the UK

    when my set arrives I will time a few episodes and advise…

    season 12 has been the MOST rerun season here in the UK, BBC Two and TCM channels plus ITV 4 have also screened it….yet it's (for me) the final season to get on DVD as I already have American and German DVD sets of every other season

    The German season 14 set was heavily edited however, I hope for a decent USA unedited set in due course…

    Gunsmoke has recently been running on both  CBS Action and CBS Drama cable channels here, tho' now it's 'Bonanza' (seasons 4-6) and 'The High Chaparral' (seasons 1-2), while TCM channel recently screened 'Rawhide' (seasons 1-3) so we've had a decent run of classic Westerns

  8. Thanks Jeff…I hope you get your copy soon…I'm going to hold off on ordering Gunsmoke season 12 until I have confirmation that the episodes are original and unedited…I mean, I'm about 90% sure that in having remastered these to the usual extraordinairy CBS standard, it would be unthinkable and atrocious if they were not also unedited…it can't possibly be any other way?

  9. I found Gunsmoke Season 12 V1 and V2 today in my local Walmart. Price was 19.96 per volume – much better than currently on Amazon. After I picked up my copies there remained 2 V1 copies and 5 V2 copies. At least people must be purchasing the first volume.

  10. The remastering is so well done on these episodes that I could see the steam rising from the coffee pot at the end of the end credits. I always thought that was a still shot of a coffee pot; didn't realize it was a live shot.

  11. Any chance someone could post a few screenshots?

    I'm not a big enough fan to have been buying these (Maybe someday, but I don't have the budget to even keep up with everything I love). But I'd love to see how nice it looks after years of seeing it on television in relatively rough shape.

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