Monday, May 04, 2009


Yet another Hollywood movie centered on a historical American figure about whom I knew nothing before (and, given the inevitable fictionalizing and sanitizing, about whom I still know almost nothing). In Missouri after the Civil War, Gene Tierney is a young Southern belle who still resents the Union, especially her former beau Dana Andrews who fought for the North as major in the army. Andrews' job now is to clear out the straggling Confederate bandits and "terrorists," one of whom is the notorious Sam Starr (Randolph Scott). At Tierney's family's mansion, while Andrews attends dinner, Scott shows up and he and Tierney hit it off. Andrews arrests Scott, but Scott's men turn the tables briefly. When Scott is injured, Tierney and her brother (Shepperd Strudwick) tend to him, and when Andrews shows up, he feels compelled to have his men burn their mansion down for giving aid to terrorists. Tierney and Scott escape to the hills and get married, and when she begins riding along on his group's exploits, she gets a reputation as a "bandit queen." Tierney, who thinks they're doing noble deeds by robbing the Northerners, is upset when the outlaw Cole Brothers join up. One of them shoots her brother and she leaves the gang but discovers a plan by Andrews and the nearby town to capture Scott and his men. She tries to intervene, but tragedy strikes.

The real problem with this misfire is that it wants to be GONE WITH THE WIND. Of course, it fails miserably. From the very first scenes, Tierney is set up as Scarlett O'Hara-lite. There are several scenes which specifically echo famous scenes in GWTW, including banter with a meddling but good-hearted mammy (Louise Beavers), the straggling return of a loved one from the war, and Tierney dodging carpetbaggers in the big city. Beavers even gets an emotional Hattie McDaniel moment near the end, but she's not quite up to it (and neither is the script). It's in color but it doesn't look half as good as GWTW--and some truly bad day-for-night work during a climactic scene doesn't help. Had the studio let the material find its own way, the film might have had a chance, though poor Tierney is terribly miscast, and she uses a dreadfully artificial Southern accent throughout. The men are all fine, especially Strudwick (under the name John Shepperd); two other bright spots are Elizabeth Patterson and Chill Wills as a hills-living couple who help out Scott's gang, but no one can make this film amount to much. The film is so bland, I wasn't even moved to look up the real Belle Starr on Wikipedia. [FMC]

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