Serious Gunsmoke fans have been grousing about the curious way the show has been made available on DVD. Diehards think that the series, all 20 years of it and 630-something episodes, should be released chronologically, one season at a time.
If CBS/Paramount ever did launch such a package, the fans would go into debt paying for it and give themselves hernias carting it. What fans should be talking about is how Paramount has gone to great lengths to stock its Gunsmoke DVDs with wonderful extras.
The newest volume is called The Director’s Collection, principally because of the voice-over interviews on several of the 15 episodes in the three-disc set by the men who directed them. As for the direction itself, there’s really not a lot of bragging room to be had—the sets were limited, the amount of time that could be devoted to setting up elaborate camera movements and such was practically nonexistent—the scripts and the casting made all the difference. But listening to the late Dennis Weaver, John Rich, Arthur Hiller and Andrew McLaglen discuss their choices and difficulties is truly wonderful. Director Harry Harris, Jr. and star Mariette Hartley share commentary on a pretty terrific episode, “Cotter’s Girl.” And Mark Rydell discusses how a kid from the Bronx took to shooting TV Oaters, and how it served as training for another picture he made years later, also featuring Bruce Dern, who got to kill John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972).
Best of all is the commentary by Peter Graves, who does a first-rate imitation of Otto Preminger, discusses Edward G. Robinson, explains how he stopped directing when he was asked to work on TV’s Mission Impossible and mentions his love of swing music, remembering how Gunsmoke star Ken Curtis (Festus) took over Sinatra’s spot as the vocalist for Tommy Dorsey. He even manages to throw in a few words about Airplane (1980). Best, though, are his recollections of his brother Jim (Arness) and how the siblings got work in Hollywood.
Paramount has done a fine job in doing the show justice.