Hollywood has been remaking old television shows into big screen adventures for years now. It’s been a trend with limited success, and every time you think it’ll die off with something like The Mod Squad, we get news of another Charlie’s Angels or a big screen McCloud.
Lately, there’s been a weird interest in reviving tv westerns. Last August, CBS Films announced they were developing a feature film based on Gunsmoke, the legendary series that ran for an exhausting 20 seasons. Prior to television, it ran for nearly ten years as a radio serial. No one could get enough of Marshall Matt Dillon back in the day, and apparently he’s due for a modern makeover.
Despite having its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Gunsmoke was quite edgy for its time. Long before John Ford or Sergio Leone, Norman MacDonald and John Meston sought to dismantle the cutesy, archtypical Old West that had been seen up until then. They wanted a harder, cruder hero and a more realistic and brutal West. Their Marshall Matt Dillon was no hero in a white hat, and the Dodge City he patrolled was full of shady and violent characters.
It was aimed at adults, and was one of the first radio shows to depict scalping, prostitution, opium addiction, and massacres. Dillon killed a heck of a lot of people, and his creators proudly said that he was as scarred and dangerous as the villains of Dodge City.
When the series moved to television, it was still geared towards adults, and didn’t shy away from the rougher material. The body count was high, and the characters spent a lot of time drinking in the saloon. Television only softened a few of the characters such as Miss Kitty, who was more of a businesswoman and less of a prostitute.
But it was such good material that CBS tried to give John Wayne the role of Dillon, but he refused to “step down” to the level of television. Nevertheless, he was willing to film an intro introducing the show, and its star, James Arness.
So, the series is certainly meaty enough for a modern remake and it’s no surprise that it might attract some big names. According to The LA Times, CBS is hoping Brad Pitt might sign on to play Dillon. He’s tackled the genre before in The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, and Legends of the Fall proved he looked pretty good on a horse.
Ryan Reynolds is also on the studio’s list for Dillon, and unlike Pitt, he’s reportedly very interested in the character. He’s trying to make a new name for himself in action and drama, and tackling a character like Dillon would cement him with moviegoers uninterested in Hal Jordan.
The LA Times hints that several other actors are interested, but doesn’t name them. At this point, Gunsmoke only boasts a script by Gregory Poirer of National Treasure: Book of Secrets’ fame, and no director. The whole thing could collapse tomorrow, particularly since moviegoers are already complaining about its unoriginality.
Still, I think a Gunsmoke remake could be cool, particularly for the right actor. It doesn’t seem fair to let the Western genre die out once the icons had their fun, and I think audiences are still hungry for a shoot ’em up that isn’t weighted down with real history. Then again, should Gunsmoke be revived when fans of Deadwood are still waiting for closure?