Gunsmoke: Season 20, Episode 11

Island in the Desert: Part 1 (2 Dec. 1974)

TV Episode  -   -  Western
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Festus is shot by the killer he is pursuing in the blazing desert, only to be helped by a crazed hermit and forced to tote water to try and get him to a town 80 miles away.



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Title: Island in the Desert: Part 1 (02 Dec 1974)

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Episode cast overview:
Ben Snow
William Watson ...
Gard Dixon (as William C. Watson)
Regis Cordic ...
Sheriff Grimes
Hank Brandt ...
John Lipon
Ted Jordan ...


Matt and Festus bring a particularly notorious killer into a town on the edge of a desert, where the sheriff cheerfully informs the killer that "tomorrow we start working on the gallows." The sheriff spoke too soon: the killer gets the drop on him, murders him and flees into the desert. Festus, who stayed behind to borrow a new mule, goes in pursuit but is bushwhacked in his own right. Festus, however, is rescued by Ben Snow, a hermit who was a gold miner many years earlier -- only to be shot in the leg and left for dead by his partner. Snow is half-crazed ("I'd even make friends with a snake!") -- but he actually found his gold mine, a spring which provides him with water and shelter and food from desert animals. He's panned the spring incessantly and racked up a huge cache of gold dust. Snow might be able to get out of the desert (he's tried before and left water caches as far as he could walk), but he's so bent out of shape that he refuses to go without the gold -- many dozen ... Written by Peter Harris

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Release Date:

2 December 1974 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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The year in which this episode occurred is 1873. See more »


Ben Snow's pet rattlesnake ("Homer, stop that buzzing! Festus here is a guest!" is supposed to be in two scenes (one in each hour), but when he's seen it's obviously stock footage that doesn't match the environment - particularly in his second appearance. See more »

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User Reviews

Impressive locations and bravura performances
20 April 2006 | by (Camilla, GA) – See all my reviews

During its twentieth (and last) season "Gunsmoke" pulled out the stops and had some of the show's best episodes, showcasing most of the cast members. "Island in the Desert, Parts I and II" is centered around Festus, played by Ken Curtis, as the deputy is in pursuit of a murderous felon, superbly played by perennial villain William C. Watson. Festus's quest takes him into the desert where he meets a deranged prospector Ben Snow, played by the always dependable Strother Martin. Snow has been in the desert for more than a decade, searching for and acquiring a stash of gold, an accomplishment that he wants to return to his old stomping ground, a town called Ten Strikes. Snow wants to show his wealth to a former rival named Sam Bristol.

After being wounded by a bullet from the escaping criminal, Festus is cared for by Snow who later forces the deputy to serve as his "pack mule" to haul the gold through the desert toward Ten Strikes.

The pair must contend with the savage heat, Snow's frequent bits of paranoia, and the fact that Watson's character is still on the loose.

All of these are answered in the second installment that is just as riveting as the first.

Martin, Watson, and Curtis are good in their parts, with the former having a slight edge over the other two. Martin had a long career in Hollywood, with a long string of memorable roles, especially as the warden in Paul Newman's "Cool Hand Luke." "Ben Snow" became just another feather in a cap filled with performances to die for.

Another plus for the show is the impressive use of location, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona/Utah). Sprawling vistas and panoramic landscapes add to the fact that the characters are far from civilization and at the mercy of the environment.

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