Duel in the Sun [1946]

Legendary producer David O. Selznick dreamed of another magnum opus like his 1939 production of Gone with the Wind; he also purposed to make Jennifer Jones, his ladylove and eventually second Mrs. Selznick, a megastar. Accordingly, he micromanaged the making of Duel in the Sun (Lust in the Dust to some), an extravagant Technicolor epic about the collision of the old West with the new, wide-open spaces with railroads and barbed wire, and hot-blooded outlaws with civilized folk, often wimpy or unwell. Beginning among giant rocks drenched in a blood-red sunset, with velvet-voiced Orson Welles intoning the leibestod legend of doomed Pearl Chavez and her demon lover, Duel never strays far from lush romanticism, spiced with a dash of S/M. Orphaned Pearl (Jones) comes to live at Spanish Bit Ranch, where frail Laura Belle McCanles (Lillian Gish) tries to make a lady of her, despite her questionable origins and insistent voluptuousness. Sexual license versus law--Pearl's choices--are symbolized by the McCanles brothers: dark, undisciplined Lewt (a lubriciously wicked Gregory Peck) and reasonable, forward-looking, repressed Jesse (Joseph Cotten). The cast is huge (Lionel Barrymore, Walter Huston, Harry Carey, Herbert Marshall, Charles Bickford, Butterfly McQueen) and there are unforgettable set pieces: summoned by a cacophony of bells, the gathering of McCanles cowboys from the four corners of the earth; Pearl in heat, clutching Lewt's leg and being dragged across the floor as he makes his getaway to Mexico; and the lovers' final shootout among those red rocks, as orgiastic a finale as you could ask for. --Kathleen Murphy

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