Montana Belle (1952)
From what I know of history this Jane Russell flick from producer Howard Welsh has more or less taken fact and tossed it out of the stagecoach window. On the flip side it’s a diverting “B” flick for fans of Jane and offers a decent cast of cowboys surrounding her with hungry eyes.
In this take on the Belle Starr story we find our leading character hooked up with the Dalton gang and George Brent. At the outset Jane is on the run and seeks refuge with Scott Brady at the Dalton hideaway where she’ll also exchange pleasantries with Forrest Tucker. Just as Jane and Mr. Brady are getting to like one another’s company, she and Tucker find themselves on the run from a posse they believe was set on them by Brady and the rest of the Dalton’s including Ray Teal.
“The last payoffs always the same. Boot Hill.”
John Litel turns up and hires adventurer/casino owner George Brent to put an end to the reign of terror and robberies that the Dalton’s are causing throughout the land. In reality it’s Jane and Forrest along with western heavy Jack Lambert pulling the bank jobs.
In an attempt to go legit, Jane dyes her hair blonde and partners up with Brent in the casino business under an assumed name. The stage is set for Jane to throw a couple of melodies our way including The Gilded Lilly. It’s during the song and dance routines that this film begs for Technicolor as opposed to it’s black and white look from prolific director Allan Dwan.
As for her new look she asks love starved Tucker, “Do you like it?” His response seems to be one of those that slipped by the censors. “The man who wouldn’t is a sheep herder.” Then again maybe I find that Gene Wilder skit from 1972 just way to funny.
A favorite comical relief of the western genre turns up in the form of Andy Devine as an informer who is playing both sides of the law for a little cash and whiskey along the way but when it comes to lovely Jane he’ll do the right thing down the stretch.
This RKO feature allows Jane three suitors. Tucker, Brady and billed above the title with Russell, Mr. Brent. Along the way tempers flare over betrayals and who has the right to hold the hand of the lovely lady.
Not wanting to spoil any ending I do love the final scene of Tucker and Brady in this flick as it predates a couple of western favorites from Peckinpah.
Although perhaps not much different in truth, the character of Belle Starr turned up in a favorite flick of mine from Walter Hill in 1980. The Long Riders where Pamela Reed played the fiery temptress opposite David Carradine and James Remar. That film had nothing to do with the Daltons at all as it was based on the Younger/James gang and their outlaw stories.
Passable entertainment to be found here at the dawning of the westerns greatest era with a cast of actors who made a good living riding the range on celluloid in the years ahead.