Friday, September 5, 2008

DECADE BY DECADE, Part 11: "A U.S. Marshal and the Smell of Gunsmoke"

Gunsmoke: "Home Surgery" 9/12/52

Before it became a long-running TV show, Gunsmoke was on radio, with William Conrad playing Matt Dillon as a smart but sometimes fiery-tempered professional lawman. It was superbly acted, intelligently written and professionally produced. It is arguably the best Western to come out of old-time radio.

"Home Surgery," a episode from the first season, stands out even among the many excellent stories the creative staff of Gunsmoke gave us. Dillon and his deputy Chester are heading back to Dodge City when they find an injured man at an isolated ranch. The man's leg is badly broken and infected. It has to be amputated, but there's no time to get a doctor.

The entire episode literally drips with tension as Dillon realizes he has to perform the surgery himself. A scene in which he, Chester and the injured man calmly try to plan out the procedure is gripping. (How do we tie the arteries off? String? No, it'll soak through. How about horse hairs?)
By the 1950s, radio actors, directors, sound effects men, and writers had really perfected their crafts. Radio drama at this time was at its best and "Home Surgery" is a prime example of this. It's really too bad that by this time people were turning away from radio to lose themselves in the vast wasteland of television.

This episode can be downloaded HERE

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