Here we have a Gunsmoke version of the classic John Ford Western The Searchers. In the second TV movie to be spun off from the original 1955-75 Gunsmoke series, Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) tries to rescue the 21- year-old daughter of a former lover (Michael Learned) from a bunch of mean Apaches. In the process, he learns that the young woman (Amy Stock-Poynton) is also his daughter.
John Ford’s 1956 film was a masterpiece of revenge, deceit, and bad family blood; the new Gunsmoke is merely a decent TV Western. But that already lifts Gunsmoke above that teen-dream, soapy horse-opera-what’s the name of it? The Jung Riders? The Young and the Restless Riders? You know the one.
In Gunsmoke, Arness uses his aged bulk to bring dignity and gravity to his role. He’s more than a washed-up actor cashing in on his former meal ticket. He’s even less expressive than John Wayne, but his craggy face manages to convey his dismay at seeing the daughter he’s never known.
There’s nothing surprising about Gunsmoke — once you get the premise, you pretty much know how it will work out. And there are flaws, such as the fact that Richard Kiley’s Army scout is little more than an impersonation of Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove, and that Learned looks ridiculous with a cowboy hat perched precariously on her poufed-up hairdo. These quibbles aside, Gunsmoke is an enjoyable, old-fashioned Western. B