MONTANA BELLE (director: Allan Dwan; screenwriters: Norman Hall/Horace McCoy/from a story by M. Coates Webster & Howard Welsch; cinematographer: Jack A. Marta; editor: Arthur Roberts; music: Nathan Scott; cast: Jane Russell (Belle Starr), George Brent (Tom Bradfield), Scott Brady (Bob Dalton), Forrest Tucker (Mac), Andy Devine (Pete Bivins), Jack Lambert (Ringo), John Litel (Matt Towner), Ray Teal (Emmett Dalton), Roy Barcroft (Jim Clark), Eugene Roth (Marshal Ripple), Rory Mallinson (Grat Dalton), Holly Bane (Ben Dalton); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Welsch; RKO Radio Pictures; 1952)

"They don't make westerns dumber than this one."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Just plain dreck. They don't make westerns dumber than this one. The only thing that saves the film from being completely unbearable is Jane Russell's spirited performance as Belle Starr and Andy Devine's comic relief role as the lovable rascal. Otherwise, a forgettable misfire. Allan Dwan ("Sands of Iwo Jima") directs as if he were in a contest to see who could come up with the most ridiculous plot line and he was determined to win at all costs. The film was completed in 1948 and sat on the shelf for about four years, finally released by Howard Hughes's RKO in 1952. I guess if you don't take this nonsense story seriously, you're working at an advantage. To say this version of Belle Starr is fictionalized, is to say what is obvious.

Notorious Belle Starr is freed from a public lynching at the hands of the law by Bob Dalton (Scott Brady), who takes a romantic interest in the recent outlaw's widow and takes her to where his other three brothers are hiding out with outlaws Mac (Forrest Tucker) and the Indian Ringo (Jack Lambert). The Daltons are wanted by the law for a string of bank robberies, which threaten to put the banks out of business. Matt Towner (John Litel) represents a banker's association and he offers the owner of The Bird Cage gambling casino, Tom Bradfield (George Brent), in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, $100,000 to help capture the Daltons. Tom uses informer Pete Bivins (Andy Devine) to get word to the Daltons to rob his place on Saturday night because there will be possibly over $50,000 in the safe, and the plan is to have the lawmen waiting there as a trap. Things get botched when Mac and Ringo get raided by the posse when an Indian hunter spots the hideout, and Mac and Belle jump to the conclusion that the Daltons squealed. So with Belle, in cowboy drag as a blue masked man, and rogue blacksmith Jim Clark, they beat the Daltons to The Bird Cage and escape with around $2,000. Belle then becomes their leader and competes with the Daltons in a string of bank robberies. The plot lines go from the very ridiculous to the very very ridiculous, as somehow Belle ends up disguised in a blonde wig as a singer (she sings the theme song "The Gilded Lily") and partners in Tom's place while holding off both Mac and Bob who both have the hots for her. Belle goes bonkers for the bland Tom (something must have happened off-screen because I didn't see any chemistry between them on-screen) and by the end Belle's domestic side shows as she's planning to quit a life of crime, marry Tom, be loyal to both the Daltons and Mac, and continue to overwhelm all the he-men around her. 

It got me what Dwan was thinking when he put this mess together. 

REVIEWED ON 3/16/2005        GRADE: D

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"