Motion Picture Herald – January 2nd 1947 – Library of Congress
Packard Campus – Audio Visual Conservation
Duel in the Sun – 1947
Selznick — Western with Sex Appeal
David O. Selznick’s “Duel in the Sun” comes at long last to market an attraction quite as remarkable in most respects as trade and public have been conditioned by the producer’s past works and present publicity to expect it to be. It is a great deal more so in one important respect which has received scant reference heretofore, but figures to incur plenty hereafter.
It is, as anticipated, a very big picture, star- studded as an exploitation man’s dream and scenically beautiful as a sunset over the Grand Canyon ; and it is also, not so anticipatedly, very, very hot stuff. For any of these reasons and most reliably the latter, by recent precedent the production is sure to set in motion a wave of written and spoken comment of the kind and dimension that has always rolled up lush grosses and doubtless always will. Producer Selznick is not the first to undertake a mating of Western melodrama with the ‘sex theme — Howard Hughes pioneered that trail with “The Outlaw”— but he is the first to do it on the $6,000,000 cost level in Technicolor, with such box office personalities as Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Gotten, Lionel Barrymore, Walter Huston, Herbert Marshall, Harry Carey and Lillian Gish distinguishing a cast that contains other exploitable names among its hundreds.
Whether his crossing of strains so long dealt with separately by producers, on grounds of incompatibility, is to prove as much more assimilable as it is more expensive, is a question to be answered by the ticket buyers who unquestionably will be legion in either case.
The screenplay by the producer, from a novel by Niven Busch, adapted by Oliver H, P. Garrett, is a sizzler in the full meaning of the term. It opens floridly with Tilly Losch as an Indian entertainer doing a torrid dance in a Texas presidio (1880) and proceeding thence with an amorous gambler to a private chamber, where he and she are shot to death by her white husband, another gambler, who decides this is not a proper motherly example to set before their adolescent daughter. But this is just a preliminary and relatively orthodox warmup for the emotional excesses in which the daughter is to engage after she arrives at the million-acre ranch whose sedate and unhappy mistress is an old friend and former flame of her father, who counsels his child on the merits of virtue as they take him out to hang him for the double killing.
The ranch is owned by Senator McCanles, played by Barrymore, an embittered and ruthless cattle baron and senator, resolutely opposed to progress as represented by an oncoming railroad. He has two sons, an upright young Iawyer whom he despises, played by Cotten, and a downright blackguard, whom he worships, played by Peck. Cotten is the first to meet the half-breed girl, portrayed by Miss Jones with consummate abandon, and he falls in love with her, but refrains from telling her so immediately on the theory that she rates a space of time in which to adjust himself to the social change. Unimpeded by such considerations, Lewt McCanles, played by Peck, goes out forthwith in lustful quest of her physical favors and takes them by storm in the most forthright display of virility illicitly triumphant an American camera has looked upon in years. The upright Cotten intrudes a little later, too late to prevent, but in time to know what’s gone on, and the girl exhibits momentary remorse when he tells her he would have asked her to marry him if this hadn’t happened. But she switches back to the predatory Lewt immediately thereafter and shares several more rapturously savage passages with him before she gets around to the decision — after he’s shot down his unarmed brother and killed a man who wants to marry her — that she’s got to kill the guy. This decision, arrived at for a variety of reasons possibly including his practice of kicking her in the face after amours, leads to the duel in the sun, from which the picture takes its title. In this final sequence, where the savage lovers exchange bullets across a terrain of boulders as they drag themselves toward each other for a final bloody caress in which both die, the picture attains its peak of dramatic impact.
There are other story threads of moment, principal among them that concerning the cattle baron’s fight with the railroad in which thousands of players, representing armed ranchers, railroad construction crews, and the U. S. Cavalry, which arrives in time to intervene between them, figure in a vastly proportioned sequence which closes peacefully with the lens focussed upon the Stars and Stripes. But this story thread in common with a tardily introduced domestic rift in the far past of the cattle baron and his wife is sharply subordinated to the relationship between the half-breed girl and the outlaw son, depicted on all occasions as strictly carnal and underscored to the remarkable extent of incorporating a sequence of stableyard violence involving a stallion and a mare which hasn’t been paralleled since “Ecstasy.”
King Vidor directed the picture with deliberation, daring and with manifest consideration of the cinematographic niceties, as when remembering to make the nude-bathing scene and the interludes of lust pictorially beautiful as well as emotionally exotic. The picture is strictly for adults on all counts.
Previewed at the studio. Reviewer’s Rating : Sensational. — William R. Weaver.
Released at Roadshow. Running time, 135 min. PCA
No. 11649. Adult audience classification.
- Pearl Chavez Jennifer Jones
- Jesse McCanles Joseph Gotten
- Lewt McCanles Gregory Peck
- Senator McCanles .. Lionel Barrymore
- Mrs. Laura Belle McCanles Lillian Gish
- The Sinkiller Walter Huston
- Scott Chavez Herbert Marshall
- Sam Pierce Charles Bickford
Cast: Joan Tetzel, Harry Carey, Otto Kruger, Sidney Blackmer, Tilly Losch, Scott McKay, Butterfly McQueen. Francis McDonald, Victor Kilian, Griff Barnett, Frank Cordell, Dan White, Steve Dunhill, Lane Chandler, Lloyd Shaw, Thomas Dillon, Robert McKenzie, Charles Dingle