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A Little Dodge City History
When Josh Stryker returns to Dodge City after his release from 15 years in prison, he is a bitter man. Stryker was the former U.S. Marshal in Dodge, and Matt was his Deputy. Stryker was convicted for killing a ruthless outlaw that burned a house with a family inside. The family happened to be close friends of Stryker. It seems the outlaw taunted Stryker while admitting to burning the house. In a fit of rage, Stryker shot the outlaw three times. Matt witnessed the shooting and testified against Stryker, which led to his conviction.
Stryker has refused to admit his crime for all these years, and he blames Matt for giving what he considers false testimony. As far as Stryker is concerned, Matt betrayed him out of ambition. Stryker also returns to Dodge with only one arm, as his left arm was amputated by a prison doctor. This adds to Stryker's sense of injustice over his circumstances.
Stryker's daughter still lives in Dodge, and now works at the Long Branch Saloon. Stryker settles in with his daughter, but he is still haunted by both his perceived sense of injustice, as well as a couple of fellow ex-cons that consider their prison-based comradery with Stryker can be used to their nefarious ends.
Once again, we have an outstanding cast. Morgan Woodward plays Josh Stryker perfectly. The viewer can see Stryker's torment, while also feeling sympathy for his situation. Royal Dano is outstanding as one of the ex-cons named Jessup. Dano could play sympathetic characters, goofy characters, and-as he does here-truly sinister characters. Joan Van Ark portrays both beauty and strength in her role as Stryker's daughter, Sarah Jean. We also even get a couple of scenes with the memorable Andy Devine.
(Watch for an uncredited appearance by Jonathan Goldsmith, who was performing during this time under the name Jonathan Lippe-his stepfather's name. Goldsmith was his birth name. Goldsmith had just appeared in the previous episode, "The Devil's Outpost." In this episode he appears in a flashback scene as the killer Stryker shot and killed. I wonder if he shot the scene for this episode at the same time he was shooting the previous episode?)
We don't get too many episodes that provide any Matt or Dodge City backstory. That alone adds to the interest in this episode. There is a lot going on in this episode, too. However, the story seems a bit slow and overly talky at times.
Gunsmoke: The Devil's Outpost (1969)
Familiar Story with Great Acting and Taught Direction
Season 15 begins with a thriller that has Matt escorting a criminal to Dodge City. Even though the viewer can easily guess the final outcome of this story, the journey to the end is entertaining enough.
Cody Tice, played by Jonathan Lippe (Goldsmith), who rose to some measure of fame as the "Most Interesting Man in the World" for Dos Equis, is a young, arrogant outlaw. His brother, Yancy, played by the always-stoic Robert Lansing, leads the gang of outlaws of which Cody is a part. Cody decides to rob a stagecoach on its way to Dodge, but he doesn't realize Matt Dillon is a passenger. (Incidentally, the other passengers do not know who Matt is, either.) Matt foils the robbery attempt, of course, and he takes Cody into custody.
Yancy is none too happy with these developments. He is angry at Cody for disobeying direct orders, and, of course, he is angry at Dillon for capturing Cody and the way he ties Cody to the roof of the stagecoach in a spread-eagle manner for transportation.
The rest of the episode is a classic cat-and-mouse game as Matt is determined to deliver Cody to Dodge to stand trial for a notoriously brutal murder of a group of people on a train after the gang robbed the train. Yancy is determined to stop Matt and free Cody.
This episode features another excellent cast of character actors both familiar to Gunsmoke, as well a few new faces. Karl Swenson is particularly notable as the determined stagecoach driver who seems to take special delight in taunting Cody.
I don't share the disdain for this episode some of the other reviewers feel. Yes, the story is based on a familiar premise, but the acting and pace of the direction keep the episode interesting.
Gunsmoke: The Good Samaritans (1969)
Great Acting Wasted by Poor Writing
With "The Good Samaritans," we have one of the more unusual episodes of the series. Clearly the writers wanted to deliver a story that prominently and positively portrayed black people during the immediate post-Civil War time. Unfortunately, the story says more about the time it was told--the late 1960s--than it does the time the story reflects.
This is a "Matt-only" episode. Matt is badly injured by a couple of cowboys who want to prevent him getting back to Dodge with written evidence that will convict a prisoner being held there. There is a $1,500 bounty on the prisoner elsewhere, and the cowboys, apparently along with several others, want the prisoner for the bounty being offered. Matt manages to elude capture by the pair of cowboys until he is found by a group of freed slaves who were on their way west when their wagon broke down. The group is led by a man named Juba Freeman, who insists on abiding by the laws of God and man. The group nurses Matt through the worst of his injury, at least enough that Matt regains consciousness and can move about a bit.
Cato is one of the men in Juba's group, but he doesn't necessarily agree with Juba's philosophy of life. He is headstrong and more bitter than Juba and the rest of the group, and he resents Juba providing assistance to Matt. (Cato has an ear that was badly disfigured by a slave owner.)
The problem with this story is that it is steeped in stereotypes. One of the cowboys named Kittridge is a stereotypical racist who doesn't even consider the former slaves people. Juba and his group are too trusting and kind, with the exception of Cato. As a matter of fact, Cato is the only one of the group that exhibits any level of genuineness, and the writers chose to turn him into a misguided character that almost brings disaster on everyone.
As usual for Gunsmoke, the acting in this episode is outstanding. L.Q. Jones as the despicable Kittridge was always great at playing people you just love to hate. Rex Ingram as Juba, Brock Peters as Cato, Robert DoQui as Benji, Paulene Myers as Mama, Hazel Medina as Erlene, and Lynn Hamilton as Reba, are all recognizable faces that play their roles perfectly, although they were forced to mostly play stereotypes.
There was a lot of potential with this story, but the writers failed to take advantage of the opportunities that were provided. As a result, the story is fairly formulaic. It is difficult to imagine this story being told this way in 2019.
One additional note of some interest: If you watch closely, at the end of the scene after Kittridge and his partner first encounters Cato, Kittridge turns to his partner and says, "You know something? If we don't find Dillon by nightfall, I'm going to find that camp and I'm going to roust me a smartmouth ____." The last word is silenced during reruns of the show. I'm not sure if it was allowed in the original network airing of the show or not. It is clear that L.Q. Jones says another word at the end of the sentence.
This is the third Gunsmoke episode to feature the family of "hill people," that includes Merry Florene and her half-brother Elbert Moses. In this installment, Roland Daniel has been replaced by "Cousin Smiley." Elbert Moses and Smiley are in Dodge City running the old shell game scam until Matt catches them cheating the Dodge citizens and runs them out of town.
The two bumbling, would-be criminals run across an old miner outside Dodge. When the miner gives them $20 in accumulated gold dust and title to the mine, Smiley comes up with an idea to trick the Dodge folks into thinking the gold mine is lucrative and can produce large amounts of gold. Smiley and Elbert Moses subsequently establish "Gold Town," and many of the people in Dodge make their way to the new town to seek their own fortune in gold.
Matt is suspicious, but he has to leave town (of course) and asks Festus to investigate the situation. Festus knows Elbert Moses and Smiley are "crooked-er than a dog's hind leg," and the results are predictable.
Anthony James, who appeared on Gunsmoke during this time almost as frequently as any of the regular cast members, reprises his role as Elbert Moses. The always memorable Lane Bradbury returns as Merry Florene. Bradbury's real-life husband at the time, Lou Antonio, plays Cousin Smiley. Viewers should also keep an eye out for a young Eve Plumb, who would begin playing Jan Brady on The Brady Bunch in a few months.
Despite a good cast, there isn't much to recommend about this episode. It is a mostly light-hearted episode, but the attempts at both humor and drama fall short.
Outstanding Cast Lifts This Story
When Newly O'Brien catches a woman trying to steal his horse, he suddenly finds himself in a caught in the middle of a bad family situation. The would be thief is a woman from "the hill country" named Merry Florene, and she is trying to escape two mean, ornery, abusive half-brothers named Elbert Moses and Roland Daniel.
The characters of Merry Florene, played by Lane Bradbury, and Elbert Moses, portrayed by Anthony James--both very recognizable character actors of the period--would return in a total of four different Gunsmoke episodes. Victor French, a frequent Gunsmoke guest, portrays the other half-brother, Roland Daniel, who would appear in one additional Gunsmoke episode with Bradbury and James.
Newly reluctantly takes Merry Florene back to Dodge, and Elbert Moses and Roland Daniel are not far behind.
In Dodge, Newly tries to help Merry Florene. He introduces her to Miss Kitty, Matt, Doc, and Festus. (Festus seems a bit smitten with Merry Florene, but she wants no part of his friendship. She only has eyes for Newly.) Newly uses his influence to get her a job working for Mr. Jonas at the General Store. Unfortunately, Merry Florene is still terrified of her half brothers, and she finds escaping their abusive dominance difficult.
The story primarily concerns Merry Florene trying to establish a place in Dodge while also struggling with her fear of her terrible kinfolk and their influence.
While the episode introduces some tense scenes, it also manages a number of light-hearted and humorous moments. The outstanding cast lifts this episode above the fairly average, predictable script they were given. Of particular note is Dabbs Greer's final performance as Mr. Jonas. Both Greer and French would go on to play recurring roles on Little House on the Prarie.
Gunsmoke: Blood Money (1968)
Solid Performances, Good Premise Spoiled
Nick Skouras is a gunfighter, and he is good at his profession. As the story opens, he is in Dodge City where he is facing two men. He kills both. Louie Pheeters saw the gunfight and tells Matt it was a fair fight.
Skouras gets a room at the Dodge House. Alex Skouras, Nicks father, despises what his son does for a living. Alex sneaks into his son's room while the younger Skouras sleeps, and shoots him through the right hand. The shot causes permanent damage to the hand, effectively ending Nick's career as a gunfighter.
Meanwhile, three friends of one of the men Nick killed at the beginning of the episode ride into Dodge intent on obtaining revenge for their friend's death.
The remainder of the story deals primarily with the Skouras family, including the father, son, and daughter, Elenya as they deal with issues that have been festering within their family for years, while the three determined men refuse to give up on their quest for vengeance.
This is another episode based on an interesting premise that suffers from too much needless dialog and predictability. The cast and performances are solid, but they aren't given much with which to work. I find the ending scene with Matt, Newly, and the Skouras family especially odd given the nature of the episode.
Gunsmoke: The Victim (1968)
An Uncharacteristic, Predictable, Formulaic Episode
In my opinion, the section of Season 13 that features this episode contains some unusually poor quality installments of the series. I suppose a series that runs for 20 years is bound to have some bad episodes here and there, but this trifecta is not characteristic of the normal high-quality Gunsmoke often produced.
Episode 14, "Wonder" is an absolute mess. Episode 15, "Baker's Dozen" is an uncharacteristically sentimental attempt to offer a feel-good episode at Christmas, and this episode, "The Victim" is a tired, predictable story that lacks anything particularly interesting.
This is another of those episodes where Matt is on his own away from Dodge City. Cliff Osmond plays a fairly stereotypical overgrown brute with a low IQ named Bo Remick. Bo has a crush on Lee Stark, who is apparently the town's token "saloon girl." When Bo happens upon a situation where Billy Martin--the son of the town's patriarchal namesake, Wes Martin--is harassing Stark, the chivalrous Remick comes to Stark's defense, and Martin is killed.
Remick is arrested and charged with murdering Martin. The elder Martin is understandably angry over the untimely death of his son, and, for some unknown reason, the other townspeople seem all too eager to punish Remick. The sheriff--apparently the only person in the small town that cares about justice--sends word to Matt Dillon that he needs help to prevent a lynching.
If this seems like familiar territory for Marshal Dillon, it is because it is. There are a number of other episodes of Gunsmoke where Matt finds himself in some small town facing a potentially violent vigilante mob that are more interested in their misplaced vengeance than they are in seeing actual justice done.
Unfortunately, this particular version of the familiar story does nothing to build suspense or even make the viewer care that much about the outcome.
There is even an absurd scene where Matt essentially tricks a couple of the more vocal townspeople into being deputized and has to resort to beating them up to make them wear their badges and perform their "sworn duties."
There are some recognizable actors in this episode. James Gregory plays Wes Martin, but his performance is bland and uninspired. Beverly Garland handles her role as Lee Stark well enough. Cliff Osmond plays a character he has played many other times. I suppose when you are a bigger, somewhat unattractive man, it is easy to become stereotyped as a brutish simpleton. There is nothing much notable about any of the performances.
There is simply nothing much to recommend about this episode.
The "Wonder" Is Why This Was Even Made
This is a very strange episode of Gunsmoke. One has to "Wonder" why it was even made.
Season 8, Episode 28 that first aired in 1963 was titled "I Call Him Wonder" about an orphaned Native American boy that is found by a drifter named Jud Pryor. Jud grows attached to the boy, who he calls "Wonder" (hence the title) and they are seen leaving Dodge together at the end of that episode.
This odd episode uses the same characters as the earlier episode--although they are played by different actors--and it even seems to assume some knowledge of the earlier episode. For example, there is never an explanation given for why Jud and the boy named Wonder are together. Everyone in Dodge seems to already know Jud. Apparently he spends a fair amount of time in the Dodge City jail.
On the other hand, Matt doesn't recognize Wonder. Jud introduces them, and there is no indication that Matt remembers the boy.
(The IMDB synopsis for this episode is actually the synopsis for the earlier episode. This episode is not a remake. I suppose it could be sort of a sequel.)
The contrived plot involves Jud, who is now something of a womanizer, and the brothers of one of the women Jud has been seeing. The brothers don't like Jud and want him to leave their sister alone. Just one odd aspect of this episode is that Jud no longer wants to see their sister, either. Yet they continue to look for ways to get rid of Jud.
This is one of the more poorly written, sloppily made episodes of the series. There is very little suspense. The boy doesn't seem to serve much purpose in the story, and the story itself is just a conglomeration of uninteresting events seemingly patched together.
Two Different Stories
This installment of Gunsmoke features two stories that minimally intersect. The first story involves Matt chasing three men that robbed a stagecoach and fatally shot the driver and guard. The second, more interesting story involves Festus nursing Doc, who has been snake bitten.
The scenes between Ken Curtis and Milburn Stone are the highlight of the episode. Supposedly, Curtis named this episode as one of his favorites.
Victor French makes the first of many appearances on Gunsmoke as one of the stagecoach robbers.
Gunsmoke: The Wreckers (1967)
Season 13 begins with a smaller Gunsmoke cast. Thaddeus Greenwood is presumably no longer living in Dodge City, as Roger Ewing is no longer part of the cast. (Ewing will make a brief, uncredited appearance as Thad a few episodes into the season.) Buck Taylor will join the cast as Newly O'Brien later in the season.
The season begins with Matt and Kitty away from Dodge. Apparently they had left for a vacation, but much to Kitty's continuing frustration, Matt has picked up a prisoner, Monk Wiley, that he is now escorting back to Dodge.
(This little plot element bugs me to some degree. I don't think there is any way Matt would consider transporting a notorious outlaw with Kitty traveling along.)
The stagecoach on which they are riding is sabotaged at a way station. The team of horses is separated from the coach soon after they leave the way station, and the carriage rolls down a hill with Kitty, Matt, and Monk Wiley all inside.
The saboteur is a member of Tate Crocker's gang of outlaws. Crocker and company have been watching the stagecoach, waiting for it to crash so they can rob it. They kill the driver and guard and cautiously approach the wrecked coach.
Meanwhile, Kitty, although suffering from a possibly broken rib, hears the gunshots. Matt and Wiley are both unconscious. She quickly removes Matt's badge and the papers he is carrying and places them on Wiley. She removes the shackles on Wiley and puts them on Matt.
When Crocker and his men arrive at the stagecoach, Kitty tells them Matt is Monk Wiley and vice versa. Although Crocker and his men are disappointed in the amount of money they find in the stagecoach strongbox, they hatch a plan to use Matt--or at least the person they THINK is Matt--as a hostage for a large ransom from the town of Dodge City.
Matt regains consciousness and quickly picks up on the ruse that Kitty has planned. Wiley is more badly injured, and there is some doubt whether he will recover.
The remainder of the episode involves Matt pretending to be an outlaw under Crocker's suspicious eye, Kitty pleading with the citizens of Dodge to put up the ransom for Matt, and an inevitable shootout finish.
Warren Oates is fantastic as Tate Crocker, and his performance is the highlight of the episode.
I personally consider this episode too similar to many other Gunsmoke episodes where Matt is captured by some group, usually outlaws of some type, and held for some reason.
Gunsmoke: Ladies from St. Louis (1967)
The Segurra Gang robs a bank in Oklahoma, and, with a posse on their tails, subsequently split into two groups. One group, led by the gang leader, Ross Segurra goes one way, while the other three go in another direction.
The other three gang members happen upon a wagon of nuns on their way to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Two of the three see an opportunity to take the nuns' possessions and take advantage of them sexually. (Of course, this being television in the 1960s, the sexual violation is implied.)
Worth Sweeney, the other gang member, wants no part of the horrible actions of his cohorts. A shootout occurs. The two gang members are killed, and Sweeney is badly injured.
The nuns consider Sweeney's act one of divine intervention. They tend to Sweeney's wounds and make their way to Dodge City to seek medical assistance for Sweeney.
The women also discover the money the three gang members were carrying. They choose not to tell anyone in Dodge about the money, since they want to avoid causing trouble for Sweeney.
In Dodge, Doc is able to perform surgery on Sweeney to remove the bullets. The determined, industrious nuns feel Sweeney's injuries are their responsibility, and they volunteer to stay in Dodge to nurse Sweeney back to health.
Matt is faced with having the Segurra Gang in his territory while having Sweeney and the money from the bank robbery right under his nose in Dodge. Sweeney fears Segurra and knows the gang leader will not rest until he finds the money from the bank robbery.
The veteran actress Josephine Hutchinson is outstanding as the Reverend Mother Sister Ellen, leader of the group of nuns. Aneta Corsaut, best known for her role as Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show is the tougher, more cynical Sister Ruth, while Kelly Jean Peters bookends Corsaut's performance as the gentle, somewhat naïve Sister John.
Claude Akins, veteran of numerous Gunsmoke and other Western series, plays Worth Sweeney, an outlaw with at least some modicum of conscience. Henry Darrow is also great as the seething, angry Ross Segurra.
(As a side note, I am always curious why outlaws would follow someone as mean and soulless as the Segurra character is here. He bullies his men, and does not hesitate to kill them when he doubts their trustworthiness. Matt even tells Sister Ellen he "kills for the love of it.")
Divine providence is the overarching theme of this episode. How much of a role does it play in the events that transpire?
Gunsmoke: Mistaken Identity (1967)
Intriguing Plot Twists
When Mel Gates stops by a stream for a drink of water, he is bitten in the face by a rattlesnake. In his panic, he fires his gun several times in an attempt to kill the snake. The noise attracts Ed Carstairs, who happens to be in the area. Unfortunately for Gates, Carstairs is no "good Samaritan." Since Carstairs is on the run for killing a sheriff in Crawville, he seizes upon the opportunity to exchange papers with the dying Gates so everyone will think Carstairs is dead, and the real Carstairs can live as Mel Gates.
Carstairs is surprised to learn that the real Mel Gates did not die. Matt discovered Gates by the stream where Carstairs had left him. Matt administered first aid for the snake bite, and Gates survived as a result. Of course, everyone thinks mistakenly thinks Gates is Ed Carstairs.
One would think all of this would buy some time for Carstairs to get as far away from any pursuers as possible, but Carstairs foolishly decides he can allow everyone to go on thinking he is Gates, and Gates is Carstairs.
Two deputies from Crawville, a town run by the corrupt Cord Bevins, arrive in Dodge City. They are pursuing Carstairs, but they conveniently do not know what Carstairs looks like. They also lack any authority to arrest anyone This plays well into the identity-switching plan the real Carstairs has concocted.
This sets up an intriguing situation for Matt as he has to deal with the attempts by the impatient, rogue deputies to get to Mel Gates, who they think is Carstairs, while the real Carstairs hatches a plot to help the deputies capture Gates, while also playing the role of the friendly Dodge newcomer to the local citizens.
Albert Salmi, who plays the real Carstairs, turns in another outstanding performance, and Hal Lynch is great as the seemingly hapless Mel Gates. Ken Mayer and Sam Melville, two more recognizable character actors, are sufficiently dastardly as the unlikeable deputies.
Since this episode take place primarily in Dodge, we get to see many of the town regulars, with the notable exception of Festus.
A significant piece of tragic trivia about this episode is that both of the primary guest stars, Salmi and Lynch, would commit suicide later in life.
I appreciate some of the twists and turns in this episode, and the acting is definitely up to the Gunsmoke standards.
An Amusing Episode Featuring Festus
Festus gets word that his cousin Maude Haggen is in trouble in the town of Buckland. It seems that Maude sold the father of the notorious Watson brothers some bad moonshine that resulted in the father's death. The Watson boys want revenge.
As he makes his way to Buckland, Festus happens upon a dying gunfighter named Jim Travers. Travers accidentally shot himself. (One wonders how often that might have happened during a time when many people carried guns.) Travers knows he is going to die, but he convinces Festus to promise to bury him "deep" before Festus rides on to Buckland. Travers tells Festus he can have the fancy silver-studded saddle from Travers's horse in return for the burying.
Festus buries the dead Travers, takes the saddle, and rides into Buckland on Ruth with the fancy saddle only to find his cousin is long gone. This leads to a case of mistaken identity. It seems the mayor of Buckland had hired Jim Travers to rid the town of the troublemaking Watsons. The mayor sees the fancy saddle and immediately assumes Festus is Travers.
The remainder of the episode is a comedy where most of the people in Buckland think Festus is Travers, the Watson brothers turn out to be nothing more than an ornery trio of bumblers, and Festus waxes existentially about his past. Along the way, there are toads, a bungled ambush, and a seemingly rabid dog.
As usual, there are some notable performances in this episode. George "Goober" Lindsey and Hoke Howell, both veterans for The Andy Griffith Show, play two of the hapless Watson brothers. Dub Taylor is the bartender at the Buckland saloon. Denver Pyle even makes an appearance as the town doctor. Butch Patrick, most famous for playing Eddie on the Munsters, also makes an appearance.
The scene near the end when Festus is telling Matt about his adventures in Buckland is great.
I realize many people don't care for the comedy episodes, but this one is a lot of fun.
Gunsmoke: Noose of Gold (1967)
A Tale of Trust and Political Ambition
John Farron and Matt Dillon are long time friends. It seems that Farron's family took care of Dillon many years earlier when Dillon was going through tough times.
Somewhere along the way, Farron ran afoul of the law. The episode doesn't provide details, but Farron tells Matt that robbery became easier after "the first one." Now Farron is wanted for murder, although he insists he has never killed anyone.
Farron makes the mistake of riding into Dillon's jurisdiction, which should have been the entire state of Kansas. Farron is tired of running, and is looking for a plea deal. Farron only trusts Matt and, through his wife, arranges to meet with Matt to discuss a deal.
Matt is able to get the Attorney General to agree to a deal, but it means a long prison sentence for Farron if he is found guilty. Farron is not too crazy about spending a huge chunk of his remaining life in prison, especially because he did not commit murder.
The politically ambitious Attorney General turns to one of his assistants, Charles Shepherd and instructs him to do what he can to see that Farron is brought to justice. Shepherd, who has ambitions of his own, sees this opportunity to advance himself politically.
These circumstances lead to a tragic conclusion that is not too surprising knowing the tendencies of the Gunsmoke writers.
This episode features some fine performances. Steve Ilhat is always good, and he plays the tired outlaw John Farron very well here. Sam Gilman is also great as Farron's sidekick Jim Gunther. As other reviewers have noted, Vincent Gardenia is outstanding as the despicable Charles Shepherd.
This is primarily a Matt Dillon episode, although Festus, Thad, Doc, and Kitty, as well as some of the Dodge City regulars, make appearances.
Gunsmoke: Saturday Night (1967)
Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
The story begins with Matt Dillon shooting a horse in the desert. Matt and his prisoner, Carl Craddock, are on their way to Dodge, but the lack of water has reached a critical point where even their horses cannot survive. When Matt and Craddock find a small pool of water, they drink, not realizing the water is contaminated.
A group of drovers, led by Virgil Powell, are engaged in a cattle drive toward Dodge when they find Matt and his prisoner near death. They nurse the two back to health and everyone makes their way to Dodge.
In Dodge, the cowboys engage in typical rowdy, drunken behavior. Matt has to walk a fine line between keeping the peace and allowing the cowboys to let off a little steam.
Craddock is in the Dodge City jail, but he is one mean, nasty character. He repeatedly threatens Matt and continuously looks for a way to escape. He has nothing to lose, as he is surely going to be executed by hanging.
This sets the stage for the series of events that take place in the remainder of this fine episode--one of the better of Season 12.
William Watson was always great at playing psychopathic type characters, and he certainly does not disappoint here. Carl Craddock is pretty much pure evil.
Leif Erickson is excellent as the grizzled Virgil, leader of the drovers. Victor French and Dub Taylor also provide memorable performances.
Gunsmoke: Us Haggens (1962)
Hello Festus Haggen!
Black Jack Haggen is another of those Gunsmoke villains that are lacking any redeeming qualities. Killing another person means nothing more to him than someone stepping on a bug. When he kills one of the farmers that lives close to Dodge City, Matt Dillon sets out in pursuit.
Matt isn't alone this time, though. He runs across Festus Haggen, who is also after his uncle for personal reasons. Matt agrees to allow Festus to tag along in the pursuit of Black Jack.
And so, we meet the one-and-only Festus Haggen for the first time.
Decades later, I am not sure when the Gunsmoke producers decided to add Festus as a regular character on the show. Although we first meet Festus here, we don't see him again until the next season in the "Prairie Wolfer" episode. However, this episode sure seems like it is as much to introduce us to Festus as anything.
There is a lot of Festus storytelling, especially as he tells Matt about his very unique family, many who have no qualms about breaking the law when it suits them, and maybe that even includes Festus. A big part of the tension in this episode is built around Matt not being sure if he can trust Festus or not.
Denver Pyle is good, as always, as Black Jack Haggen. We also get to meet April as played by Elizabeth MacRae, perhaps better known as Lou Ann Poovie on Gomer Pyle USMC. April would make additional appearances as Festus's girlfriend in the next season of Gunsmoke. Billy Hughes, a frequent guest on many westerns at the time, also appears early in this episode.
It is difficult to judge this episode on its own merits, because we now know the profound impact the Festus character would have on Gunsmoke. But a large part of this episode is an early version of Festus being Festus. The resolution to the episode is not especially surprising.
A Clash of Cultures
The Cathcart family--Pa, Orkey, and Sweet Billy--are mountain folk (Sam the bartender thinks they are probably from Tennessee) that have moved somewhere not too far from Dodge City. The Cathcarts are facing a bit of a problem: Sweet Billy and another local girl have fallen in love and want to marry, but "the Cathcarts marry in line." That is, Orkey, being the older brother, must marry before Sweet Billy. Since there aren't any women anywhere around for Orkey, Pa instructs him to take the mule and "look a-purpose" for a woman to marry.
Orkey travels to Dodge City and fairly quickly sees Miss Kitty in the Long Branch Saloon. When he tells Miss Kitty he is planning to marry her, she first thinks it is a joke. When she and Sam realize Orkey is dead serious, Sam throws Orkey out onto the street and tells him not to return.
Not to be deterred, Pa decides he, Orkey, and Sweet Billy will return to Dodge and abduct Miss Kitty. Thus, our story. While Matt and Chester are searching for Miss Kitty, the Cathcarts are doing everything they can to convince Kitty she must marry Orkey. There is an additional side story involving cholera spreading through the area. (It is worth noting that cholera is normally spread through contaminated water, not through contact with an infected person as this story seems to imply.)
I can understand one of the other reviews that criticized this episode for viewing kidnapping as an amusement. However, there is nothing malicious in the Cathcart men's actions. Obviously, they see nothing wrong with treating women the way they treat Kitty. In their culture, a man chooses a woman, and even if she doesn't initially view this as a positive, they believe she will eventually come around to the man's way of thinking. Such thinking is definitely outrageous in more modern, developed cultures. But despite their wrongheaded view of male-female relationships, the Cathcarts are caring, kind--albeit peculiar--people.
There are several notable things about this episode:
- The episode was directed by Dennis Weaver, the last of four Gunsmoke episodes he directed.
- Kathleen Hite named this episode as a particular favorite of the episodes she wrote.
- The very recognizable Don Dubbins plays Orkey Cathcart. This character is a stark contrast to the Ed Potts character he played just a few episodes earlier in the season in "Milly."
- A very young Warren Oates is great here in the role of Sweet Billy.
- The veteran actor and musician Taylor McPeters, aka Cactus Mack, is wonderful in the role of Pa. McPeters was actually Glenn Strange's (Sam Noonan) and cowboy actor Rex Allen's cousin. McPeters appeared in many Gunsmoke episodes, as well as other westerns of the period, but he was usually only credited as a "townsman." McPeters was injured during the filming of this episode. He required abdominal surgery as a result. This was his last appearance on Gunsmoke, as he died of a heart attack while filming The Ugly American with Marlon Brando a few months later.
This episode is a particular favorite of mine. I enjoy getting to know the Cathcarts every time I see it.
Gunsmoke: Champion of the World (1966)
Nothing Much to See Here
Bull Bannock is a retired prize fighter, and he is fed up with his life in New York City. He owns a saloon that few people patronize, and those that do are not interested in hearing his stories about his glory days as an undefeated fighter. Bannock decides to sell out and move to Dodge City to start a new life there.
After arriving in Dodge, Bannock soon meets The Professor, a con man who sees in Bannock an easy mark. Bannock is such a gullible fool that he believes everything The Professor tells him and allows himself to be swindled repeatedly.
One of the problems with this episode is that the audience feels no sympathy for Bannock. He obviously has more money than sense. Even the Dodge citizens can see The Professor is taking advantage of Bannock, but rather than say anything to Bannock, they just snicker behind his back.
Alan Hale, Jr. played the Bull Bannock role much as he played every role he ever had. This episode was filmed during the same time Gilligan's Island would have been filming the third season. There is nothing to distinguish Bull Bannock from the Skipper, other than Hale's terrible attempt at an Irish accent.
Dan Tobin is The Professor. Tobin often played similar roles during this same time. I first remember him as "Gentleman" Dan Caldwell in a Season 1 episode of The Andy Griffith Show. The Professor is essentially the same character as Dan Caldwell living in a different period of time.
There is simply nothing of substance to this episode. The situations are not funny. There is very little drama. Bannock and The Professor are not likable enough to care that much about the outcome.
Gunsmoke: The Moonstone (1966)
Haunted, Inescapable Past
Chad Timpson moved back to the Dodge City area to care for his mentally challenged brother, Orv, after the death of their father. Chad has established solid roots in the area after a questionable past as a criminal. He has even developed a romantic relationship with Madge at the Long Branch Saloon.
Unfortunately, Chad's past deeds come back to haunt him in the form of one Del Phillips, an old associate from Chad's criminal days. Del is determined to settle his differences with Chad in a gunfight.
Meanwhile, Orv mistakes Madge's affection toward him as romance, although Madge presumably only cares for Orv because of her affection for Chad. This leads to a series of misunderstandings that have dire consequences for everyone involved.
There are more great performances by the guest stars in this episode, but we kind of take that for granted with Gunsmoke. Tom Skerritt as Orv is a particularly great performance.
In many ways this episode harkens back to earlier days of the series when it seemed most of the episodes were tragedies. As the series progressed through the years, the writing tended to move more toward happier--or at least endings that were not as dark as some of the earlier episodes. I do agree with one of the other reviewers that the writers/producers of the episode had other choices, and the ending that was chosen seems more like a quick way to wrap up the story, as opposed to something that might have been more profound.
It's a good episode with some great acting, but the story definitely deserved a better ending.
Gunsmoke: Quaker Girl (1966)
Interesting Premise with Too Many Plot Elements
Roger Ewing's Clayton Thaddeus "Thad" Greenwood is the central regular character in this episode. Thad is on his way back to Dodge City after delivering some horses when he happens upon a Deputy Sheriff named Kester. Kester has been shot and is dying. He tells Thad he was shot with his own gun by an outlaw he was transporting to Elkader named Fred Bateman. Kester deputizes Thad with his dying breath.
Thad quickly finds Bateman, played by William Shatner. Unfortunately, Bateman proves to be more than the inexperienced Thad can handle. The two scuffle repeatedly. At one point Thad is badly injured. For some reason, Bateman chooses to help Thad rather than take the opportunity to get away. (One would think an outlaw that shot a Deputy Sheriff and left him to die would be unlikely to help another person. This is just one of the puzzling aspects of the story.)
Once Thad has recovered somewhat, he and Bateman struggle again. This time, a group of Quakers come upon the fighting pair. Both men claim the other to be the outlaw. The Quakers decide to take them both back to their settlement until they can decide what to do.
Meanwhile, we suddenly learn there are three mysterious fellows pursuing Bateman. Bateman knows where a large amount of money has been hidden, and these three guys want to know where it is. But, like the Quakers, these three do not know Fred Bateman, either.
As if all of this wasn't enough for a one-hour plot, Thad and one of the Quaker women fall in love. The Quakers tend to think Thad is Bateman, because the real Bateman is a smooth talking son-of-a-gun, and the Quakers are rather gullible.
Back in Dodge City, the man for which Thad was delivering the horses wants his money, and Matt is worried. Matt and Festus head out to see what happened to the long overdue Thad.
All of these plot elements surprisingly converge into a fairly unsurprising ending.
Roger Ewing's acting career was relatively short, as was his two seasons on Gunsmoke. This episode gives us a pretty good clue why. Ewing simply lacks the charisma or acting ability to carry an episode.
Otherwise, the cast here is solid, as was true of most Gunsmoke episodes. Shatner is good, especially considering his tendency to overact at times. The great character actor Ben Johnson and the Gunsmoke veteran Tom Reese both play heavies here.
The Gunsmoke writers had a tendency to introduce too many plot elements at times, and this is the case with this episode. Who were the mystery men? Where did they come from? They obviously want to know where Bateman hid the money, but they cannot even identify Bateman. They also seem to know a lot about Bateman, other than his appearance. What is the purpose of introducing the romantic element between Thad and the Quaker girl? Did they just need to pad the episode? Why did Bateman choose to help Thad rather than using the opportunity to get away?
Between Ewing's uninspired acting and the introduction of too many different plot elements, this episode is not up to par with the best of the series.
One of the Darkest, Oddest Episodes In the Series
In a 20-year run, one can expect some odd episodes here and there, and this is definitely one of the stranger Gunsmoke episodes.
Jena Engstrom plays Milly Glover, a poor 17-year-old who lives near Dodge with her little brother Joey and their horrible father, Bart, who is a drunk and only sees his two children as nuisances. Milly is too proud to accept help from anyone, despite the fact she and Joey are starving.
After visiting her friend, Laura, who shared Milly's poor background until she married a man named Sam that provides a good home, nice clothes, furniture, and plenty of food, Milly decides her best course of action is to get married. The problem with her idea is that she only considers three of the worst scoundrels one could imagine as husband candidates.
From that foundation, this episode takes some unexpected twists and turns as it moves toward a somewhat inconclusive conclusion.
There are some things about this episode I find quite disturbing. For one, too many of the characters are sadistic monsters. Milly tends to ignore offers for help from the kind people she encounters--namely Miss Kitty, Matt, and her friend Laura. But she pursues hopeless relationships with some of the most ornery, sadistic, downright evil people she could ever hope to meet. Maybe her upbringing by her useless, monstrous father has made her resolved to that kind of life.
Another thing that bugs me is that Engstrom, who is a fine actress and handles the role here well, seems to be miscast. Many other characters refer to her as being ugly. Engstrom was an attractive young lady at that time. It is difficult to see her as many of the other characters in the episode describe her.
The view of marriage here is quite negative. Even Milly's friend Laura seems to have only married her husband for the things he can provide. Marriage in this story is only a matter of convenience.
I think the most troubling aspect of this episode is John Meston's characters. There are just too many people who have virtually no redeeming qualities. We naturally want to root for Milly and Joey, but Milly repeatedly refuses people that could help in favor of uncaring, unfeeling scoundrels. One has to think Meston wrote this episode with an unusually pessimistic outlook on humanity.
There are some great performances here. Engstrom always stood out in any of the shows in which she appeared during this time. Billy Hughes as Joey is another actor that had a tendency to shine in the opportunities he was given. Malcolm Atterbury plays Bart Glover with the necessary level of drunken meanness. Sue Randall, perhaps best known as Miss Landers on Leave It to Beaver, makes a brief appearance here as Laura.
Don Dubbins as Ed Potts is a stark contrast in this episode to the character Orkey Cathcart he would play just a few episodes later in the season in the "Marry Me" episode. James Griffith as the extremely cruel Harry Tillman and Harry Swoger as mean ol' Sam Lawson are both memorable in any appearance they make.
In the end, this episode is just too dark and pessimistic to be recommended for anything other than the individual performances. It's Gunsmoke, so it is definitely worth watching, but it is certainly not one of the better episodes in the series.
Gunsmoke: Stage Stop (1966)
Don't Mess with Doc
When Doc Adams finds himself more or less stuck at a stagecoach way station with a blind man, a frail, sickly woman, a less-than-honorable station manager, and surrounded by outlaws, he proves just how tough he can be.
I disagree with some of the more critical reviews of this episode. Doc actually strategizes an outcome that he thinks might save the lives of others at his own peril. When he is backed into a corner, he does what he has to do, even when it is contrary to what we might expect.
I don't want to reveal any more details, but we see in this episode that Doc is even tougher than we might have thought. My only complaints with this episode include the unlikely accuracy of a blind man with a shotgun, and at the very end when we are treated to Matt's requisite fortuitous appearance.
This is one of the so-called "location" shoots. Most of the story takes place away from Dodge.
John Ireland is perfectly nasty as the cruel station master. Michael Vandever's seemingly conscienceless Lingo character is positively evil with the way he laughs off his cruel deeds and the fateful demise of other characters. We also get to see the great Sid Haig, quintessential heavy and veteran of numerous low-budget films.
Gunsmoke: The Newcomers (1966)
Great Acting, Nice Supporting Cast
Scandinavian immigrants Lars Karlgren and his son Petter arrive in Dodge City as Lars is planning to add a second chair to Birger Engdahl's barbershop. When the naive, innocent Petter has an unfortunate encounter with the ornery, bully cowboy named Silvee, Petter thinks he has accidentally killed Silvee.
The story involves blackmail and mystery as Bob Handley, a local good-for-nothing Dodge resident, attempts to seize an opportunity to take advantage of the circumstances.
There is nothing too surprising or shocking about this episode. It is fairly standard western fare. The highlight is the great cast and acting, especially from Karl Swenson and a young Job Voight as the father and son, and another appearance by the very recognizable Robert Sorrells, who would be convicted of murder and sentenced to prison later in real life.
Everything here is very well done, even though there is nothing that special about the story itself. It makes for another entertaining hour of Gunsmoke.
Story Lacks Substance
Dodge City is in the midst of a drought, as is any place within a reasonable ride of the town. Most of the water supplies have gone dry. There is a well in Dodge that still has water, but it is running out. Marshal Dillon has implemented rationing and has someone guarding the well around the clock to prevent thievery. (Never mind that this is not something a U.S. Marshal would normally do, but that was often true of Dillon and Gunsmoke.)
Dr. Tobias--who claims to be a rainmaker, among other things--just happens to ride into Dodge. Matt knows this "doctor's" whole schtick is a scam, but the people in the town are desperate. Matt orders Tobias to engage the people in a rainmaking scam to give them hope and buy some time while Festus explores some other options for water in surrounding areas.
Director Marc Daniels does as good a job as possible with this story. The viewer can almost feel the misery of the town folk, the sweat, the filth, and Matt's frustration as the people become more and more desperate.
The biggest problem with this episode is that there is simply not enough material for an hour long episode. Much of the story comes across as filler to stretch the episode to an hour. There are long talking scenes. There is a side story involving a selfish man on the run from the army that appears to have been added in an attempt to introduce some excitement into the proceedings and to fill time.
One of the more glaring problematic aspects of this episode is that a little over halfway through the episode, Festus voluntarily takes off for Colorado in search of water, and we never see him again.
The ending is predictable, and the story is thin. Even worse, the episode simply is neither compelling nor fun to watch. Normally I enjoy the episodes set in Dodge and featuring many of the citizens, but this one is an uncharacteristic mess.
Gunsmoke: The Whispering Tree (1966)
Great Cast, Memorable, Low-Action
Virgil Stanley is released from prison after serving eight years for robbery. The money he stole was never recovered, because Stanley buried it on his farm before he was arrested. There are several others interested in finding that money, including Earl Miller, who was involved in the robbery, and Jack Redmond, a law enforcement officer from the area where the robbery occurred.
During the eight years Stanley has been in prison, his wife and two sons have managed to make significant improvements to the farm, which is now thriving. Stanley is surprised at the accomplishments of his family, especially since some of the changes they have made to the farm make it difficult for Stanley to find where he buried the money.
Stanley finds himself pressured from all sides. Miller wants a share of the money. Redmond is sure Stanley has the money and wants to recover it. Stanley's family have welcomed his return and want to move on with their lives.
Meanwhile, Marshal Dillon is involved, because he has Redmond relentlessly hounding Stanley, and Dillon is suspicious that Stanley may very well have the money.
This is another of those episodes where Gunsmoke is merely the place where the story is set. Except for Matt's attempts to try to maintain order and keep Redmond from crossing the legal line while harassing Stanley, there is nothing about this episode that depends on participation from any of the regular Gunsmoke characters. However, it is a very good morality tale of a man given the opportunity to change his direction in life by making better choices. Whether Virgil Stanley has the character to make that change or not is at the crux of this episode.
The acting in this episode is up to the level we have come to expect from Gunsmoke. John Saxon, the veteran character actor, does a great job in the role of Virgil Stanley. Ed Asner is his usually nasty self as Redmond. Morgan Woodward has a smaller part than we often see for him as Earl Miller, but his frustration and loss of patience with Stanley is evident in his character.
The episode is well-written, intriguing, and not at all predictable. There is even a twist at the end.