"Gunsmoke" The Witness (TV Episode 1970) Poster

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a welcome return to Mestonish malevolence
grizzledgeezer16 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
"Gunsmoke"'s earliest TV episodes -- most of them adapted from John Meston's radio plays -- were Hobbesian: "nasty, brutish, and short". As the episodes expanded to an hour, then added color, "Gunsmoke"'s tone gradually softened. There weren't as many maniacal villains, and the pile of corpses at the end was smaller (too often, none at all).

"The Witness" returns "Gunsmoke" to a semblance of its g(l)ory days. The "deranged dad and psycho siblings" story had been done to death, but it's a delight to see the ever-wonderful Harry Morgan as the fanatical father. Note the understated way he reacts to his son's death. And it's fun to see Herb Vigran (generally remembered for lighter roles) as Judge Booker.

Unlike many hour-long episodes, this one shows no signs of padding. And though I'd never had trouble understanding Festus' line of reasoning, his explanation of why he didn't take a job putting up a split-rail fence was quite beyond comprehension, nearly inducing a cortical short-circuit.

I say -- in all seriousness -- that I'd have rated this episode 9 if the father and all his sons had wound up dead at the end. But you can't have everything -- especially when Standards & Practices is looking over the producers' shoulders.
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Courage Is Dear, But Cowardice Can Be Costlier
robscoe4931 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The scene opens with a train thundering across the prairie.A father and son are dozing.In the aisle,an angry man demands to look at a sleazily-handsome young man named Ira Pickett,whom the older man insists murdered his brother.

A scuffle ensues,and Pickett guns the man down.An elderly man says Pickett committed murder,and Ira backhands him savagely.

The father and son are awakened by the turmoil.The son smashes Pickett in the head and grabs a gun,training it on the killer.The son announces"he is holding Pickett for the Marshal in Dodge City."The father grabs Pickett's gun,also holding him at bay.Pickett lolls back in his seat,laughing ruefully at the irony.

An older man in black and a younger one arrive in Dodge to see a body loaded onto a wagon.A man declares there was a shooting on the train involving an "Ira Pickett,"but the body is his victim's;Pickett is in jail.

The old man(who peppers his speech with Biblical aphorisms)is Osgood Pickett,with his older son,Joseph.Osgood Pickett is the paterfamilias of a ruthless clan of gunslingers.

In Dodge,the witnesses(Arnie Sprague and son,Jared)will testify against Ira Pickett when Judge Booker arrives at 3 p.m.

The annoyingly talkative Edda Sprague picks up her father and brother in a wagon;she hectors Jared about his capturing Pickett.As they leave,the Picketts ride up, encountering the old man whom Ira assaulted(one Beecher),who praises the courageous Spragues.

The Picketts visit Beecher at his farm.He is under a wagon(supported by a wooden block),making repairs.Osgood Pickett kicks out the prop;the wagon falls on Beecher,killing him.

With Beecher dead,the Picketts go to intimidate the Spragues.Osgood Pickett hints to Arnie Sprague that if Ira is hanged,Sprague's wife and daughter will suffer,also.The Picketts remain at Sprague's to ensure "compliance."Osgood Pickett suggests that Arnie and Jared stop by the Beecher farm on their way into town.

The father(terrified of the Picketts)tells his unwitting hostage wife and daughter that the Picketts are cattle buyers from Oklahoma - Mr.Osgood,and son Joseph.

The Spragues find Beecher crushed to death.Arnie Sprague(mad with fear) recants his testimony,distressing his son and disquieting the Marshal.

A smirking Ira Pickett is freed;he sneeringly tells Festus Hagen about making his fortune soon in the "Clark Couty fence war."

Arnie and Jared return(Jared,ashamed of his father's cowardice.)Osgood Pickett tauntingly demands "restitution":Arnie Sprague's hundred head of cattle.

After hearing from Festus about Ira's involvement in Clark County,Matt Dillon sends a telegram to the local sheriff.

Edda Sprague rides off to fetch a wandering cow.Jared,sawing meat outside,starts to enter the smokehouse when he sees Ira Pickett ride up.Jared goes berserk,rushing inside to get a rifle.His father tried to stop Jared,slapping Jared hard across the face,knocking him down.

Jared leaps up,grabs a gun and wants to starts shooting.As they argue,Osgood Pickett enters,orders them(at gunpoint) to surrender the rifle,then smashes it against a table.

Outside,Osgood Pickett sees the sheriff coming,and sends Ira after Edda for "insurance."A suspicious Matt Dillon grills Arnie Sprague over his perjurious volte face in court,but Arnie sticks to his lie.Again,Osgood and Joseph are introduced as the cattle-buying Osgoods from Oklahoma.

Ira pitches woo to an unsuspecting Edda,and as they return with the cow, Jared,irascible,retrieves a hidden revolver,loads it,and conceals it again.

Later in the parlor,Ira sings as Edda plays the piano.Edda(smitten with Ira)betrays her brother,revealing that she saw him practicing with the gun in his bedroom.Jared lunges forward,but Ira shoots him in the arm.

Having worn out their "welcome,"Ira and Joseph Pickett go out to the barn to sleep.Their father,Osgood,keeps watch from a chair on the front porch.

Arnie Sprague,ashamed of his cowardice,decides belatedly to take action.

The Clark County sheriff returns a telegram about an outlaw family named Pickett - father Osgood, and sons,Joseph and Ira.Marshal Dillon heads immediately to the Spragues.

Morning dawns,and Arnie is cooking breakfast.Joseph Pickett opines that, in addition to the cattle,the Picketts want a hostage for "safe passage" - the daughter,Edda.

Arnie Sprague seizes Jospeh,pressing a butcher knife to his throat.Sprague removes Joseph's gun,shooting him,but the injured Pickett escapes through the kitchen door.

A gun battle rages.The Picketts cannot get inside,but Osgood Pickett orders Joseph to set the house ablaze.

Marshal Dillon rides up as Ira Pickett attempts to enter the house. the Marshal fires on Ira,killing him.

Seeing his favorite son die takes the fight out of Osgood who kneels beside Ira's body,grief-stricken.The story ends as the Marshal,the Spragues,and Joseph Pickett watch Osgood Pickett looking mutely at his youngest son,realizing the dynasty of terror he envisioned has now come to an abrupt,bloody end...

Harry Morgan excelled as Osgood Pickett,the sanctimonious gunslinger with a curdled smile who,with his sociopathic sons,terrorized a rancher and his family for doing their civic duty.

Tim O'Connor was convincing as Arnie Sprague,the timorous cattleman bullied by the sadistic Osgood Pickett until Sprague decided to fight back.

Dack Rambo(Ira Pickett)played the part well of a smug outlaw,groomed for his criminal career by his equally twisted father.

Barry Brown(Jared Sprague)effectively portrayed the moralistic cattleman's son whose sense of social responsibility,and innate heroism put his father's fecklessness to shame.

This episode's ending was predictable,but enjoyable when the faint-hearted father(seeing his son injured,and his daughter threatened) ultimately decided to stand up - like a true son of the Old West - against the vile,cowardly oppressors who had been menacing his family, and subverting justice.
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Better than expected episode.
kfo94949 October 2013
This episode begins with a bang when a man recognizes Ira Pickett on a Dodge train as the one that killed his brother. Ira pulls a gun out and shoots the man. A passenger and his son, Arnie and Jared Sprague, hold Ira until they reach Dodge and turn him over to the Marshal.

Waiting at the train station is Ira's father and brother, Osgood and Joseph Pickett, when they hear about Ira's problem they seek out the witnesses to the shooting and make them come around to their way of thinking. Osgood Pickett, who has a smooth way of talking, eliminates one witness and then goes after the Sprague family. He holds the Sprague mother and daughter hostage while Arnie changes his story of the shooting so that Ira will be released from jail. But the ordeal will not be over with the release of Ira.

A better episode than expected. Was not to keen on seeing Harry Morgan playing a rough Osgood Pickett but he came across very convincing and really brought the character to life. In fact was very impressed with the entire cast as the show was so entertaining that the episode seemed short in length. A good watch.
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