Occasionally, "Gunsmoke" series regulars would step aside to allow one of its stars to interact with guest stars, and in the case of "Tatum," this would be Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness), who appears without Miss Kitty, Doc, Festus or Newly, as Matt exercises the power of his badge to escort the body of a notorious outlaw into Dodge City, to be interred next to his late wife, against the wishes of irate law-abiding citizens.
But, to complicate matters, the body remains alive and kicking, and fighting with his three estranged surviving daughters, whom the title character, Bodie Tatum (Gene Evans), somehow summons to his remote farmhouse hideaway, which he shares with his foreign "woman," Kata (Ana Corita, in her only television acting role to date).
For the sake of the cherished memory of their devoted late mother, who suffered many difficulties in her marriage to a ruthless outlaw bearing no intention to reform, daughters Maddy (Sandra Smith), Gwenn (Jay W. MacIntosh) and Marion (Sheila Larken) arrive at the Tatum homestead, to accompany their father and his mistress and her infant son, who turns out to be their half-breed half-brother, in a horse-drawn wagon, on a two-day journey into Dodge City, to meet Matt Dillon along the way, in his capacity of law enforcement escort.
Years earlier, after leaving their parents, Maddy has since become a saloon owner with an eye for business; Gwenn has relocated with her new family to a small Iowa community; Marion has become engaged to a reputable citizen, Dirk Mitchell (Jeff Pomerantz). Needless to say, none of these three defines herself as a Tatum.
Ed Terrall (Kenneth Tobey) plays an active role among Dodge City town-folk who object to admitting Tatum into the community's memorial park, even if it means standing up to U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, who hasn't been able to capture Bodie Tatum alive but must defend his right to a proper internment.
By evening, the dysfunctional Tatum family rests before the bed of a creek, during which time Bodie manages to spend a few moments conversing with each daughter aside from the remainder of the clan. Gene Evans doesn't attempt character sympathy nor understanding.
But he plays Tatum as the gruff, estranged father who somehow wants the best for his daughters and infant son, subtly indicating their need to band together for their own sakes.
And band together they must, as the Tatum unwelcome wagon approaches Dodge City. Will Matt Dillon manage to fend off the angry mob, which awaits Tatum's arrival? Will the family unite to survive the ordeal? Will Bodie Tatum survive the journey long enough to hear the Clergyman's (Lloyd Nelson) delivering his eulogy?
Jay W. MacIntosh (as Gwenn) appears three weeks later in "Walton's" episode "The Dust Bowl Cousins" (#1.12, 1972) as Cora Walton, a survivor of the Oklahoma drought of 1936, so she's good at playing these "hard times on the Plains" characters.
Gene Evans, more than a decade later, appears healthier on his "Murder, She Wrote" guest spots than as Bodie Tatum, so he's good at playing those gruff old codgers knocking at the Pearly Gates.
Sandra Smith (as Maddy) and Sheila Larken (as Marion) also deliver heart-felt performances here, as the other two Tatum daughters, who, not-unlike Gwenn, face the dilemma of destroying their own lives by revealing their pasts for the sake of their late mother and for their seemingly unappreciative father, who creates a seemingly impossible situation for the sisters to endure.
The cast is rounded out by Robert Tindell as Man #1, Duncan Inches as Man #2, and Neil Summers in his first television acting role, as Joe Beel.
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