Gunsmoke actor James Arness played U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon for all 20 seasons of the Western television show, which was 635 episodes in total. He saw the evolution of the characters and their narratives from the closest place possible, giving him an additional attachment to the project. Arness once revealed which Gunsmoke episodes were his favorite of all time.
James Arness’ favorite ‘Gunsmoke’ episode was ‘Chato’ (1970)
James Arness as Matt Dillon | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
According to an interview with San Jose Mercury News, Arness called 1970’s “Chato” his favorite Gunsmoke episode of all time. Season 16 episode 1 was directed by Vincent McEveety and written by Paul F. Edwards. The story finds Matt and Chato (Ricardo Montalban) initially at odds, but they call a truce to fight a greater enemy.
“The episode ‘Chato’ is probably my all-time favorite show,” Arness said. “Matt is sent out of his territory to stop the Apache, whose family was killed by U.S. cavalry, and we wind up having a certain understanding and friendship as the story evolves.”
‘Snow Train’ (1970)
Next is 1970’s “Snow Train,” which was split up into two parts. Gunsmoke Season 16 Episodes 6 and 7 compose the full story that Arness really loved. Both episodes were directed by Gunnar Hellström and written by Preston Wood. Arness didn’t give a reason for why this was another one of his favorites.
“Snow Train: Part 1” follows Matt, Doc (Milburn Stone), and Festus (Ken Curtis) on a train that heads through the snowy mountains. However, it comes to a screeching halt when a couple of Native Americans stop the train to find two unknown passengers who previously sold them poisonous whiskey.
“Snow Train: Part 2” continues the ordeal, as Matt tries to hold the Native Americans from killing the guilty parties. Rather, he wants to see them stand trial for their crimes. However, it won’t be so easy trying to get them out alive.
‘The River’ (1972)
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Finally, Arness’ final favorite Gunsmoke episode was 1972’s “The River,” which was also a two-parter. Season 18 episodes 1 and 2 were both directed by Herb Wallerstein and written by Jack Miller.
The first episode picks up with Matt in the Oregon wilderness after he escapes with the prisoner of a group of robbers. They plan to pursue him to the end of the world to obtain the money that he recovered from their heist. However, Matt runs into a pair of orphans, as they then cross paths with a thief and his partner.
Meanwhile, “The River: Part 2” sees the outlaws catch up to Matt and the orphans. They manage to escape on a raft down the river along with the thieves they previously ran into, but now they must survive the rough rafting journey ahead of them.
“Like a lot of the later shows, ‘The River’ was shot on location, up in Oregon,” Arness said. “The whole story takes place coming down this river and these bad guys, played by Jack Elam and Slim Pickens, are after me, trying to kill me.”