Belle Starr

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“Proto-action heroine, with a real-life inspiration, and some questionable philosophy.”

There’s something startlingly incorrect about this 1941 film, which makes its heroine, Belle (Tierney), an unrepentant Confederate mansion owner. She regrets the end of the Civil War and joins a rebel group who keep fighting, marrying their leader Sam Starr (Scott), only to find their morality may not quite live up to her own. It’s interestingly even-handed, with neither side being “good” or “bad”; Belle blames the Yankees for the death of her father and the burning of her home, but the leader of their forces, Major Grail (Andrews) is a sympathetic character who carries a torch for Belle. Naturally, given the era, Belle is more of an assistant, loading Sam’s rifles during a gun-battle, rather than firing them herself and it’s remarkable how her hair and dresses remain impeccable, even when she’s livin’ la vida outlaw. However, she’s a fine, independent-minded heroine, prepared to take decisive action to support her beliefs – highly dubious though they may be.

An obvious inspiration here is Gone With the Wind, but it’s also worth noting that Belle Starr was a real outlaw, whose life would make a good story on its own. She did marry a Sam Starr, but he was three-quarter Cherokee, rather than a Confederate officer. There also wasn’t quite the same pure, high purpose to their banditry, though her destiny, as depicted in the film, is close to what happened to her in real life. For some reason, this has not been deemed worthy of a release on DVD – I believe, Bill Cosby bought the rights. :-) But it does crop up on cable, and is worth a look; just leave all modern sensibilities at the door. If you can imagine a German movie which has Ilsa Koch as its heroine, escaping the Allies to join a group of rebel Nazis and continue the war, you’ll be in the same moral ball-park as this feature.

Dir: Irving Cummings
Stars: Gene Tierney, Randolph Scott, Dana Andrews, John Shepperd

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