Duel in the Sun was released in 1946. This movie is one of the classics and produced as an epic western by David O. Selznick (Producer of Gone with the Wind). Two years in the making it misses the mark of becoming one of the best of the Old West stories but is still worth watching. It was based on the 1944 novel by Niven Busch and is a sexually charged film that attempted to be the Old West Stories equivalent of his earlier Gone with the Wind.
When released it was the most expensive film produced and more than $5, 000, 000 was spent. Another $2, 000,000 was spent promoting it. This was a totally unheard of amount money for promotion in 1946. It was released amid much controversy for what was considered in 1946 to be trashy, melodramatic and simply too liberally filled with sex. By today’s standards you may hardly notice it.
The movie had two Academy Awards nominations, Best Actress (Jennifer Jones) and Best Supporting Actress (Lillian Gish).
This movie was later parodied by Paul Bartel in the comedy “Lust In the Dust (1984)” .
Check out the official trailer:-
The film is set in Texas in the 1880s and you can’t get more of the Old West than that. The opening comments, spoken by Orson Welles in that voice of his that always gives the impression disaster is near, sets the scene:-
Deep among the lonely sun-baked hills of Texas, the great and weatherbeaten stone still stands. The Comanches called it Squaw’s Head Rock. Time cannot change its impassive face, nor dim the legend of the wild young lovers who found Heaven and Hell in the shadows of the rock. For when the sun is low and the cold wind blows across the desert, there are those of Indian blood who still speak of Pearl Chavez, the half-breed girl from down along the border and of the laughing outlaw with whom she kept a final rendezvous, never to be seen again… And this is what the legend says:
A flower, known nowhere else, grows from out of the desperate crags where Pearl vanished. Pearl, who was herself a wild flower, sprung from the hard clay – quick to blossom and early to die.
Jennifer Jones is the star of this show playing the part of Pearl Chavez, a half American Indian who people believe is simply a bad, bad girl who will never make anything of herself. Her father is Scott Chavez, a man who acts in hate and revenge when he kills his wife and her lover and is then hung for the crime.
Pearl is put into the home a greedy rancher, wheel chair bound McCanles and his wife Laura Belle. McCanles’ son Jesse befriends Pearl and finds himself strongly attracted to her. He is also keen on Helen Langford, the daughter of wealthy railroad tycoon Otto Kruger.
In the mean time, Pearl catches the eye of Jesse’s wicked brother Lewt (played by Gregory Peck). Lewt seduces the girl but refuses to marry her. Pearl settles for an offer of marriage from Sam Pierce even though she does not love him. The marriage never happens after Lewt hears about the engagement and murders Pierce in a one side saloon showdown.
Lewt goes on the run and becomes a misguided outlaw.
While Lewt is away his father organises his ranch hands and other cattlemen in the district into his own private army to stand against the railroad. Jesse decides to help his father but then switches sides at the last moment when his father threatens to kill unarmed men. His father disowns him and he is forced to leave the ranch.
A stand off between the ranch hands and the army follows when the army arrive to defend the railroad. A huge and gloriously sweeping scene with dozens of horsemen is wonderful shot but takes the story completely into the incredulous. Most Old West Stories have moments that the viewer might struggle to believe (the unbelievably fast sheriff that tackles ten men and wins for example) but this scene with the army is more like a musical than a western.
the movie is worth watching and if you like a romantic touch, then the ending is just for you. With a Romeo and Juliet touch Pearl goes to meet Lewt but plans to kill him to keep Jesse from being harmed. She arrives and takes aim with her rifle and shoots to kill. Lewt is mortally wounded but fights back and shoots Pearl. She drags herself dramatically to him and they share one last embrace before he dies. Mortally wounded herself she lay against his dead body and waits for her own death. The camera pans back to show them in their death pose, cuddled together forever.