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Renegade Girl

Ann Savage in Renegade Girl on he Dingus Project at SeacoastNH.comTHE DINGUS PROJECT
Jesse James in Film #19

Girls can be outlaws too, at least in the world of the B-Western. Like Jesse James, farmer Jean Shelby falls under the spell of William Quantrill. But unlike the famous outlaw, this lady bushwacker is in it for the love, not the money. And she must avenge her family.

She found with Quantrill and died for revenge

Renegade Girl (1946)
Ann Savage, Alan Curtis, Russell Wade, Bob Crandall
65 minutes, B&W

Renegade Girl is one of two films starring Ann Savage as a femme fatale guerilla raider in the Kansas-Missouri border wars during the Civil War. Like "Ride With the Devil" (1999), "Dark Command" (1940) and a dozen other films, the movie revolves around Quantrill’s bushwackers. IN this sub-genre, Jesse James does not directly appear, but the film takes place in the same world as the exploits of the historic outlaw.

Renegade Girl on the Dingus ProjectLike Jesse James, Jean Shelby is drawn into the outlaw life due to senseless Civil War violence that impacts her family. Jean’s brother, a Quantrill raider, is pursued by Union soldiers. He is killed, however, by Indian Raider White Cloud, played by Native American Victor Daniels. Daniels, who conceived the original role of Tonto in the first Lone Ranger films, speaks with a Tarzan accent ("Me go find them"). It is a terrible exploitative role, and for reasons unknown, White Cloud decides to wipe out Jean’s entire family. When he kills her parents, she vows revenge. But Jean is badly wounded when White Cloud stabs her.

Jean is saved by Yankee Captain Fred Raymond (Alan Curtis) with whom she reluctantly and instantly falls in love. Jean takes an entire year to recover as the Civil War winds down. She then returns to her pursuit of White Cloud by striking a deal with a former Quantrill band that has now turned outlaw. Jean agrees to fight with them, raiding and looting Union sympathizers, if the gang will help her find White Cloud. Whichever gang member kills White Cloud, Jean says, she will marry. Raider Jerry Long (Russell Wade) expects to win her heart and body, but she continues to drive him off.

By the time they catch up with White Cloud, the gang is coming apart at the seams. Eaten up by her desire for revenge, Jean confesses to gang member Bob Crandall that she is losing heart. Crandall, played by comic actor Edward Brophy, is badly cast. Here the balding, overweight, middle-aged actor with a thick New York accent plays a knife-throwing guerilla raider.

Jesse James films

In a ridiculous shoot-out, with all members in love with Jean, the gang wipes itself out. Only the sleazy Jerry Long survives. Jean drives him away, then passes out amid the carnage. She is discovered by Yankee soldiers, who bring her to – who else? – her lost lover Captain Raymond. They agree to marry that very night, but there is a complication. The Captain is on the trail of a renegade gang run by a woman named Marie Carroll, which is Jean’s outlaw name. Jean slips out of the Union Army post and, in one of the worst chase scenes ever filmed, shoots White Cloud, who shoots her in return. She dies in the arms of her beloved Yankee soldier.

This cheesy cowboy romance is well below B-level. The script by Edwin Westrate is awful, even for this trash-western genre. Interestingly Westrate went on to write the screenplay for the 1954 film "Jesse James Versus the Daltons" as well as "Curse of a Teenaged Nazi." The print of the film in the DVD copy we obtained was as tattered and full of holes as the storyline.

At her height in 1943, Ann Savage (real name Bernice Maxine Lyon) made a new low-budget film every month. Dressed like the evil twin of Dale Evans and Annie Oakley, Savage confesses her sins to Captain Raymond. "I guess helping Quantrill wasn’t the right way. But it was the only way we had. I’ve been an outlaw. I fought and lied and cheated. I’ve made men love me just so they would talk. Yes, I was willing to do almost anything to fight the Yankees. And I did."

Like the "environmental" argument offered to excuse Jesse James, the Renegade Girl is presented as a victim of her times. Yet, throughout the film, she is never seen committing a crime. Savage comes across more as an independent woman fighting for equal respect in a male-dominated world. She survives by using all the weapons in her arsenal – brains, good looks and guns. "I took the wrong road," she says with her dying breath. The real Ann Savage, born in 1921, is still alive at this writing and making public appearances.

Copyright © by J. Dennis Robinson on SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

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