Gunfights and Posses



During the coronavirus shutdown people are watching lots of movies and old TV shows..

Most people love a good western.  They admire the soft-speaking,  hard-fisted hero epitomized by actors like John Wayne and James Arness.  The television show Gunsmoke starring Arness was a prime-time staple for many years, and millions of Americans watched the heroic and imperturbable Matt Dillon fight it out with the bad guys.

I confess that I rarely watched the show. After seeing some of the first few episodes I began to think it too unbelievable and too predictable.  Several things in the television drama bothered me. It was made to appear somewhat gritty-realistic, but much of it was totally implausible.  For instance, there was the shoot-out at the very beginning of the show – repeated for years as the opening scene.  I could not understand why the hero, Marshall Dillon, gave a cold-blooded killer the chance to reach for his gun first as they confronted each other.  How stupid!  Any lawman with even a grain of sense would have had his gun out before he stepped onto the street.

The idiotic notion of one thinking himself “the fastest gun in the west” was ludicrous.  There was always someone faster, and under normal circumstances one’s speed in extracting a gun was relatively unimportant.  The gun was usually out before a confrontation. Alertness and steadiness under fire usually won the day, and combatants did not hesitate to employ every stratagem – fair or foul.  The idea of giving your opponent a head start (first draw) would be unthinkable.

Another thing that disturbed me was Marshall Dillon’s penchant for often going after the bad guy or bad guys alone.  That would have meant a quick ride to boot hill.  Any self-respecting lawman would deputize every male citizen in sight, including cripples, before going after outlaws. 

Nevertheless, Gunsmoke was an exciting series with many fine actors and memorable characters.  It afforded TV audiences with entertainment over 20 years, and the reruns are still going today. Perhaps I fretted too much about the lack of realism in the show.  I have been entertained by many theatrical productions that were just as unbelievable.  My favorite western TV series, Maverick, was usually tongue-in-cheek and often spoofed the more serious members of the genre.    

So long as it’s a good story, watch and enjoy it.  

(Family would be interested to know that my own father was once deputized as a member of a posse to go after bank robbers.  Most men in the posse were armed with shotguns.  They tracked the robbers down and arrested them without bloodshed.  Not many men will argue with a shotgun.  Remember, strange as it may seem, my father was born in 1873.  Billy the Kid and Jesse James were still alive during his youth.) 

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