Belle Starr (1941)

87 mins | Biography | 12 September 1941

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HISTORY

The film's title card reads, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Belle Starr 'The Bandit Queen,'" followed by a listing of players Randolph Scott, Dana Andrews, John Shepperd, Louise Beavers, Chill Wills, Elizabeth Patterson, and a separate card listing "Gene Tierney as Miss Belle." Belle Starr was born Myra Maybelle Shirley on 5 Feb 1848 near Medoc, MO. Accounts of her exploits and association with outlaws such as the Younger Brothers and Jesse James vary widely, but little in these accounts resembles events depicted in the film. She was killed in early Feb 1889, allegedly by Edgar Watson, whom she had refused to accept as a tenant on some farm land that she owned. Sam Starr was three-quarters Cherokee and was born in 1857. Sam and Belle were married in the summer of 1880, but biographical sources disagree as to whether Sam was Belle's second or third husband. Belle's criminal career apparently did not begin until after her marriage to Sam, and was not politically motivated. Sam was killed in late 1887 during an argument with an old enemy, Frank West.
       According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the studio's Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, biographical material on Belle Starr was obtained from a chapter in Cameron Rogers' book Gallant Ladies (New York, 1928). This chapter was first published in Pictorial Review as "Gay and Gallant Ladies: Belle Starr, the Gadfly of the South" (Feb 1927). According to the studio records, Harvey F. Thew (in collaboration with Rogers), John L. Balderston and Sonya Levien worked on treatments or story outlines for the picture. ... More Less

The film's title card reads, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Belle Starr 'The Bandit Queen,'" followed by a listing of players Randolph Scott, Dana Andrews, John Shepperd, Louise Beavers, Chill Wills, Elizabeth Patterson, and a separate card listing "Gene Tierney as Miss Belle." Belle Starr was born Myra Maybelle Shirley on 5 Feb 1848 near Medoc, MO. Accounts of her exploits and association with outlaws such as the Younger Brothers and Jesse James vary widely, but little in these accounts resembles events depicted in the film. She was killed in early Feb 1889, allegedly by Edgar Watson, whom she had refused to accept as a tenant on some farm land that she owned. Sam Starr was three-quarters Cherokee and was born in 1857. Sam and Belle were married in the summer of 1880, but biographical sources disagree as to whether Sam was Belle's second or third husband. Belle's criminal career apparently did not begin until after her marriage to Sam, and was not politically motivated. Sam was killed in late 1887 during an argument with an old enemy, Frank West.
       According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the studio's Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, biographical material on Belle Starr was obtained from a chapter in Cameron Rogers' book Gallant Ladies (New York, 1928). This chapter was first published in Pictorial Review as "Gay and Gallant Ladies: Belle Starr, the Gadfly of the South" (Feb 1927). According to the studio records, Harvey F. Thew (in collaboration with Rogers), John L. Balderston and Sonya Levien worked on treatments or story outlines for the picture. The extent of their contributions to the completed film has not been confirmed, however. An 11 Jun 1941 HR news item asserted that there was a "hushed-up battle over the original screen credit" for the picture but that the problem had "just been settled with the Screen Writers' guild as intermediary." Rogers and Niven Busch received story credit in the final film.
       Studio records, material publicity and HR news items provide the following information about the production: Roy Del Ruth was originally set as the picture's director. Alice Faye was first cast as "Belle Starr," but was reassigned to Twentieth Century-Fox's The Great American Broadcast (see below). At least "48 top feminine figures" were also tested by director Irving Cummings for the title role. Among those actresses who were considered for the part were Carole Landis, Ida Lupino, Arleen Whelan, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Sheridan, Paulette Goddard and June Adams, "a completely unknown player." Henry Fonda was scheduled to play "Ed Shirley," and Tyrone Power was to make a brief, unbilled appearance as "Jesse James," recreating his title role from the 1939 Twentieth Century-Fox film. Actor Chill Wills was borrowed from M-G-M for the production. From approximately 17 Apr to 5 May 1941, Cummings had to shoot around actress Gene Tierney, who was afflicted by severe eye infections and allergies. An 11 Jul 1941 HR news item noted that Len Hammond, assistant to producer Kenneth Macgowan, took over post-production duties on the picture when Macgowan left the studio to work for the Latin-American Amity Committee. Studio publicity and legal records noted that backgrounds were shot on location near Joplin and Noel, MO, and in Sherwood Forest, the Santa Susana Mountains, and the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, all of which are located in Southern California. According to HR news items, the studio considered filming the entire picture in the Ozark Mountains or near Tucson, AZ.
       The legal records note that a trailer entitled "Three of a Kind," for the 1941 Twentieth Century-Fox picture Charley's Aunt (see below), also advertised this picture. In the trailer, Jack Benny, the star of Charley's Aunt , Tyrone Power, the star of A Yank in the R.A.F. (see below), and Randolph Scott meet to discuss "the merits of his individual picture." No actual scenes of the three films were shown. A similar trailer, featuring Gene Tierney, Don Ameche of Confirm or Deny and Anne Baxter of Swamp Water (see entires below), was planned but not made. Belle Starr was the first film in which actor Shepperd Strudwick was billed as John Shepperd. According to studio publicity, Twentieth Century-Fox executives changed his name because they felt it was "too long for a marquee and too hard to remember." The actor changed his name back to Strudwick when he began filming The Red Pony in 1947 (see below). The legal records contain letters from Flossie E. Hutton, Belle Starr's granddaughter, in which she alternately offers information and threatens legal suit if the studio did not compensate her and her sisters for the depiction of their grandmother's story. The legal records do not list any actions taken by the studio in respect to Hutton's claims.
       Other films based on the legend of Belle Starr include Twentieth Century-Fox's 1948 picture Belle Starr's Daughter (see below). In 1952 RKO released Montana Belle , which was directed by Allan Dwan and starred George Brent and Jane Russell as "Belle." According to studio records, in 1957, Twentieth Century-Fox considered producing a television series about Belle. Pamela Reed played "Belle" in the 1980 United Artists release The Long Riders , which was directed by Walter Hill. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Oct 41
p. 475.
Box Office
23 Aug 1941.
---
Daily Variety
22 Aug 41
p. 3, 15
Film Daily
22 Aug 41
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 40
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 40
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jan 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jan 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 41
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Mar 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Mar 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 41
, 15070
Hollywood Reporter
18 Apr 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Apr 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 May 41
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jul 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Aug 41
pp. 3-4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Aug 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 41
p. 2.
Motion Picture Daily
22 Aug 1941.
---
Motion Picture Herald
23 Aug 1941.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
14 Jun 41
p. 161.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Sep 41
p. 250.
New York Times
1 Nov 41
p. 20.
Variety
27 Aug 41
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d unit dir in Missouri
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
PRODUCTION MISC
Pub dir
Prod mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor dir
DETAILS
Release Date:
12 September 1941
Premiere Information:
World premiere in St. Louis, MO: 5 September 1941
Production Date:
7 April--late May 1941
retakes and added scenes mid June 1941
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
12 September 1941
Copyright Number:
LP10790
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
87
Length(in feet):
7,809
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
7275
SYNOPSIS

Soon after the Civil War, Confederate soldier Ed Shirley returns to Missouri and is greeted by his headstrong, beautiful sister Belle, who has been managing their plantation on her own. Belle furiously rejects Ed's assertion that the South has lost the war, and is cold to Union major Thomas Crail, who was Belle's sweetheart before the war. Crail has returned to Missouri to stop the Confederate guerrillas who are plaguing Union soldiers. Wanting to restore his friendship with Crail, Ed invites him to dinner, although Belle declares that she would prefer the company of Sam Starr, one of the bandits whom Crail has been ordered to capture. One of Sam's compatriots overhears Belle's remarks, and Sam joins the dinner party that evening. Sam and Belle are attracted to each other, and later that night, after Sam is wounded while trying to escape from Crail's men, Belle hides him in her room. Crail finds Sam, however, and is also forced to arrest Ed, as he is the head of the household, and to burn the Shirley mansion, as punishment for aiding the renegades. Belle then accompanies Sam's right-hand man, Blue Duck, to Sam's hideout, and the next night, Belle and Blue Duck engineer the jailbreak of Sam and Ed. While Ed maintains that they must return, Belle announces her intention to join Sam's outfit. Ed tries to persuade Belle that Sam is fighting purely for the love of fighting, but Belle, honestly believing that Sam is trying to preserve the South she loves, orders her brother to leave. As time passes, Belle is branded an outlaw for participating in Sam's raids, but ... +


Soon after the Civil War, Confederate soldier Ed Shirley returns to Missouri and is greeted by his headstrong, beautiful sister Belle, who has been managing their plantation on her own. Belle furiously rejects Ed's assertion that the South has lost the war, and is cold to Union major Thomas Crail, who was Belle's sweetheart before the war. Crail has returned to Missouri to stop the Confederate guerrillas who are plaguing Union soldiers. Wanting to restore his friendship with Crail, Ed invites him to dinner, although Belle declares that she would prefer the company of Sam Starr, one of the bandits whom Crail has been ordered to capture. One of Sam's compatriots overhears Belle's remarks, and Sam joins the dinner party that evening. Sam and Belle are attracted to each other, and later that night, after Sam is wounded while trying to escape from Crail's men, Belle hides him in her room. Crail finds Sam, however, and is also forced to arrest Ed, as he is the head of the household, and to burn the Shirley mansion, as punishment for aiding the renegades. Belle then accompanies Sam's right-hand man, Blue Duck, to Sam's hideout, and the next night, Belle and Blue Duck engineer the jailbreak of Sam and Ed. While Ed maintains that they must return, Belle announces her intention to join Sam's outfit. Ed tries to persuade Belle that Sam is fighting purely for the love of fighting, but Belle, honestly believing that Sam is trying to preserve the South she loves, orders her brother to leave. As time passes, Belle is branded an outlaw for participating in Sam's raids, but their love for each other grows. On the night they are married, Sam makes a speech to his men that makes Belle wonder about his motives, and when he invites Jim and John Cole to join the group, she becomes even more worried. One afternoon, while the Coles and Sam are leading a train robbery, Ed visits Belle and tells her that Sam's actions are tearing Missouri apart. Explaining that the Coles are hurting innocent people, Ed makes Belle promise to question Sam about their activities. As he is leaving, Ed is shot by Jim Cole, and a tearful Belle confronts Sam, who promises to give up his bandit lifestyle after one more job. Sam plans to kidnap Missouri governor Johnson, who will be speaking in town, so that he can dictate his terms to him. Unhappy with the plan, which was orchestrated by the Coles to get ransom money, Belle returns her wedding ring to Sam and tells him that she cannot wear it if they no longer think alike. Intending to turn herself in, Belle goes to her faithful servant, Mammy Lou, for help. Mammy Lou goes to town, and there learns that the governor's appearance is a trap to capture Sam. Hoping that giving herself up will save Sam, Belle rides to town, but on the way, she is shot by Jasper Tench, a horse thief who holds a grudge against her. Tench takes her body to Crail to claim the reward offered for her, but when Sam and Mammy Lou arrive, they state that the corpse is not Belle's so that Tench cannot receive the money. Sam and Mammy Lou then bid Belle a last farewell, after which Sam turns himself in to Crail. As Sam and Crail discuss Belle, they overhear two black men state that Belle can never be killed because she is a legend. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.