‘Gunsmoke’: What Was the Show’s Final TV Movie?

by Emily Morgan
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After “Gunsmoke” spent decades on the air as one of the world’s most iconic classic TV westerns, it was not easy for its writers to end the show. However, when it came time to leave Dodge City in the rearview mirror, the show decided to say goodbye with a TV movie. As a result, fans got the TV movie Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice. 

However, long before the show was left in the dust, it began as a popular radio series before moving to TV. Thanks in part to John Wayne, James Arness played the main character Marshal Matt Dillion. 

Season 1 of the show debuted on CBS in 1955. It would run for an incredible 20 seasons, giving fans 635 episodes. It sadly came to an end in 1975. As for Arness, he stayed on “Gunsmoke” for its entire run. He even made an uncredited appearance as the Marshal in the 1959 Bob Hope flick, Alias Jesse James

At the time, “Gunsmoke” was praised for leaving in the gritter parts that Westerns at the time opted to cut. Although it was by no means as graphic as today’s Westerns, such as “Deadwood,” critics praised the show for its creative decisions. In addition, Dillion also had some well-known sidekicks on “Gunsmoke,” including Dennis Weaver and Burt Reynolds.

James Arness reprises his iconic ‘Gunsmoke’ role for the last time

Although the show ended in 1975, James Arness would later return for a series of five TV movies. First up was 1987’s Gunsmoke: Return To Dodge. At the time, Arness was more than thrilled to reprise his role as the Marshal. Previously, Arness and the other cast members were shocked when CBS suddenly canceled the series. As a result, there was no proper goodbye between the characters. 

He also returned for more “Gunsmoke” TV movies like Gunsmoke: The Last Man before completing the TV movie run with Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice. When Gunsmoke: One’s Man Justice aired, it marked the end of an era for the Western. After nearly 40 years of “Gunsmoke,” it was officially time to say goodbye to the Marshal and many other beloved characters.

The series’ final TV movie follows the now-retired Dillion out to catch the criminals responsible for a stagecoach robbery. Although fans were delighted to see Arness reprise the role, critics deemed the TV movie a decent yet unremarkable end to the franchise. They also called it a simple story that drags. 

However, it’s still a notable moment for Arness. It marked the last time playing Marshall Dillion and his final acting role. Even in his 70s, Arness was known for his commanding presence. It’s safe to say that he had earned his retirement after 635 episodes and five movies.

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