Thursday, July 29, 2010

King Vidor - Duel in the Sun (1946)

In David O. Selznick's Duel in the Sun, Jennifer Jones stars as half-breed Pearl Chavez, whom everyone has tagged as a "bad girl" foredoomed to an unhappy end. She is taken into the home of wealthy, greedy rancher McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) and his kindly wife Laura Belle (Lillian Gish), who'd once been the sweetheart of Pearl's recently executed father (Herbert Marshall). Almost immediately, Pearl becomes the object of an emotional tug-of-war between McCanles' virtuous son Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and wicked ne'er-do-well offspring Lewt (Gregory Peck). After killing a man (Charles Bickford) who'd tried proposing to Pearl, Lewt becomes a fugitive, secretly working to undermine the railroad that threatens to cut across McCanles' land. The level-headed Jesse tries to negotiate with the railroad men, and as a result is ordered from the ranch by McCanles. While all this is going on, Pearl, sick to death of being told what a bad job she is, decides to become the Jezebel everyone assumes she is. Duel in the Sun was based on the novel by Niven Busch, who'd written the work hoping that his wife Teresa Wright would play Pearl—but that was before Selznick fell head over heels in love with Jennifer Jones.
Appropriately nicknamed "Lust in the Dust," Duel in the Sun is a wacky, grandiose melodrama, famous for its sexual innuendo. Producer David O. Selznick was attempting to top his success with Gone With the Wind, and though it did make quite a lot of money, Duel never matched the level of public and critical adulation of his previous film. It's still good fun to watch, especially the riotous ending. Despite starring the producer's second wife, Jennifer Jones, and a host of other big names (Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish, Joseph Cotten, Lionel Barrymore), the film relegates the performers mostly to the background — as they are in the final shot. Selznick was so keen on producing the "biggest movie ever" that, in 1946, Duel was the most expensive film ever made. The producer's meddling in the filmmaking process drove director King Vidor from the picture, and five other uncredited directors would work on the film after him, including Josef von Sternberg and William Dieterle.

no pass