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King Vidor was a long-serving and much-respected Hollywood grandmaster
who took a serious interest in movie-making
"Billy the Kid" and "Duel
in the Sun" hold an important place in the history of the genre
two films in particular, along with "Northwest Passage," show Vidor's
romantic vision of backwoods America and his love of natural landscape;
they share, too, an earthy quality which is missing from his more
routine action Westerns, "The Texas Rangers" and "Man Without a Star."
Photographed in rich color, the visual magnificence of the film was manifested in the shots of the cowboys galloping across the rolling hills; in the spectacular confrontation between the McCanles forces who aimed to defend Spanish Bit with lead and the U.S. Cavalry; in the deep red sunset sequence with Lionel Barymore as "the lonely Senator"; and in that long shot of the surreptitious meeting between Lewt and his father on the hilltop at sunset
"Duel in the Sun" is extravagantly and grandiosely passionate and romantic and its characters are much larger than life A poignant scene was the tremendous moment between two legendary actors (Lionel Barrymore & Lillian Gish) when Laura Belle said to her husband "I'm a nuisance to you even to the end. It's the first time you've been in this room since that night./I loved you, Laura Belle. Yes, sir, I loved you."
Now, when a single movie offers murder, rape, attempted fratricide, train wreck, fiery sensual dance, drunkenness, religion, range wars, prostitution, sacred and profane love and sex as the principal motivation and not as an incidental subplot, and all that against an epic background of empire-building, well, it is for the first time in a Western in such a big scale
The film featured the story of Pearl Chavez whose past is dark as her coca-stained skin and who loves everybody but loves bad Lewt most often
Gregory Peck character as Lewt is barbaric, undisciplined, untamed, overwhelming He is a bad man, all bad, but he is also the lowest, dirtiest, meanest and cool, and he knows how to laugh and have a good time
Jennifer Jones as Pearl, is the 'prettiest girl ever to set foot on Spanish Bit.' She is a marvelous overwrought minx, wild and sexy
Joseph Cotton is the calm, educated, refined, pleasant son Jesse who ultimately sides with the railroad against his father He even threatens to cut the fence wire promising: "I'd rather be on the side of the victims than of the murderers."
Lionel Barrymore is the invalid Senator Jackson McCanles who orders his son, calling him a "Judas," to leave his ranch for as long as he lives
Lillian Gish is the delicate Laura Belle who blames her husband of spoiling Lewt and she let him do so ever since he was a child making him think that rules weren't made for him
Herbert Marshall plays Scott Chavez the condemned Southern aristocrat gentleman who sends his daughter to Laura Belle, his second cousin
Charles Bickford plays Sam Pierce, the boss who gets a little ranch of his own but never run across anybody he wanted to marry Besides, he never got up nerve enough to ask anybody
Impassions, pulsating, barbaric, and thunderous, the music matches perfectly the fervid emotionalism of the story
The film received only two Academy Awards nominations
David O. Selznick spent the rest of his life trying to top Gone With
the Wind. What other mountains did he have to climb after making the
most acclaimed motion picture ever?
In addition he had another obsession, his second wife Jennifer Jones. He was going to make her the greatest leading lady in the history of film.
Well he didn't succeed at either, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Jones herself was in a peculiar position similar to her husband's. She got an Oscar for her first feature film after she changed her name from Phyllis Isley to Jennifer Jones. Selznick knew that she couldn't play saints all her life as she did in The Song of Bernadette. So for this western answer to Gone With the Wind as Pearl Chavez she plays about as opposite a character from Bernadette Soubirous as you can get.
Duel in the Sun got mixed reviews by the critics, but the public ate it up. It's the story of the McCanless family, parents Lionel Barrymore and Lillian Gish and sons Joseph Cotten and Gregory Peck. Cotten is the good son, Peck the bad one. In fact as Lewt McCanless Peck played his worst character until Josef Mengele in Boys from Brazil.
A kissing cousin of their's Jennifer Jones comes to live with them. She's the offspring of an old beau of Lillian's, Herbert Marshall and the Indian wife he ran off with back in the day. Lillian and Herbert were kissing cousins also.
As Pearl Chavez, Jen gets the McCanless boys testosterone going into overdrive. Take one look at her and you can hardly blame them.
One of the not so hidden subtexts of Duel in the Sun is racism. Jennifer's good for a quick roll in the hay, but marriage is out of the question, at least for Gregory Peck. Barrymore's and Peck's racism is overt, the others not quite so, but it's still there.
The negotiations with Louis B. Mayer for Lionel Barrymore must have been interesting. Selznick's former wife was Irene Mayer, Louis's daughter.
One thing with Selznick, he spared no expense. He got the best in talent for this film. Dimitri Tiomkin did the score, King Vidor the direction, Ray Rennahan the color photography which is absolutely stunning.
He even got Bing Crosby to record Gotta Get Me Somebody to Love with Les Paul's guitar. Peck sang it in the film, Crosby's record sold a few platters.
He even got Orson Welles to do the off-screen narration if you don't recognize that voice.
It misses being a classic mainly because Selznick couldn't keep his hands off it. Sometimes the acting is about as subtle as a sledgehammer from all the performers. I'm willing to bet it's Selznick more than Vidor.
Yet it's good entertainment and Duel in the Sun does have its moments.
Everything about 'Duel in the Sun' is overripe: the music, the photography (those red sunsets a la GWTW), the strong emotions and the climactic duel on a blazing desert sun by the two mismatched lovers. Indeed, the excesses are almost operatic in proportion--and yet, a viewer can get caught up in this sprawling western rightly termed "Lust in the Dust" by some reviewers. The rampant sensuality of the steamy scenes between Peck and Jones are emphasized by Dimitri Tiomkin's luscious background score which becomes blistering and intense for the climactic shootout. Overproduced, overacted, overwritten--it still entertains and makes us appreciate the genius of David O. Selznick whose hand on all of the material is quite evident. Jennifer Jones was nominated for her tempestuous Pearl Chavez (but lost to Olivia de Havilland for 'To Each His Own'). Lillian Gish deserved her Oscar nomination. And last but not least, let's not forget Walter Huston, who gives the most realistic and enjoyable performance in the entire film as The Sin Killer--a wickedly funny portrayal. Weakest aspect of the film is Gregory Peck's easygoing villain--his whole performance strikes a false note and is not the least bit convincing. He and Joseph Cotten should have switched their roles--Cotten always made a more believable villain than Peck. Selznick obviously was striving to make a western on the level of GWTW--even including Butterfly McQueen for comic relief. All in all, fun to watch if you don't take any of it seriously. Not exactly a work of art--but definitely worth watching. And, oh, that ripe technicolor!
A half-breed named Pearl (Jennifer Jones) is sent off to live with her
second cousins after her parents are killed. She disrupts the household
causing problems between two brothers--one named Lewt (Gregory Peck)
who's bad and Jesse (Joseph Cotten) who's good. She also is hated by
the father (Lionel Barrymore) and protected by the mother (Lillian
Beautifully filmed in Technicolor this is a fun movie. The dialogue is full of howlers and, for it's time, this was pretty strong stuff. The emphasis is on sex and that bothered audiences in the late 40s. An entire dance by Jones was cut out and the release of the film was delayed because of the content! Today it's very tame and pretty funny.
Jones is horribly miscast as Pearl. She's very beautiful and wears tight, revealing clothing all through the film, but her acting is terrible. She sneers and glares her way through all her scenes and seems incapable of saying any line believably. Peck is surprisingly very good playing an evil man. Cotten and Gish are stuck with thankless good person roles. Barrymore REALLY chews the scenery. And the opening narration is by Orson Welles!
This movie was made by David O. Selznick to showcase his then girlfriend (and future wife) Jones. Purportedly he made this with serious intentions. It was a big hit but most critics dismissed it as trash. Today it's just a true camp classic. Hysterically bad but beautifully filmed and loads of fun. The climax especially is a howler. A great party flick.
In it's own way, this is a definite must-see.
In the trade, this film was derisively known as "Lust in the Dust" and the
critics were lukewarm. The Catholic Film Office rated it "C" for
"condemned," presumably due to its smoldering sexuality, and Protestant
churches denounced it for Walter Huston's windbag and satirical preacher,
"The Sinkiller." Just about the only people who liked it were producer
David O. Selznick and the public.
By late 1980's, times had changed so much that "Duel in the Sun" was shown in the early evening on Baltimore's Channel 24, then a family-oriented station owned by a bible publisher, Thomas Nelson. It was available on video at that time from Playhouse Video, a family imprint of CBS-Fox! Today, nearly sixty years after its release, we can perhaps consider the film objectively.
In a filmed interview years later, King Vidor said that he signed on to this film expecting it to be a small scale psychological Western like the later "High Noon." However, producer Selznick, relatively young and already living in the shadow of his "Gone With the Wind," consciously or/and unconsciously tried to equal or outdo that film with this one. The result is a Western epic built upon a non-epic story, making it seem a bit grandiose or overblown. Tiomkin's grand and beautiful score for this film would seem better suited for a tale about a true epic, such as a story about the cavalry campaigns or the building of the Pacific railroads.
Inspite of itself, the core of this film is a fascinating psychological Western based on the interplay of varied and sometimes contrasting characters. The acting is excellent, a possible exception being Lionel Barrymore's hamming, which burns up the scenery like a prairie fire and is often irritating. The production values are superb and the scenes of the confrontation with the railroad should be studied by student filmmakers.
This movie is like a painting by an old master that hangs in a museum--we may not be moved by it, but we can still appreciate the artistry. Its most notable feature is the director, King Vidor, master of silent film making. As you might expect, many of the important scenes have little or no dialog. In one scene between Lionel Barrymore and Lillian Gish, he rambles on about their life together, while she strains to get out of her sickbed and crosses slowly to him, the entire distance transfigured by the depth of her love for him. Gish was a great star of silent film, with a wonderful, expressive face, full of compassion and grace. In another scene that happens under quite different circumstances, Jennifer Jones crawls to Gregory Peck, the man she loves, also without words, evincing great sorrow and quiet dignity. In both cases, the women prove they are far more noble than the men who love them so badly. Jones also has a mobile face, together with a beautiful, resonant voice. No film that has these two ladies at its center should be missed. In addition, the film has two marvelous scenes that, at the time of its making, would have been just as impressive as some of today's special effects wonders: In the first, about 20 armed horsemen face a crowd of railway workers, including some chinese, clothed in authentic period dress, with a steam engine in the background. As the tensions mount, a troop of mounted cavalry, about 100 strong, ride onto the set, filmed on location (judging by the saguarros and ocatillos) in Arizona. This was a tour de force of filmmaking at a time when shooting on location was rare. In the second scene, a train under a full head of steam jumps the tracks and plows down an embankment. Filmed in early technicolor, this movie has lush exteriors and panoramas of rich desert color. Two more character actors should be mentioned, both of whom steal every scene they enter: Butterfly McQueen, the maid whose comments are both simple and profound, and Walter Huston, as the crusty sheriff who doubles as a preacher during a funeral.
For those who prefer soap operas instead of horse operas, this western
might be for you. If you prefer the normal action-packed western you'll
still might enjoy this if you have the patience to go past the first
hour. The second half of the this far more interesting.
Jennifer Jones, who became famous playing some wholesome roles in the '40s, was the definition of "sultry" in this movie. She really demonstrates the weakness of the flesh that human beings deal with many times. She wants to be good, but succumbs quickly to temptations almost every time.
Gregory Peck also plays against type, playing an arrogant pig in this movie. It was the first time I had ever seen him play the bad guy, and it looked strange. Lionel Barrymore also shines as the bigoted tyrant-type father. Who was the "good guy?" Joseph Cotten, who almost always gives a good performance as the other actors just named. Add Herbert Marshall, Lillian Gish, Walter Huston and Charles Bickford and you have some cast!
Some of the cinematography is nice, too, reminiscent of film noirs with the shadows and light and a number of night scenes.
Yet, despite all these positive things going for it, it is not a film I would watch many times because it drags in spots and is too long (app. 2 hours, 20 minutes). It also gave a cheap shot to the traveling lay preacher in here, but that's nothing new in films.
All in all, not one of my favorites. I guess I would rather see Jones and Peck play "good guys."
PURE OPERA. From the scenic backdrops seething in passionate colors to
Jennifer Jones' over-ripe performance and Dimitri Tiomkin's tempestuous
score...'Duel In The Sun' isn't just another soapy oater, it is the
soapy oater. Brimming with more bad taste than any screenwriter could
possibly misconceive, this Selznick classic is the penultimate guilty
viewing pleasure...if you like you're Westerns on the sleazy side that is!
The performances are all unapologetically over-the-top, with Ms. Jones, in an Oscar winning performance no less, as Pearl Chavez, the 'half-breed' vixen torn between lust for Gregory Peck's Lewt McCanles, the bad-boy brother gone badder, and the 'save-me-from-myself' brand of love for Joseph Cotten's Jesse McCanles, the good brother with not-a-whole-heck-of-alot of sex appeal going for him. In between all this indecision, Ms. Jones sets fire to the scenery with as many sultry leers and poses as, I suppose, the censors of the time would permit her. "I'm TRASH, TRASH, TRASH," Pearl exclaims. And that about sums it all up. In spades! I should also make mention of the other Oscar winning performance, that by the venerable Lillian Gish as Laura Belle McCanles who, in perhaps the most painfully rapturous sequence, resurrects her silent film training in a tour-de-force of physical acting that, in less capable hands, would only be embarrassing. Not that you won't be tempted to laugh mind you, even Grand Opera, at the best of times, isn't this exquisitely sublime. And then there is Butterfly McQueen...as the befuddled maid (what else)...in the only role written for obvious comedic effect, whose long-winded sincerity couldn't be the more perfect foil for a hurried house full of whitees with nothing but sex on the brain...
On the technical side, it is an unquestionably ravishing film to look at. In glorious Technicolor, the 'Old West' never looked more mythic or more prone to tragedy...the 'campy' side that is. And, yet once more, Dimitri Tiomkin finesses our ears with a resounding melody of wide open spaces and of still bigger ambitions and desires, culminating in a symphonic tempest for two ill-fated (or over-sexed) lovers who could only be united in death.
WOW, this picture is right off the Harlequin Romance map! And I enjoyed every minute of it.
The restored "Road Show" DVD of David O. Selznick's production of "Duel in
the Sun" is a most impressive experience. What this restoration has done is
to place the viewer back to 1946 at the premiere itself.
Selznick's vision was huge, romantic, and sumptuous. He had the means to spare no expense or effort in realizing this grandiose concept. The result is a sweeping drama set in the west, yet rising above the normal trappings of most movie westerns.
First a trio of photographers headed by the peerless Lee Garmes, and assisted by Ray Rennahan and Hal Rosson, provided a rich and colorful canvas of romantic artistry and beauty. Then a screenplay by producer Selznick emphasized the Gothic and overripe emotions with great relish. If you're going to do it, do it, was the attitude. Let the trash explode on the screen. Added to this formidable group of artists came director King Vidor, beautifully directing a carefully chosen and extremely talented cast, and creating some magnificent and memorable set pieces.
Lastly came the legendary composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, crafting a superb score, exuding the pent up and released emotions of the characters and painting the hot and sultry essence of the desert setting. The way to fully experience the Selznick vision is to take the time to position one's self before the DVD monitor, adjust the sound volume to near peak level, and absorb the score from the first note of the 15-minute Prelude, the 5-minute Overture, through the 144-minute drama, and continue until the final, crashing chord of the 5-minute Postlude (Exit Music). Only then will the true meaning and power of "Duel in the Sun" be realized.
It's a one-of-a-kind film work, and a lasting tribute to that mad, disorganized, titanic and great genius of film production, Selznick.
Well, it's no Gone With The Wind. Selznick, again, features his wife,
Jennifer Jones, in a different role than the usual wholesome roles she was
expected to do. Portrait Of Jennie, Since You Went Away and Song of
Bernadette. Jones has a bad habit of over-acting if allowed to do so.
Example is Tender Is The Night, Man In A Grey Flannel Suit, Ruby Gentry and
Love Letters. It takes a strong director to tone her down. King Vidor
lost control of her in this or Selznick had too much control. Her
performance consisted of a low gutteral voice and a sashaying walk. Not
On the other hand, excellent supporting roles were played by Lionel Barrymore and Lilian Gish. They stole the picture in this viewer's opinion. Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotton went through the paces of what they were asked to do as rivalry brothers. But you kind of knew their hearts weren't in it. Then there was the presence of Butterfly McQueen in her usual Gone With The Wind type performance. Charles Bickford in an undistinguished role was wasted as was Herbert Marshall and Sidney Blackner [all good actors]. An impressive cast when the titles came on, but what followed was not what you wanted to see.
I got tired of seeing Jennifer Jones strutting about making faces of some indian half-breed. Boring. Oh, I liked the horse [the pinto] that she rode. He was terrific. Best to see this on video. Doesn't come off that bad. But it is a cornball western farce.
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