Classic Episodes: Gunsmoke – The Jailer

Gunsmoke The Jailer

More classic episode goodness, this time we head back to the mid 1960’s for a look at Gunsmoke, one the most popular TV western’s of all time.

Guest stars on TV shows are usually window dressing. Only once in a very great while do they put their indelible stamp on an episode and make it theirs, and almost never does their one appearance elevate the entire series to a whole new level of excellence.

But that’s precisely what Bette Davis did for Gunsmoke in The Jailer as a crazed woman poisoned by revenge fantasies against Marshall Dillon (James Arness). From Davis’s entrance — that widow’s black dress, that hoarse and crackling voice biting off and spitting out lines like, “Don’t talk flippant; y’ain’t in no position” (and, yes, those Bette Davis eyes) — you can feel the power come roaring from the picture tube across the room at you.

Davis takes a simple role and plays it like Medea, turning an ordinary horse opera into something akin to Greek tragedy. A peach-fuzzed Bruce Dern and an impossibly young Tom Skerritt peek out from Davis’s shadow.

Gunsmoke The Jailer originally aired on October 1, 1966.