Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's inaccurate, but at least it's in Technicolor

TCM has been doing fairly well recently when it comes to getting the broadcast rights ot old movies from 20th Century-Fox. Another one that I think is a TCM premiere is Belle Starr, airing at 5:00 PM today.

Belle Starr, for those who don't know, was one of the few famous lady outlaws in the decades following the Civil War until her murder in 1889. Starr was born in Missouri in 1848. Missouri was one of the "border states" in the Civil War, specifically, that refers to the states that stayed in the Union but still practiced slavery. In the movie, Starr (played by Gene Tierney) sees her homestead burned to the ground by Union forces, led by a Major Crail (Dana Andrews). This more or less happened in real life, but not for the reasons given in the movie. (In real life, the Union and Confedracy fought multiple battles over Starr's home town of Carthage, MO.) In the film, Belle and her family are hiding the pursued rebel Sam Starr (Randolph Scott), and it's the Union's attempt to find Starr. This enrages Belle so much that she joins with Starr to become outlaws, raiding in order to gain revenge on the Union, ith the Major in pursuit, also infatuated with Belle.

In real life, after the battles for Carthage, Belle and her family moved to Texas. Belle married another man who was also an outlaw; she apparently knew a quite a large bunch of outlaws. After that husband was killed, she eventually married Sam Starr, who in real life had nothing to do with the Civil War but was a Cherokee Indian living in the Indian Territory that is now Oklahoma. Sam and Belle were both tried and convicted of horse theft. This more or less ended Belle's career as an outlaw, although Sam would eventually be killed in another gun battle. Belle in real life was murdered under mysterious circumstances; the murderer is not known to this day. That's not what happens in the movie, where she gets killed as part of a plot to kidnap the Governor of Missouri.

So, the movie is wildly historically inaccurate. What a surprise. But is it entertaining? It's passable enough, although nothing particularly ground-breaking. Randolph Scott was always more than adequate when it came to westers. Dana Andrews acquits himself well, and Gene Tierney seems to be doing much the same stuff she did in The Return of Frank James. She wasn't really suited for westerns, but gives it a good try.

Belle Starr hasn't gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to watch it in its rare TV showings.

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