Matt Dillon (James Arness) is in charge of Dodge City, a town in the Wild West where people often have no respect for the law. He deals on a daily basis with the problems associated with frontier life: cattle rustling, gunfights, brawls, standover tactics, and land fraud. Such situations call for sound judgment and brave actions: of which Marshal Dillon has plenty.
"You're one of those hard-nosed lawmen," say two gamblers, sizing up Dodge City lawman Matt Dillon (James Arness) after he turns down their bribe to run a crooked game in the Season Four
episode "How to Kill a Friend." Hard-nosed and then some. In "Stage Hold-Up," a bandit forces Dillon's hand and is shot by the Marshal. When Dillon informs him he didn't have the evidence for a conviction, the bandit groans, "You sure ain't one to let a man die happy." "A man makes his dying by the way he lives," the laconic Dillon responds. It's this hard-learned frontier wisdom that made the Marshal an iconic radio and TV character, and this season television's top-rated show. Season Four
is a worthy follow-up to the series' Emmy® Award-winning Season Three
. The season's first 19 black-and-white half-hour episodes on this three-disc set are taut character-driven stories, most of them written by series cocreator John Meston. Some subvert Western convention. In "Robber Bridegroom," audience sympathy is with a love-smitten kidnapper and not with the woman's wealthy, upstanding fiancé. Others explore the theme of violence, "the only kind of action that brings any respect," Dillon reflects in one episode, adding, "We're not civilized." But Dillon aims to change that, even when he's framed for murder in the season opener. No less than Wild Bill Hickok has been sent to bring him in. It's all Dillon can do not to tear his lying accuser apart, and when justice finally does prevail, Hickok asks him if he would have resisted arrest. Dillon replies, "I've been working for the law too long to break it just 'cause it's going against me." Dennis Weaver earned an Emmy this season as the simple-hearted deputy Chester, one of TV's great sidekicks. One of his best outings is a rare comic episode, "Marshal Proudfoot," in which Chester's uncle visits Dodge City believing that Chester is the Marshal. Dillon's relationship with Long Branch Saloon co-owner Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) remains as cagey as ever. In one episode, when Kitty tells him he has much to learn about women, Dillon responds, "I'm learning." Kitty's comeback: "At the pace you've set, I'll be in my grave before you ever get out of the first grade." Milburn Stone, as crusty, irascible Doc, has another memorable episode in which he runs afoul of a man who hates and distrusts doctors, an attitude not helped when the man's wife dies under Doc's care. Gunsmoke
completists will appreciate one of this set's bonus features, the Season Two
episode "How to Cure a Friend," which was left off that boxed set. Sponsor spots in which the cast hawks Remington shavers and L&M cigarettes add nostalgic fun to this high-caliber collection. --Donald Liebenson