The CBS Home Entertainment separate February 11. 2020 6-discs 24-episodes DVD sets of "Gunsmoke" S18 (1972-73) and S19 (1973-74) provide two more chances to enjoy the adventures of Team Dillon (James Arness) before fans must get out of Dodge at the end of the 20th and final season of this Western classic. These releases follow the CBS (reviewed) S15 V1 and V2 DVD sets of the series.
S18 is our topic du jour; a February 13, 2020 post will discuss S19.
As the following discussion of S18 episodes show, folks who reject Westerns due to a perception that they are all about saloon fights and cattle rustling miss out on wonderful thought-provoking fare.
S18 E1 borrows from other classic slice of life lore that is set in the late 19th century. US Marshal Matt Dillon cannot quite claim mission accomplished on recovering stolen loot from a bank robber early is the first part of this "very special" two-part episode, As often is the case, Dillon gets a cap in his person as thanks for upholding the law. This leads to his heading down the river on the raft of two young siblings who are playing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The rest of the early part of the story is that The Outlaw Charley Utter (Slim Pickens) and his gang of two.
Dillon and the kids soon find themselves at a rough-and-tumble small settlement where they connect with a poacher (Jack Elam) and his common-life wife, who brings home the bacon by running a crooked version of a roulette wheel. Dillon acting true to his law-abiding nature both shows him that no good deed does unpunished and leads to getting out a town that is far from his home turf of Dodge.
Part two involves the expanded motley crew that is piloting the raft trying to reach a destination that they hope will not be their final one courtesy of Utter. This includes good intentions regarding trying to create a win-win situation as to matching the new woman of the house who would benefit from motherhood with the unaccompanied minors. The rest of the story is a strong Finn-style aversion to being civilized. One spoiler regarding this is that you can lead a boy to church, but you cannot make him pray.
The next S18 adventure is equally Old West in nature. A travelling faith healer has his convictions tested when he bonds with a crippled all-American boy (Vincent Van Patten) on coming into Dodge. Substance in this one includes the power of positive thinking.
The next outing is an even more timeless tale that provides even more hearty food for thought. An ex-con rides into Dodge seeking revenge against the shiftless wife-beating pig farmer that dun him wrong. The first dilemma relates to whether an upstanding citizen/new father has a duty to endanger himself by harboring the pig farmer; the ensuing conflict relates to the extent to which the townsfolks and the pig farmer himself should allow the inarguably better man pay the price to thwarting the revenge of the man seeking to hold the farmer accountable.
The anti-Semitism around which the S18 season finale revolves is even more translatable to the 21st century. This story begins with a group of three brothers without brides harassing Jewish settlers fairly fresh off the boat from Russia. This escalates to the gang dragging the youngest son in the family behind a horse; this leads to the off-camera death of the boy. Richard Dreyfuss plays an older brother of the boy.
The subsequent Talmud-related refusal of the father of the boy refusing to help Dillon bring the neer-do-well siblings to justice prevents those men from answering for their crimes. The better assimilated siblings of the victim leads to a confrontation that leads to a surprising conclusion. One lesson here is that the old ways have merit.
The compelling nature of these episodes (that almost always feature at least one "Love Boat" caliber guest star) and the other S18 offerings shows why "Gunsmoke" still is on the air after 18 seasons and is surviving the relocation of most of TV Land to the big city in the '70s.,