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Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994)
Last ever Gunsmoke
It's amazing there's only one review of James Arness's last western outing. I guess it shows how far the TV western, not to mention the feature version, has sunk since the horse opera's heyday in the late '50s and early '60s. I'm making it two!
I won't 'spoil' the story. I'll just say that Mr Arness was looking a little creaky by '94 - not that it matters, of course. There's still a flavor of the indelible character and he seems to be enjoying himself. He said how annoyed he was that the studio didn't let the TV saga wind down with a final, goodbye episode. If it had, I guess one-offs like this would have looked foolish.
As it is, enjoy it for what it is - a last hurrah for one of TV's great characters, Marshal Matt Dillon of Dodge.
The Dakotas (1963)
Best TV western of all
Well said, patmyhill. I agree with all your points. Jack Elam was simply one of the best western actors of all time. It's so sad that public reaction to the Sanctuary at Crystal Springs episode shot such a fine series dead in the dust. The Dakotas makes other TV oaters like Gunsmoke and Bonanza look like soap operas. The episodes I've seen take me right back to '63. It's the only time I ever remember people on the bus talking in hushed tones about the episode shown the previous evening. As I recall, the blokes were delighted and a little shocked at the shootout, but I can't remember which episode they were discussing.
Does anyone know if the twentieth episode, Black Gold, is available on DVD or videotape? What a treat it would be to catch this missing segment. If only it had gone on to become the long-running series it deserved to be. Long live JD Smith!
Cimarron Strip: The Battleground (1967)
A fine reminder of '60s TV westerns at their best............
I hadn't seen this segment of Cimarron Strip since its first airing in early '68. There was always a buzz when the credits came up, with Stuart Whitman, the young John Wayne, riding past those moonlike rocks near Lone Pine, California, to the strains of Maurice Jarre's soaring theme music.
The Battleground has a superb cast alongside the four series regulars. There's a brilliant performance from the late, definitely great Warren Oates, with a hint of his part in the groundbreaking The Wild Bunch less than two years later. RG Armstrong plays a part reminiscent of his turn in Peckinpah's masterly Ride The High Country, and Robert Wilke, who took on James Coburn's knifeman in The Magnificent Seven and lost hands down, is a snarling, disgruntled cattleman. Like the rest of the case-hardened cast he makes acting look so damned easy. It ain't. Not at all.
There was action aplenty in those days, long before the PC brigade nibbled away at the raw edges of TV entertainment. Stuart Whitman and his gang went for the action like nobody else on TV except for The Dakotas, and in The Battleground, like the other series segments, it fits perfectly with the story. You couldn't do the Cimarron land-grab and its simple politics any other way. If only TV westerns hadn't died out in the '70s. That's a goldarned shame, pardner.
Bill Harding - January 2007