It’s always fun to watch Willie Mays come out and play in an old-timers baseball game. Likewise when venerable cowboy actor James Arness comes out and resurrects Matt Dillon, the temptation is too much to watch the role that fueled “Gunsmoke” to 20 record-breaking years (1955-75) on primetime. In “One Man’s Justice” the novelty of watching a legend fades quickly, though, and the oater gets cold and thick trying to fill a two-hour slot.
Telepic opens fast with a stagecoach robbery that leaves a mother of two dead from gunshots. On board, too, are Matt Dillon’s daughter and her husband, so the death becomes Dillon’s personal concern.
When the woman’s older surviving boy (Kelly Morgan) leaves to find the killers, Dillon enlists another stagecoach passenger, a traveling salesman (Bruce Boxleitner), to join him in retrieving the boy before it’s too late.
The trek to fetch the boy and possibly the killers from the Devlin gang consumes the plot, which begins strong, sags in the middle and picks up when it begins to twist.
Ross A. Maehl’s camera captures the Tucson desert nicely and director Jerry Jameson keeps a tight rein on the production, but swimming in a two-hour current seems to have caused the plot to cramp up in the middle.
Like a hall-of-fame athlete, Arness doesn’t move as fast as he used to, but he keeps his grace and still can hold the camera. Keeping the acting standards up to par are Boxleitner as the salesman whose past gets murkier by the scene, and Morgan as the teenage rebel with a cause. Supporting spots by Apesanahkwat as the teen’s Indian guide Six Eyes and Alan Scarfe as gang leader Sean Devlin help out at the right times.
But it just seems that “Gunsmoke” revivals would be more watchable if they were an hour long like the old days. All the elements of a good clean Western skein are here; it’s just a matter of how many innings should be played.