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With 'Gunsmoke' movie, several A-listers could get into Dodge

February 4, 2010 |  2:09 pm

The job of Dodge City peacekeeper is proving to be one of the most desirable assignments around.

Several top-flight actors are in the running to play Marshal Matt Dillon, the lead lawman in CBS Films' big-screen adaptation of the classic Western television show "Gunsmoke" that starred James Arness.

Guns Brad Pitt has emerged as a top contender for the role, with Ryan Reynolds also a candidate for the juicy, gunslinging part.

As incarnated first on the mid-century radio serial and later in the CBS prime-time hit, Dillon is the Western hero charged with maintaining law and order in a period Kansas town filled with colorful vagrants, misfits and desperadoes. He carries on in these adventures with the help of town physician Doc Adams and tavern owner Miss Kitty Russell.

The studio is high on Pitt, who with his turn in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is one of the few boldface names to star in a Western. Reynolds, who is believed to like the Dillon role, is also on the studio's list. After recent lighter turns, Reynolds has remade himself as an action lead, preparing to shoot the titular role in "The Green Lantern," about the magic-ringed superhero who attempts to keep global peace.

Several other actors are said to be in the mix for the Dillon part, which offers the dual appeal of playing an action hero who also has depth and period cachet. But complicating the situation is the fact that a director has not signed on yet, with CBS Films talking to filmmakers concurrent with its casting discussions. (Typically, a director is attached before an actor comes on board, except for the rare instance in which a star drives a project forward.)

Arness played the role of  Dillon for 20 years on the small screen. It's worth noting that he got the role after a bake-off of sorts too, besting William Conrad, who played the character in the radio version and who was said to be disappointed for many years after losing out to Arness on the television part.

Gregory Poirier, who  wrote "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," has written a draft of the "Gunsmoke" feature script, which the studio is said to like.

The fledgling CBS Films is keen to develop an action tentpole that also has built-in name recognition and sees "Gunsmoke," which it owns as part of its television library, as fitting the bill. Studios in general have a growing penchant for taking classic tales and giving them a modern action sensibility -- as Warner Bros. did, to strong box-office effect, with Sherlock Holmes at Christmas.

CBS Films wants to contemporize the look and feel of "Gunsmoke" while maintaining the period American West setting, though some observers have asked whether modern theatrical audiences will have an appetite for Westerns.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Buck Taylor (l.), James Arness, Milburn Stone and Ken Curtis in "Gunsmoke." Credit: Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (47)

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Please, no "Gunsmoke" remakes. I didn't even like the show ('course we were stationed overseas while it was on), but, please I do like Pitt. Can't you do something original?

What is wrong with Matt Dillon playng the role of Matt Dillon?

It's been a long time since I've seen something that would be as most welcomed as this. I hope they don't ruin this. What made Gunsmoke, aside from the outstanding cast, was it's solid Christian values instilled in a man of steel from the past.

James Arness was brilliant, and Doc and Kitty presented a way of life and thinking that many would proud to adapt to today. I could direct this, but of course no one would ever believe that. They're probably going to pick the wrong man who will only give it the contemporary look of the west that lacks the true depth of the original series.

Worry about the director more than the lead. This could easily be The Wild Wild West 2.


Prettyboy runts to play Matt Dillon?
What modern actress will be Kitty Russell?
It would be better to go with good, unknown actors than to use movie stars.
The real question is who will DIRECT?

Solid Christian values?? Like what ?
The sheriff banging the madam of the saloon?

Mr. Walcott,

With all due respect, did you closely follow the show? Gunsmoke typified many sterling virtues but good Christian ethos? The marshal was a former violent drifter who, in the course of doing good work, shot someone about every third episode, which means that over the 20 year run, he killed about 150-200 men. And he carried on a long, unsanctified affair with a woman who certainly would be portrayed as a madam today. TV could not have Kitty be that of course, at that time, but the clothes, the mole, the shunning by townswomen, all sent the right signals. The reason actors find the Dillon role appealing is that it has more layers than you suggest with your characterization of the show.

I agree: convince Matt Dillon to go for the role! He has a rougher frame and countenance than pretty-boy Pitt. Matt Dillon has that strong jaw that James Arness had. Are you reading this, Matt Dillon the Actor?

Go for it Brad. But who will play Kitty?

Mr. Kim:

When "GOD" brought down Sodom and Gomora, the only person He saved was a harlot. Christian values extend a bit further than church and singing Gospels. There's a matter of real life. What made Gunsmoke a great series was the way those values were applied to real life situations and circumstances. "GOD" doesn't always send a lamb, sometimes He sends a "soldier".


There's no doubt though, the director is the key. Yes, there are any number of accomplished directors who will give you a polished commercial product. But, that's not the same thing as a man who "understands" and has a passion for the period.

It's the difference between a commercially adequate adaptation and a truly great epic film.

I see McG for this film because he has ruined one tlevision series with Charlie's Angels (sure it was a stupid isea anyway, but...). Then, he destroyed the Terminator Series. I would like to see him ruin something before it even starts. That would be cool. I also think he might be the man to reboot Superman, so he can kill him again. Look...these recycled ideas from Hollywood just plain suck. Here's and idea: hire a writer to write.

Gary Sinise is the one I would pick for Matt Dillon.

Christina Hendricks for Miss Kitty!

Ryan Reynolds or Brad Pitt as Matt Dillon? You gotta be kidding. The casting of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne would be the only bigger fiasco of recent memory.

Timothy Olyphant would be a better fit.

Awesome! Can't think of anyone who'd be a better Marshall Dillon!

I think it would be progressive if Matt Dillon played a trans-gendered Miss Kitty.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will star in the new-Hollywood "Gunsmoke"...and I'm sure it'll be demographically-PC, so all their adopted kids will be Extras in the film.

Why remake something that is already a timeless classic? They certainly can't make it better. Shall we say, Dukes of Hazzards? Shall we say, Wild Wild West? Shall we say, The Omen? Shall we say, Lost in Space? All wasted effort. Brad Pitts as fast draw Matt Dillion? He doesn't project a strong enough image for that type of role. Think he'd be better staying with those effeminate roles. Do the people who come up with this stuff live in a bubble?

One of the reasons Matt Dillon (as played by James Arness) was such a successful marshal was because, in addition to his superior law enforcement skills, he was easily the biggest son-of-a-gun in the room.

Arness is over 6 feet 6 inches tall. Just look at how massive he looks beside his fellow actors in the photo accompanying this article.

A good actor can overcome the limitations of his stature. Arness was one of the tallest actors to be offered a leading role at the time. Gunsmoke's Matt Dillon character in my mind will always be a big-statured, big-hearted guy.

If Pitt or Reynolds gets the role, I hope they play it as a straight western, not a clever and witty action flick.

How about Johnny Depp as Festus? How about Beyounce as Kitty?

Any director...ANYONE except Joe Carnahan from THE A-TEAM....the crew nicknamed him Carna"ham" which is hilarious...should be someone who has done something with some class and real character depth.

Mike Rowe from dirty jobs on Discovery would make a perfect Matt

mike rowe for matt

Keri Russell would make a fine K. Russell.
Matt Dillon to play Matt Dillon -- better than pretty boys.

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