Thursday, Oct 2020
Director: King Vidor
Screenwriters: David O. Selznick from a Niven Busch novel
Length: 129 minutes
Released: 1946

duel in the sun posterThis is a sprawling, 'epic' romantic potboiler set in the Texas of the Old West. Produced by Gone With the Wind's David Selznick, this Western is as much a 'Southern' as anything. An early Gregory Peck film, it is often mentioned as a Gregory Peck movie, though he is not the lead, playing one of two brothers who Jennifer Jones becomes torn over. Peck is the 'bad' brother Lewton, and the 'good' brother is played by Joseph Cotton. It is disappointing to see how much Cotton has been overlooked as a film star, considering his gifts. However, Gregory Peck indeed has a much stronger Western pedigree and legacy ( The Gunfighter, The Bravados, The Big Country, How the West Was Won, MacKenna's Gold...) so here, we will call this a 'Gregory Peck' movie despite the unfairness to Cotton.

Aside from the young, handsome and highly devilish Peck, we get a frisky, steamy, over-the-top performance by Jennifer Jones, who was nominated for an Academy Award. Particularly, in the beginning, she frequently flashes her eyes a la Marlene Deitrich, showing her 'half-breed' wildness. Also, we get Lionel Barrymore as the 'Senator', the father-tyrant of the huge cattle ranch. Barrymore plays the role in the tradition of later efforts such as Burl Ives in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Orsen Welles in The Long, Hot Summer. Forgive the nonwestern references, but, as mentioned, this movie is really as much a 'Southern' as a Western.

A young black actress plays a shameful house servant -- dreaming impossible dreams and always confused -- precisely in the vein of Butterfly McQueen from Gone With the Wind. Tempers flares and emotions overflow. There are blazing orange Technicolor sunsets. There is, of course, plenty of sex and betrayal. There are large balls, ranch barbecues and one amazing, DeMille- like sequence when the 'Senator' calls all his dozens of ranch hands and others from surrounding farms to ride down and draw a line to stop the railroad. "Never mind that funny legal talk -- THAT'S my law..." the Senator says to the railroad agent as he points to his long line of armed ranch hands.

This movie is undoubtedly overwrought and seems endless at times, but it has all the elements of a true Western despite its decidedly Southern flavor. Duel in the Sun was one of the more profitable Westerns of all time. It doesn't hurt to see such lavish Hollywood fare from time to time. As a leading entry in the 'potboiler Western' category, and for its all-star cast, we recommend Duel in the Sun as a Must See.

--Jed

Cast:

  • Jennifer Jones....Pearl Chavez
  • Joseph Cotten.... Jesse McCanles
  • Gregory Peck.... Lewt McCanles
  • Lionel Barrymore....Senator McCanles
  • Herbert Marshall.... Scott Chavez
  • Lillian Gish.... Laura Belle McCanles
  • Walter Huston.... The Preacher
  • Charles Bickford....Sam Pierce
  • Harry Carey.... Lem Smoot
  • Joan Tetzel.... Helen Langford
  • Tilly Losch.... Chavez's wife
  • Butterfly McQueen....Vashti
  • Scott McKay.... Sid
  • Otto Kruger.... Mr. Langford
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