Gunsmoke's Gentry's Law Episode: John Payne & Louise Latham Guest Star
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Gunsmoke's Gentry's Law Episode: John Payne & Louise Latham Guest Star

Gunsmoke's Gentry's Law aired on October 12, 1970. John Payne and Louise Latham play a married couple whose wayward sons had accidentally lynched an old poacher named Floyd Babcock (Don Keefer), prompting a visit from old friend and U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon.

Gunsmoke (1955-75) casts a long shadow in television western history. The 1970 episode "Gentry's Law" stars John Payne as a Kansas rancher who tries to protect his two irresponsible sons from the long arm of the law in the person of Matt Dillon (James Arness).

Gunsmoke's Gentry's Law: Cast & Credits

Jack Miller wrote "Gentry's Law" for the small screen, with Vincent McEveety directing. Regular, guest star and supporting players are:

  • Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
  • Doc Adams (Milburn Stone)
  • Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
  • Amos Gentry (John Payne)
  • Claire Gentry (Louise Latham)
  • Colt Gentry (Peter Jason)
  • Ben Gentry (Robert Pine)
  • Orly Grimes (Shug Fisher)
  • Floyd Babcock (Don Keefer)
  • Leelah Case (Darlene Conley)
  • Buel (John Flinn)
  • Abner (Robert Totten)

John Payne in his early Hollywood years - Los Angeles Times

Gentry's Law: Episode Synopsis

Squatter Floyd Babcock, traveling with his dog Fritter, spot a stray cow on Gentry land. Seeing an easy meal, Floyd kills the animal and begins to butcher it. Witnessing the latter act are Colt and Ben Gentry, the young sons of land baron Amos Gentry. Colt wants to teach old Floyd a lesson, with the two men swooping down on the old buzzard, tying his hands behind his back, setting him up on a horse and looping a noose around his neck. After scaring Floyd half to death, they elicit a promise from him that he will immediately leave the Gentry spread and light out for Colorado. But when Ben plants his foot in the horse's stirrup to undo the noose, the animal spooks, with old Floyd accidentally hanging before Colt can cut the rope. The Gentry boys hastily bury the body, which is later found by Floyd's partner Orly Grimes.

Matt Dillon in far-off Dodge City receives a letter from Grimes asking him to investigate the lynching. Matt sets off for Gentry country, a huge spread tucked away in a portion of Kansas where Amos Gentry pretty much acts as the law. Matt knows both Amos and his wife Claire from way back when the former had been a young deputy in Hayes City. 

Matt eventually confronts Amos, telling him that he now knows that Amos' two boys were responsible for the scare lynching gone bad. But Amos is unwilling to give up his two sons, with the lawman and the land baron facing off at White Oak Station. 

Gentry's Law: Air Date & Network Competition

"Gentry's Law" was telecast over CBS on Monday night, October 12, 1970, in the 7:30-8:30 (ET) time slot. Network competition was The Young Lawyers (ABC) and The Red Skelton Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC). 

Gentry's Law: Analysis & Review

Land barons and vigilantism were themes explored in several Gunsmoke episodes. John Payne (1912-1989) garners the role this time around as land baron/rancher Amos Gentry, who through "more guts than brains" built himself a huge spread in Kansas. Gentry is one of these self-made, tough-guy achievers, battling both Indians and Quantrill's Raiders as he carved out his own cattle empire. He's used to getting his way, telling Matt Dillon, "Break Gentry's Law, deal with Gentry."

When Amos Gentry's two sons run afoul of the law – a mock hanging of squatter Floyd Babcock that turns deadly – the old man is forced to cover for the boys, inventing a story that they were in Sedalia, Missouri, on the Sunday of the lynching near Black Canyon. He then sends them up to an old line shack in order to avoid interrogation by Matt Dillon. 

After wiring the sheriff in Sedalia and learning that neither Gentry son was seen there on the day of the hanging, Matt once again visits Orly Grimes, who tells the lawman that the boys could be holed up in the line shack. Upon approaching the shack, Matt is grazed by a bullet, with the two boys fleeing. Matt later catches up to them at White Oak Station, where he plans to take them to Dodge City for trial. Amos and his hired hands ride up, precipitating a showdown which results in Matt wounding Amos in the right arm. 

Louise Latham, who guest starred in six Gunsmoke episodes, turns in an excellent performance as Claire Gentry, the headstrong frontier wife. She obviously has a conscious, declaring to her husband and two boys, "I'll not have backshooters or cowards as sons." Her best scene comes during the climactic showdown, where she rides up and announces that she wants to see justice done. She then joins Matt Dillon and her two sons for the ride to Dodge, beckoning her husband to join them.

Both Matt Dillon and Amos Gentry are wounded in this segment. Matt is grazed by a bullet fired by Colt Gentry and Amos catches one of Matt's well-aimed slugs in the arm. Gunshot wounds are serious business, but this being a TV western both men shrug off their injuries as if they were merely bitten by a horsefly. 

Shug Fisher and Don Keefer are notable as the two grubby squatters whose violation of Gentry's Law turns lethal for one of them. They both look like something the cat dragged in and subsequently abandoned, suitably costumed and bewhiskered as a pair of grimy, grizzled Old West outcasts. 

"Gentry's Law" comes from one of Gunsmoke's finest seasons – #16 – and constitutes episode #520 of 635. Look for "Gentry's Law" on YouTube and other Internet venues. 

Top Image

  • James Arness as Matt Dillon - CBS-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner

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