After watching THE TALL TARGET last night, tonight I decided to stay in the Civil War era by watching BELLE STARR, also known as BELLE STARR: THE BANDIT QUEEN. Gene Tierney, the star of Friday night's movie RINGS ON HER FINGERS, plays Belle, a Missourian who refuses to accept that the South has lost the Civil War.
Tierney seems, especially in the early scenes, to be channeling more than a little of Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara in her portrayal of flirtatious, temperamental Southern loyalist Belle. It's a bit disconcerting at first hearing Tierney with a high-pitched Southern accent, rather than her usual smoother tones, though perhaps it wasn't as much of a shock as hearing Tierney's Brooklyn accent in RINGS ON HER FINGERS! Ultimately, however, it's an interesting performance, in part because -- like the heroine of RINGS ON HER FINGERS -- it's a fairly unusual role for Tierney. Belle becomes a wild woman, a vengeful crack shot who is comfortable living a rugged outlaw life in the service of the cause she believes in, the South. As Moira Finnie aptly noted in the comments for RINGS ON HER FINGERS, BELLE STARR is "a distinctly aggressive role for her [Tierney] with echoes of Scarlett O'Hara."
Randolph Scott and Dana Andrews are the men in Tierney's life. Andrews unfortunately doesn't get to do much more than look pained in his role as a Northern major who once loved Belle, but Scott imbues the Rebel Sam Starr with rascally charm and subtly but convincingly portrays Sam's gradual slide into becoming more outlaw than soldier. John Shepperd, who was later known as Shepperd Strudwick, plays Belle's devoted brother; Shepperd also appeared with Tierney in RINGS ON HER FINGERS. The supporting cast includes Chill Wills, Elizabeth Patterson, and Louise Beavers.
The film is a bit of a curiosity from an historical perspective, in terms of its treatment of African-Americans. There are some terms and attitudes which I found uncomfortable as a modern viewer, even acknowledging that the film is portraying the vastly different post Civil War era of nearly a century and a half ago, and that the film is structured to engender a certain sympathy for its Southern heroine. It's one of those interesting questions -- what about the film reflects the filmmakers' attempts to portray the Civil War era vs. what attitudes in the film are reflective of the year it was made, 1941.
All in all, the film isn't an especially good one, but it's entertaining enough, particularly if one enjoys the cast. The vivid Fox Technicolor, which highlights Tierney's remarkable beauty, is a definite plus.
The main theme music for BELLE STARR is Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme," which somewhat ironically was composed for John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939). It seems a bit of a strange choice to use in scoring a movie about a Rebel heroine! The music was also later used memorably in Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. The busy Newman had a habit of recycling his themes; for instance, the theme for STREET SCENE (1931) was used again in I WAKE UP SCREAMING, CRY OF THE CITY, and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, among others, while his BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940) music reappeared in YELLOW SKY and RAWHIDE.
The movie was directed by Irving Cummings, whose three-decade directing career included a number of Betty Grable films; Cummings also acted in silent movies. The film runs 87 minutes.
BELLE STARR is not yet available on video or DVD, but it can be seen on cable periodically on Fox Movie Channel.