Gunsmoke: The Long Ride sees Marshal Dillion set up for a murder he didn’t commit and setting out to clear his name. Gunsmoke was a long-running radio show before it became a long-running TV series, with the show running for 20 seasons in total. The series starred James Arness – known to sci-fi fans for playing the title creature in 1951’s The Thing From Another World – and the actor was recommended for the lead role by John Wayne himself. Arness certainly seems to have liked his part as Marshal Dillion, since between the show and its reunion TV movies, he played the character for around 40 years.
Gunsmoke would be considered fairly tame by today’s standards, especially compared to the bloody likes of Hell On Wheels, but it received praise during its run for being a more grounded take on westerns than rival shows such as The Wild Wild West or Rawhide. Gunsmoke also used to hold the distinction for most episodes produced for a primetime, scripted series at 635 episodes, but The Simpsons finally overtook that number with season 29’s “Forgive And Regret” in 2018.
Gunsmoke finally came to an end in 1975, but Arness later dusted off Dillion’s hat for a series of TV movies, which started with 1987’s Gunsmoke: Return To Dodge. He came back for a further four movies, retiring from both the character and acting with 1994’s Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice. Gunsmoke: The Long Ride was the penultimate entry, which saw the retired Dillion arrested during his daughter’s wedding for the murder of a mine owner.
Naturally, he’s completely innocent with a lookalike being the culprit, so he sets off on a journey to clear his name and catch the gang responsible. Gunsmoke: The Long Ride is an old-fashioned and not particularly memorable outing for Dillion, but even in his old age, Arness still commanded the screen. The movie is helped greatly by supporting turns from James Brolin as a preacher and Ali McGraw (The Getaway). The pacing of The Long Ride is an issue as it can really crawl in spots, but even though it does nothing original or unique with the formula, it’s a pleasant adventure.
Neither Gunsmoke: The Long Ride or One Man’s Justice were the best the series had to offer, but they at least gave Marshal Dillion’s journey a sense of closure. The original Gunsmoke show was canceled without a proper season finale, which is one reason James Arness was willing to return as the character once again years after it ended.