Friday, March 22, 2019

THE 5TH ANNUAL FAVOURITE TV EPISODE BLOGATHON: Gunsmoke, The Guitar (1956)


Why are Bilko and the gang so happy? It's time for the 5th Annual Favourite TV Episode Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote of A Shroud of Thoughts. Click here for the stroll down Memory Lane.


Norman Macdonnell and John Meston's Gunsmoke had a phenomenal television run from 1955 - 1975. In those early seasons, many episodes were adapted from their popular radio program which ran from 1952 - 1961.

The Guitar aired in June of 1956, the 35th episode of a 39 episode first season. The original radio broadcast of the script by John Meston and directed by Norman Macdonnell aired in December of 1953. Sam Peckinpah adapted the screenplay and the director was Harry Horner, a two-time Academy Award-winning set designer (The Heiress, The Hustler).

Charles Gray, Aaron Spelling, Jacques Aubuchon

Weed Pindle (Aaron Spelling) is a pathetic sight. Awkwardly thin, with pop eyes and a lack of social graces, Weed is as ragtag as the mule he rides. We learn through the script that trauma and torture have done much to shape his personality which leaves Weed Pindle an easy target for bullies. In Dodge City, Pindle runs into two prime bullies, Short (Jacques Aubuchon) and Tyler (Charles Gray). When learning their prey is from Texas, Short and Tyler strike up an insincere friendship and drag their new friend around to the different watering holes in Dodge in order to ply him with drinks and make fun of him.

However, upon learning that this Texan was a member of an Illinois regiment that was responsible for the downfall of their own southern looters, many of whom were hanged, their intentions turn deadly. Short and Tyler feign shock that Weed has never seen a hanging, and they guarantee that he will see one before the night is through.

Dennis Weaver, Aaron Spelling

Marshal Dillon (James Arness) has gone to Fort Dodge and will not return until dark leaving Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) to keep an eye on things. Concerned townspeople have heard of Short and Tyler's veiled threats to Pindle and bring the news to Chester just as the rowdy trio arrives at the Longbranch Saloon.

Chester, Doc (Milburn Stone) and the others at the Longbranch see Weed as an inoffensive and kindly soul and try to calm things with the toughs. Short and Tyler will not be deterred as they set about their revenge for what they see as Civil War misdeeds. They get the upper hand of Doc and the concerned patrons, but Chester has come around through the back with a rifle on Short and one of the barmen, Pence (Joe Mell) subdues Tyler.

After the two with murder in their hearts are sent packing, Weed is convinced to play his guitar for the folks who have done him a kindness. The music is lovely and enjoyed by all. A hat is passed for a generous collection for their new friend.

Aaron Spelling

Leaving the Longbranch, Weed is again confronted by Short and Tyler who have "prettied up" his mule with paint and break his beloved guitar. They also promise him the hanging is still on, and are only stopped in their efforts by the return of Matt Dillon.

Weed had been invited to take a cot in the Longbranch for the night, but he opts to wash his old burro, take his broken belongings and follow his usual routine of riding "nowhere". Short and Tyler are observed following him out of town and, in turn, the men in the Longbranch follow them.

On a lonely and darkening road, Short and Tyler ambush Weed Pindle and place a rope around his neck. In the cold light of day Marshal Dillon and a number of townsfolk familiar to us from the Longbranch on the previous evening observe two bodies hanging in the spot where we had last seen Weed Pindle. The bodies are those of Short and Tyler.

Matt recognizes that little Pindle couldn't have inflicted such violence upon the two men, but the wanderer is not there to be questioned and his new friends provide alibis for him and for each other. Their responses to Matt are evasive and terse.

Matt's impassioned plea that the law must not be circumvented and that murderers, no matter whom, must be prosecuted falls on deaf ears. It is clear that these men intend to harbour a deadly secret. It is more than likely that Doc speaks for them in his exchange with Matt.

Milburn Stone, James Arness

Doc: "Well, I wonder if they had time to enjoy it?
Matt: "Enjoy what?"
Doc: "The hanging they wanted so all fired bad."

I find The Guitar to be an emotionally unexpected and chilling episode of Gunsmoke. It is certainly worth a rewatch for fans or the first-time viewing to those new to the series.




Listen to the radio episode HERE.












47 comments:

  1. I assume this is THE Aaron Spelling. How would you characterize him as an actor?

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    1. I have seen Spelling, the actor in this, an episode of I Love Lucy and a few episodes of Dragnet. If he was never inspiring, he never seemed out of place.

      Spelling was working as a story editor and writer at Four Star when the boss, Dick Powell, steered him into producing.

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  2. I believe this episode was written by Sam Peckinpah, too. Wow, Aaron Spelling and Sam Peckinpah...imagine if they had teamed up on a TV series!

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    1. Peckinpah adapted Meston's radio play masterfully.

      My mind reels at the thought of a Peckinpah/Spelling collaboration. Sam would give Spelling some gravitas and Aaron would give Peckinpah a broader audience. Or they would spontaneously combust!

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  3. I watched Gunsmoke occasionally but don't know this episode. Sounds very good and unique.

    I've seen Aaron Spelling as an actor only once in the I Wake Up Screaming remake Vicki where he played Elisha Cook's role. He wasn't bad but I think ultimately he made the right decision to become a producer. Margot

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    1. Spelling's success as a producer probably exceeded his wildest dreams of what he might have achieved as an actor.

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    2. Speaking of Vicki I was going to post about it on the page from last week regarding remakes. The original starred BETTY GRABLE, CAROLE LANDIS, VICTOR MATURE & LAIRD CREGAR. The remake had JEANNE CRAIN, JEAN PETERS & RICHARD BOONE.( Boone got to be in JOHN WAYNES last movie THE SHOOTIST.) Betty & Carole played sisters twice, in this one and also in MOON OVER MIAMI with DON AMECHE and BOB CUMMINGS.

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    3. I have not seen Vicki yet, but am a fan of I Wake Up Screaming.

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    4. I Wake Up Screaming is by far the better movie.

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  4. Interesting episode, just watched it on YT.
    Hadn't watched any "Gunsmoke" for over 50 years!
    A lot of action, packed economically into 30 minutes.
    Thank you for drawing it to my attention.
    [Valerie]

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    1. Hi, Valerie. Gunsmoke lasted for 20 years so we certainly get a variety of styles and episodes to enjoy from the radio program, to the half hour episodes, the hour-long in black and white, and colour, and all the regular characters who came and went, the the guest stars who kept returning.

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  5. Keith from Nostalgic Italian here...

    What a great episode! I was a fan of the show on radio (loved William Conrad!) and loved that it did so well on TV.

    I guess I forgot that Aaron Spelling was in this episode. I do remember his name being Weed - I always found that sorta fitting.

    Thanks for reading mine - I enjoyed yours very much!

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    1. Thanks so much, Keith.

      I'm a devoted Gunsmoke fan, both TV and radio program, which aired locally on a Toronto station when I was a teenager. I'm so pleased you stopped by and shared.

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  6. Thanks for your coverage of "The Guitar." I've enjoyed watching "Gunsmoke" over the years, but have never seen this episode. I will certainly check it out. It's interesting that the episode features direction by Harry Horner. He was also behind the camera for the 1952 thriller Beware, My Lovely starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan.

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    1. Beware, My Lovely is one I have only caught once but recall the atmosphere. It is a tribute to the creative people behind the scenes that I can watch these familiar programs and find something new to appreciate every time.

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  7. Paddy Lee, as a life long fan of the best TV Series Western ever, I really enjoyed your fine write-up. I agree with your well made point that "The Guitar" is an emotionally unexpected and chilling episode. John Meston should receive all the credit that he deserves as one of the very best and important storytellers of radio and television. His contributions should never be over looked. Meston along with producer Norman MacDonnell created GUNSMOKE.

    I like it when you review individual TV episodes of some of the best shows that we grew up with and we grew up with GUNSMOKE and television grew up with GUNSMOKE.

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    1. Gunsmoke means a lot to me as well. It has sustained and entertained me through my life. You said everything when you mention what we owe to Meston and McDonnell. I have read that future producers Philip Leacock and Canadian John Mantley felt the responsibility of maintaining their standard.

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  8. I was thinking of some of the movie stars from the old Hollywood days that later guest starred on GUNSMOKE. First I thought of RUTH ROMAN who did an episode COREYVILLE with NINA FOCH(who was in EXECUTIVE SUITE).Then I thought of GLORIA DEHAVEN who did a much later one as an aging saloon girl. Then I thought-that's two of the beauty shop ladies! (from MURDER, SHE WROTE). Ruth played beautician Loretta and Gloria played Phyllis, who worked at a travel agency. Its a wonder that JULIE ADAMS(Eve Simpson from 10 episodes of MSW) didn't do a Gunsmoke episode.

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  9. Coreyville is a dandy, isn't it?

    Julie Adams would have been a good fit for Gunsmoke and it is a shame that it never happened. Nonetheless, we can enjoy her in Bonanza, The Big Valley, Zane Grey Theater, Maverick and The Rifleman. What a busy lady!

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    1. That was quite an episode of THE BIG VALLEY titled THE EMPEROR OF RICE with Julie Adams, about what the love of money can do to a person. Another episode that was different was CAESARS WIFE with DIANNE FOSTER, BERT FREED & TIM OKELLEY. I would think that show was shocking for its time, about a woman after her young stepson. Dianne Foster was really good in that role. Also there were a lot of good actresses on there-besides those two, some that come to mind are SHEREE NORTH, CAROL LYNLEY, JEANNE COOPER, DIANE BAKER, ANNE HELM & YVONNE CRAIG. Carol, Anne & Yvonne were better actresses than they were given credit for but that's the way it goes. Lets hear it for GUNSMOKE, THE BIG VALLEY & also BONANZA!!!

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    2. 1960s television certainly puts the lie to there not being interesting roles for women, not to mention women of a certain age.

      Did you know that Dianne Foster is a Canadian gal, and is still around. Hope she is healthy and happy.

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  10. Very interesting episode! I've only seen probably two dozen Gunsmoke eps over the years, and I've never seen one as tense as this sounds. Interesting! You've definitely got me wanting to see if my dad has this season next time I visit him.

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    1. I hope it is in the collection for you and your dad to share. I love sharing my favourite episodes of Gunsmoke with family. That doesn't happen very often these days.

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  11. I seem to recall that Gunsmoke had it origins when CBS chairman William S. Paley, who was a big Philip Marlowe fan, wanted a hard-boiled Western. This is certainly proof that as a radio show and in its early run on television that it could be very hard-boiled indeed. As you say, "The Guitar" is emotionally unexpected and chilling. Thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon!

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    1. It was my pleasure to participate, as always. My mind is already going to next year! Thanks.

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  12. Did you see the episode BAD LADY FROM BROOKLINE with BETTY HUTTON where she plays a widow who wants to learn how to shoot so she can kill Matt Dillon? The reviews on imdb are not good, to say the least. Being Betty was known for musicals do you think these movie stars would have fit in on an episode(meaning not seem out of place)?-GINGER ROGERS and even BETTY GRABLE.Also JANE POWELL. Did you see Ginger in the saleslady movie she did with Carol Channing? I didn't see that one. If those ladies had done an episode they could have, of course, played an entertainer or a retired entertainer.

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  13. When I said those ladies I meant GINGER, BETTY & JANE not GINGER & CAROL.

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    1. I haven't seen the Betty Hutton episode, but she can be a little overwhelming at times, and not to all tastes.

      I started to watch The First Traveling Saleslady once a few years ago, but it didn't hold my interest despite those usually fascinating actresses.

      Rhonda Fleming played an entertainer on a Wagon Train episode. She appeared in 3 episodes, and was excellent in each of them.

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  14. I remember RHONDA FLEMING on WAGON TRAIN! I saw 2 of them-a black and white one about Indians,(Was MICHAEL ANSARA in it?) and the color one where she played an entertainer with a daughter played by blonde CYNTHIA PEPPER. Did you know that Cynthias dad was once married to GINGER ROGERS? (It was before he married Cynthias mother.) He was an entertainer named JACK PEPPER-real name JACK CULPEPPER. Speaking of Rhonda she was like MAUREEN OHARA-a stunning redhead who did quite a few westerns. Im sure a lot of men liked their beauty and shape. Great post!

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    1. I looked up CYNTHIA PEPPERS bio and her dad was born EDWARD JACKSON CULPEPPER. I read a few years ago that Cynthia met Ginger at whichever studio it was and they had lunch together more than once.

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    2. Ginger seems like the type who would take an interest in young people.

      I wish TCM would put together a tribute to Rhonda Fleming with an interview. So many wishes.

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  15. I'm a new Gunsmoke fan. I've started listening to the old radio shows, and I'm impressed with the skillful script writing. No wonder they called it a western for grownups! Now it's time to start catching up on TV episodes because, judging by your review, it looks like the best parts of the radio show were transferred to television.

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    1. I grew up watching the television program from the 1960s on. During my teen years the radio show played locally and I wouldn't miss it. Later, I finally caught up with the early episodes that were before my time. There is not one era of Gunsmoke that doesn't please me. I can get to be quite a nag about the program. Nobody in the family wants to mention Perry Mason or Gunsmoke in my presence, for fear I won't shut up!

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  16. Yay about PERRY MASON & GUNSMOKE! I mention MURDER, SHE WROTE quite a bit and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Do ( or did you) watch Andys show? ANDY GRIFFITH is one of my favorites. The show was great with BARNEY(DON KNOTTS). Back to Gunsmoke do you like the black and white best or the color ones?

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    1. Regarding Gunsmoke, I find something in all the versions of the program through the years to enjoy. My introduction was the colour years as that is what was airing when I was the age to see it.

      I enjoy what I have watched of The Andy Griffith Show. I especially admire the writing and the comedy chops of the cast, especially Don Knotts. I watched a couple of episodes of Matlock, but it didn't grab me.

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  17. Paddy Lee, I've been enjoying the discussion in which your write-up of "The Guitar" episode of GUNSMOKE has brought forth. The Writers Guild of America nominated John Meston(story) and Sam Peckinpah(teleplay) for an award for "The Guitar". Also, WAG nominated Meston(story), David Victor(teleplay) and Herbert Little, Jr,(teleplay) for "The Big Broad" episode. John Meston was nominated for a Prime Time Emmy Award for the November 2 episode "Born to Hang." The series won its only Best Drama Emmy in 1958 under producer Norman Macdonnell. Writer John Meston, James Arness, and Dennis Weaver, were also nominated that year.

    GUNSMOKE set the standard for late 1950's Western series television. I think two other episodes that would go along with "The Guitar" are the December 2, 1956 episode "No Indians" and the January 12, 1957 episode "The Cover Up." These are rather Dark stories written by John Meston and directed by Ted Post and William D. Russell respectively.

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    1. It has become my habit to become somewhat cynical about awards, but the Writers Guild and Emmy nominations for Gunsmoke make me realize that often those who bestow the trophies do understand a thing or two about quality. It is that quality and commitment that makes Gunsmoke such a classic.

      You add so much to our discussions. Thank you, Walter.

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  18. This series was shown in Brazil only when I was very young, so I haven't watched it. This sounds like a great series, one that will please whoever loves westerns - like me! Another one of your great posts that has introduced me to something new!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. There are decades of Gunsmoke on radio and television to discover and appreciate. I know you will find much to enjoy. Thanks.

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  19. JOHN ASTIN did an episode titled HARD LUCK HENRY in 1967.( He is best known as GOMEZ on THE ADDAMS FAMILY.) John played a cousin of Festus. Today John is 89! Earlier this month he and his wife Valerie were married 30 years. He was married twice before-his second wife was one of the best dramatic actresses Ive ever seen, PATTY DUKE. CAROLYN JONES played the wife MORTICIA on THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Carolyn was once married to AARON SPELLING, the guest star of the episode on this page.

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    1. And around it goes! What a fun way to make that connection.

      John Astin is a favourite of mine. I think he can do anything, but I love the sly humour he brings to roles. I still giggle at Evil Roy Slade.

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  20. GUNSMOKE TRIVIA-BRUCE DERN did 4 episodes & DIANE LADD did 3. Bruce & Diane were married from 1960 to 1969 so all 7 episodes were during those years. JOHN PAYNE & GLORIA DEHAVEN were also guest stars. They divorced in 1951 before Gunsmoke was on TV. Some other guest stars-VICTOR FRENCH & JULIE COBB were only married a year or two. They didn't marry until GUNSMOKE was already off the air. Julie and her dad LEE J. COBB were on Gunsmoke together. Lee J. was on THE VIRGINIAN as Judge Henry Garth, the owner of the Shiloh Ranch for the first four seasons(I believe) 1962-66.

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    1. I first saw Diane Ladd on The Secret Storm. She really impressed me. I was also impressed with Lee J. Cobb on The Virginian, which was my introduction to his career.

      Bruce Dern did DVD commentary for the episode The Jailer with Bette Davis. What a chatty guy!

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  21. Paddy Lee, I'm with you on the awards, but sometimes the best work is awarded by somebody out there. Some of the finest movie, TV, stage performances, which have stood the test of time, never received any awards, but the fans know and appreciate their favorites.

    For me personally, the best years of TV's GUNSMOKE are the producer Norman MacDonell and writer John Meston years of 1955-65. The season of 1964-65 overlapped with new producer Phillip Leacock. I also would like to add the names of top notch writers Kathleen Hite, Marian Clark, and Les Crutchfield. These writers made GUNSMOKE what it is, a Classic.


    EVIL ROY SLADE, which I first saw on the NBC Friday night WORLD PREMIERE MOVIE on February 18, 1972, is a hilarious comedy Western. You have to see it to believe it. John Astin is at his craziest best. Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall wrote it and Jerry Paris directed. A comedy gem.

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    1. A few years ago the hubby gave me the DVD of Evil Roy Slade for my birthday. The ladies at his office were appalled and suggested jewellery, but he knows the woman he married!

      So many admirable writers gave us the classic Gunsmoke episodes through the years. I hope everyone took pride in their work. It stands the test of time.

      My introduction to Gunsmoke was in the Leacock and Mantley years due to my age, then the radio show and then the earlier TV seasons with the names Meston and Norm Macdonnell which had become so familiar to me. In interviews John Mantley said that he felt the legacy a responsibility and I believe that was sincere.

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  22. Speaking of hilarious comedy westerns there was character actor JACK ELAM. He guest starred on GUNSMOKE & BONANZA. He also did some comedy western movies. I enjoyed the TV-Movie ONCE UPON A TEXAS TRAIN with RICHARD WIDMARK & WILLIE NELSON. Jack started out playing bad guys then they started putting him in comedy western roles. He said when he got too old and too fat to jump on a horse that was when he started playing lovable-old-coot characters. Jack also said that he guest starred on GUNSMOKE so often that he felt like family.

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    1. Several actors have said that Gunsmoke was a special place to work. It is fun to see the various roles played by returning guest stars. The show certainly gave actors an opportunity to highlight their versatility. The Jack Elam of P.S. Murry Christmas is certainly not the Jack Elam of The Sisters.

      My dad liked to see Victor French guesting. I do as well, but a couple of my faves were Morgan Woodward and Shug Fisher. Something for everyone on Gunsmoke.

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