Classic Episodes: 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.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.