Plot: Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) is about as seasoned as a lawman in the rugged west can be, as he has taken on countless crooks, gunslingers, rustlers, and con artists, but he still stands. This would be impressive anywhere, but in a place like Dodge City, which attracts criminals looking for trouble or build a reputation, Dillon’s record is nothing short of miraculous. Of course, he has some help from his reliable friends Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) and Festus (Ken Curtis), as well as some other more law minded locals that pitch in. But just when he thinks he has seen it all, Dodge City presents him with one new threat after another.
Entertainment Value: As Gunsmoke was thirteen seasons deep in into its run, the show had established a consistent formula, but that doesn’t mean these episodes don’t pack in some solid entertainment. At a certain point, there’s only so many fresh spins you can put on bank robberies, outlaws looking for vengeance, and family disputes, but I think the series still keeps things interesting. The basic formula also doesn’t rule out new approaches, which still pop in from time to time. In the case of these episodes, we have narratives where both Marshal Dillon and Festus wind up as murder suspects, as well as a rather comedic episode about a haul of gold. Gunsmoke: The Thirteenth Season, Volume 1 is a four disc release that collects the first fifteen episodes of the season, as well as the original episodic previews on all the installments. I think there’s a lot to like here, whether you appreciate the Gunsmoke tried and true formula or just can’t get enough classic television westerns, these episodes should entertain. Below is a list of the episodes included in this release.
1. The Wreckers– A stagecoach accident derails a prisoner transport, leaving Marshal Dillon knocked out and an outlaw on death’s doorstep. When a posse of criminals bears down the wreck site, Miss Kitty thinks fast and tries to hide Dillon’s real identity, but will her plan work?
2. Cattle Barons– Dodge City is chosen as the site for two rival cattle ranchers to settle a dispute, which could endanger the entire town.
3. The Prodigal– An outlaw was killed and no one collected the massive bounty, which leads people to think Marshal Dillon was the killer. This leads to the outlaw’s sons coming to Dodge City, to uncover the truth.
4. Vengeance: Part 1– A skilled marksman arrives in Dodge City, looking for some payback against the men who gunned down his family.
5. Vengeance: Part 2– The hunt for vengeance continues, but the man finds himself drawn into conflict when his revenge would be considered murder.
6. A Hat– The son of a powerful rancher is killed in self defense, but that doesn’t stop the rest of the family from seeking to settle the score. As always, Marshal Dillon finds himself as the last line of defense.
7. Hard Luck Henry– Festus is visited by a cousin, who hails him as the smartest family member and the only one wise enough to divide a gold cache. But can Festus concentrate while his cousin gets into one mishap after another?
8. Major Glory– A conflict between militia members turns Dodge City upside down, with Festus caught in the middle.
9. The Pillagers– Miss Kitty is abducted as part of a plot by some outlaws, who also kidnap a new man in town, assuming he is a man of means. But as they soon discover, he is more of a man of action.
10. Prairie Wolfer– When a fur haul turns out to be compromised, two trappers decide to make a quick heist, before they make a run for a fresh start.
11. Stranger in Town– A simple debt spirals into violence, infidelity, and shady business deals, leading to dire consequences.
12. Death Train– The riders on a train have shown symptoms of the plague, which leads to a medical quarantine, but even that doesn’t soothe the concerns of Dodge City’s residents, who worry about an outbreak.
13. Rope Fever– A robbery and murder has been committed in a nearby town and somehow, Festus has been arrested for the crimes. The sheriff there refuses to look into the case, concerned that if he was wrong, he will lose his office, given his advancing age and mind.
14. Wonder– A man runs into a young Indian boy, who has no one and seems to be stranded, so he takes the child in. His noble gesture doesn’t sit well with everyone however, as racism fuels a backlash.
15. Baker’s Dozen– Doc Adams has his hands full, as triplets have just been born and the mother died in childbirth. While new homes can be found for the newborns, Doc is determined to keep the siblings together as a family, but time is running out on finding them such a home.