TV’s Gunsmoke ran over twenty years, 635 episodes (1955-1975), and five television movies (1987-1994). Given such a popular, high-quality series it would be foolish—darn near impossible—to say these are definitively its greatest adventures. So I’ll call them almost two fists’ worth of the most memorable tales, and, please, challenge me in the comments with your own selections.
“Matt Gets It” (1955)
John Wayne introduces Gunsmoke’s debut episode and the program’s lead actor Jim Arness by explaining to the viewers that what they are about to watch is an adult Western and that “you might as well get used to him, like you’ve had to get used to me.” The actors are far from establishing their characters, but all the elements are in place with a distinctive first plot featuring gunslinger Dan Grat (Paul Richards), who goads people into showdowns, when he gets the upper hand on Matt, nearly killing him. After recovering, the marshal discovers why the killer prefers to be a bit too close when engaging a fire fight and uses that knowledge to his advantage.
Note: These early episodes opened with Matt wandering among the headstones on Boot Hill, observing the “Gomorrah of the Plains” (Dodge City) in the distance. These deliberations (via James Arness’s voiceover) about the city, his role, or some other philosophizing point allows us to get into the mind of a hero that would become much more closed-off as the years passed.