Belle Starr (1980)

 

 

 

Director:     John A. Alonzo. 

Starring:     Elizabeth Montgomery (Belle Starr), Cliff Potts (Cole Younger), Michael Cavanaugh (Jesse James), Gary Combs (Frank James), Fred Ward (Ned Christie), Jesse Vint (Bob Dalton), Alan Vint (Grat Dalton), Geoffrey Lewis (Reverend Meeks), Sandy McPeak (Sheriff Pratt), David Knell (Ed Reed), Geno Silva (Blue Duck), Michelle Stacy (Pearl Younger), Peter Hobbs (Jenkins), Morgan Paull (Latham), Sarah Cunningham (Mrs. Chandler).

made for TV movie about outlaw Belle Starr; Elizabeth Montgomery plays Belle

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Blue Duck is actually Sam Starr and I use the historically correct name. 

Belle Starr is teaching her son how to shoot with a pistol. He is terrible at it. He tells his mother: "Pistols are for killing, ma." Belle takes over and shoots the cans off a log. She says she's going into town to see his sister, Pearl, who is boarding with Mrs. Chandler. The young fellow picks up his rifle and shoots off all the remaining cans on the log.

Rev. Meeks and two women come to see Mrs. Chandler. They have a petition asking that Belle Starr and all people like her should be removed from Greenview, Texas. One of the women says that if Mrs. Chandler would refuse to board that harlot's daughter, Pearl, then Belle might move on. Coming into town now is Belle Starr. The two women leave so they don't have to say hello to Belle.

The two lawmen in town also talk about Belle Starr. Mrs. Chandler is teaching Pearl to play the piano and sing, as well as table manners and other such things. The talk is that the father of Pearl is none other than the outlaw Cole Younger.

Pearl plays and sings at the piano. Her mother listens. Pearl runs over to her mother and gives her a hug. A little later Pearl asks her that it isn't true is it that mother is a harlot? Belle says no, it is not true that she is a harlot. "I have never sold affection." Pearl goes back to playing the piano and singing. Mrs. Chandler tells Belle that Pearl is a wonderful child.

The sheriff asks Belle if he could speak to her. One of her neighbors complained to him that a number of cattle at Belle's place have fresh brands on them. He asks her if she has a bill of sale for those cattle she purchased recently from a man with a string of bad luck. Belle is ready to leave, but the sheriff tells her that there is a petition going around against her. Belle asks on what grounds? Everybody knows that Belle rode with infamous outlaws such as the James gang, the Younger gang and the Dalton gang.

Belle's husband Sam Starr, three-quarters Cherokee, tells his wife that he won't be here when Cole Younger comes. She says that they are running out of money. In other words, she wants to rob some money so they will have money. Sam just scoffs at her and leaves. Sam gets on his horse and leaves. Belle goes outside to call her son Ed to her. She tells him to go find Cole, Ned Christie and the others and tell them to come on in. "And tell Cole we got a train to catch."

The gang is together with Belle and they are going to rob a train. They let thet rain go by them and then they rush after it. They jump onto the caboose and spread out from there. They make the engineer stop the train.

The gang splits up the money. Cole and Belle go riding off together. They kiss while still on horseback. They both go back to Belle's house. Ed tells Cole that he wishes he would leave his mother alone.

The parson rides out to Belle's place. He tells her his wife died not long ago and sometimes he gets really lonesome. The parson says maybe the two of them could work out an arrangement. Belle says no to him. So the parson now gives her a copy of the petition that has been signed by every member of the church. It says that Belle is to leave Greenview within a week. Belle tells the parson to tell his congregation to give it their best shot. She goes back into her house. Rev. Meeks is peeved at Belle, calls her "ungrateful" and throws the petition down on the ground.

Belle gets back in bed with Cole Younger. He asks how's his daughter Pearl? "She's fine. She's going to be a lady." Belle adds that Pearl loves them both, but to her both of them are an embarrassment. A little later Cole leaves.

The sheriff and a posse comes out to search Belle and her house. The sheriff knows that Belle knows all about the recent train robbery. Ed tells him that his mother was home all day and all night too. The sheriff says he gets constant questions about why all of a sudden there is a crime wave in Greenview, Texas and they want Belle Starr arrested. The posse takes off.

Ed tells his mother that she is all he has. He says mom shuts him out. As they talk a bunch of night-riders descends on the Starr ranch. The house, barn and other structures are burned down. Belle recognizes that the leader of the night-riders is none other than Rev. Meeks.

Belle comes into town to talk to Pearl. Pearl tells her that she wants to stay here in Greenview with Mrs. Chandler. Mrs. Chandler is okay with it, so Belle lets her daughter stay behind.

Ned Christie meets up with some of the other gang members. He tells the men that Belle has been burnt out of her home. Ned also gives Cole a letter from Belle. Cole reads it and says that the leader of the night-rider was Rev. Meeks.

The gang comes into town to rob the bank. Pearl sees her father and says hello to him. He talks to her for a little while until she walks away from him.

And now the robbery begins. After a short while, the robbers come out of the bank with the money. The bankers show up at the door shouting about a robbery. And now a shoot-out begins between the outlaws and the town citizens. Ned Christie is shot down in the street by the sheriff.

Belle, Ed and Sam Starr are by a campfire at night. Belle tells Sam that he hasn't spoken a word to her since he returned. He says that Belle isn't his woman. She says she is his woman. He asks if she is his exclusively without all those other men coming in and out of her life? She says she knew those men long before she even met Sam. Her brother rode with those men and after he was killed, she took his place.

Rev. Meeks gets into his buggy and rides over to the church to deliver his sermon. The gang goes to the reverend's house and starst removing his things from his house to take to Belle and her new home.

Belle and the two men arrive at their next home. It is pretty rundown. Belle says they can fix it up. Belle starts reminiscing about her days of bank and train robbing with the gang. Sam tells her flat out that he doesn't want to hear anything more about her exploits with the gang and how happy she was. He doesn't want to hear anything about those other men.

Belle decides to go into town. The new sheriff and a Mr. Newhall see none other than Belle Starr ride into town. Mr. Newhall says in those days when she lived here, her name was Myra Maybelle Shirley. She goes into the general store and sees the store keeper that she knows. He asks her what is she doing back in town? She says it's as good a place as any other. He warns her that the scars from her wild days back then are still bothering those who Belle shot.

Joe Latham and Fred Hall go over to talk to Belle. Joe is the sheriff. He asks her if she is planning on staying in these part for long? She asks: "What if I am?" He says it's his job to keep track of the comings and goings of the towns people.

Back home Sam talks about them being able to start a new life, just the two of them, without the others. Belle tells him he just will never understand. She is not going to pretend to be the dutiful wife. If she gest a hankering after some man, she will be off on her way, so why pretend, she asks. She kisses Sam. "If you can't accept me the way I am, you'll never be happy with me Sam. Not ever."

Two members of the Dalton gang come out to greet Cole and three others taking furniture to Belle. It's like an old reunion. They proceed onto Belle's place.

Sam and Ed are working hard on the new place. Ed says to his mother that he likes it here. He also tells her that he wishes she and him could live her all by themselves. But mom hears the old gang coming to the ranch. Belle is so happy to see everyone. Neither Ed or Sam are happy to see them. Besides the furniture, the guys also brought Belle some of the money from the Bank of Greenview. At this time, Ed comes charging up on the group and fires a warning shot. He shouts: "All of you. Get out of here. Go away. I don't want you here."

Belle demands that Ed give her his rifle. He throws it on the ground at her feet. She refuses to pick it up, so he picks it up and hands her the rifle.

Ed walks away. Belle follows him to tell Ed not to do that ever again. These are her friends! Ed says she doesn't care about him. "I'm going to have my own life some day, and it ain't gonna have you in it." Belle says: "That may be the best thing that ever happened to you." She hands him back his rifle. Sam leaves Belle again.

Cole Younger and Belle go into town. The town is having a dance tonight and she wants to go dancing with Cole. Cole is worried about being recognized. They go into the general store. She asks for three boxes of 44's. The sheriff comes in and asks Cole who is he? He says he's Bob Williams. Bob says he's just passing through. The sheriff tells him that they don't need any of Belle's friends hanging around the town.

Cole and Belle attend the dance. She begs him to dance with her. He obliges her. But as the other dancers recognize Belle, they one by one stop dancing and then even the music stops. Belle knows when she's not wanted and she and Cole walk away from the dance.

Ed goes out looking for Sam. He finds his campfire. He is mad at Sam saying that he just lets these other men dance in and out of his mother's life and he ain't going to do anything to stop them. Sam's not worrying about it because he says he won't be back. He also says that Ed is still sucking on his mother's breasts. That makes Ed really mad and he says the reason why Sam won't do anything is because he's yellow. Sam says: "You better leave me now, boy." Ed rides away.

Belle and the gang have their own party and Belle gets to dance a bit. She also sings. She seems to flirt with everyone and anyone. But she is also thinking about their next job. She wants to head over to Tulsa. Oklahoma which is a big market for cattle. Belle wants the gang to rob the money used to buy all those steers brought to Tulsa. Ed overhears the conversation. A little later he tries to talk his mother into staying home, while the gang does the robbery. But she just frustrates him again. He yells at her: "Why can't you be like other women?" Her answer is that: "I ain't never met another woman I wanted to be like." Ed counter attacks with: "I wish you were dead."

Ed rides into town to speak with the sheriff. Latham doesn't even know the young fellow, so Ed tells him that his mother is Belle Starr. He tells the sheriff that Belle and her gang of friends went to Tulsa to rob the stock yards. The sheriff wants to know why Ed would be telling him this about his own mother? Ed doesn't reply. The sheriff walks away from him. Jenkins the general store owner grabs Ed and slaps him, shouting: "A kid doesn't tattle on his own mama."

The lawmen in Tulsa prepare for Belle Star and her friends. They have a lot of men stationed around with guns hidden where they can easily get their hands on them. A lot of these men don't know much about handling firearms and especially not in a fire fight with some famous outlaws. The gang members start coming in. They split off in different directions to take up their respective positions. Belle tells Cole it looks like it's going to be easy. Cole is not so sure.

Cole and Belle ride into the business section of the stockyards. They go through an open gate. A man later closes the gate.

All of a sudden all hell breaks out. Cole in the business office shoots a lawman and a clerk. Belle shoots the sheriff. Cole and Belle start to retreat. Belle shouts out: "They knew!" The amateurs now start taking a real beating by the outlaws. Many of the amateurs are killed or wounded. A couple of the outlaws are wounded. The outlaws get away.

Belle decides to head back home. Jesse seems to want to tell Belle off, but Cole intervenes. So Jesse just says to Belle that she is welcome to join them, but not with her son. Cole says goodbye to her.

Belle arrives back home. She goes inside calling for Ed and Sam. No one seems to be at home. She walks around the place looking for them. Suddenly she is shot in the back by some unknown assailant. Belle falls to the ground, looks around to see if she can see the shooter and then collapses and dies.

 

Good, enjoyable film, but lots of inaccuracies. Belle's brother Bud rode with Quantrill's Raiders, but Belle did not. She did not ride with the James brothers, or the Dalton brothers or the Younger brothers. She only knew them from her youth in Carthage, Missouri. Husband Sam Starr died before Belle Starr died. In fact, Belle remarried after the death of Sam Starr. Thereal Pearl Reed was born before her brother Ed Reed. Pearl Reed was not Pearl Younger. Both Sam and Belle Starr served one year in prison for horse stealing. The film makes a point that Belle was an adrenalin junkie always looking for exciting and challenging tasks. She also seemed to be a terrible flirt who could not be faithful to one man.

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

For Historical Background, see:   Belle Starr (1941).

 

 

 

 

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