Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Duel in the Sun (1946) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The roadshow version of David O. Selznick's DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) will be released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, August 15th.

Kino Lorber's release includes the film's original overture, prologue, and exit music, scored by Dimitri Tiomkin.

DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) was producer David O. Selznick's attempt to top GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), as well as to provide an important role for his eventual wife, Jennifer Jones. Selznick wrote the screenplay himself, based on a novel by Niven Busch; while Jones wasn't able to follow up her Best Actress Oscar for THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943) with another win, she did receive her fourth Academy Award nomination for the film, on her way to a total of one win among five nominations.

Jones plays Pearl Chavez, daughter of Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall) and his dancer wife (Tilly Losch). In an unforgettably staged sequence, Scott shoots his unfaithful wife. Just before he hangs, Scott tells Pearl to go to Texas and live with his first love and distant cousin, Laura Belle McCanles (Oscar-nominated Lillian Gish). Marshall's role is both overwritten and overplayed, but he sets the tone for all that will follow in the same vein.

The somewhat untamed, uneducated Pearl aspires to be a lady worthy of Laura Belle and Laura Belle's kind lawyer son, Jesse (Joseph Cotten), but she keeps finding herself entangled with Laura Belle's younger son, the aggressive bad boy Lewt (Gregory Peck). Lewt eventually breaks a promise to marry Pearl, and what's worse, he shoots not one but two men she truly cares for, leading to one of the movies' all-time epic showdowns and endings.

DUEL IN THE SUN is one wild movie! I've read a lot about it over the years, but this was my first time to see it, and it certainly made a distinct impression. The film's vivid colors and over-the-top characters seem to strongly foreshadow JOHNNY GUITAR (1954), and it's best appreciated in that light. This is not your ordinary movie, with its 144 minutes filled with florid performances and dialogue filmed in eye-popping Technicolor. While I'm not certain it was always good, it was both memorable and entertaining, filled with an array of superb actors.

While at first thought Cotten might seem more likely to play the bad boy, given his portrayal of the villain of SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), he's excellent as an honorable man with conflicted feelings for both Pearl and his cantankerous father (Lionel Barrymore). Peck, meanwhile, plays a very, very bad man, and that's just the sins we know about. Lewt clearly has a very long back story filled with behavior indulged by his father, to his ultimate detriment.

Jones is likewise quite good as Pearl, who consistently hates Lewt yet can't also seem to stay away from him. Pearl is a rather unusual character, particularly for the mid-'40s, and Jones makes the most of it. Her earthy performance here is light years from favorite Jones performances, such as the sweet, ethereal title character in PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948). It's said that a steamy Jones dance sequence had to be removed; it would certainly be interesting to see it.

Among the large supporting cast I especially liked Harey Carey (Sr.) and Charles Bickford, who are each kind, calming presences among a whole lotta crazy. Also in the cast are Joan Tetzel, Otto Kruger, Walter Huston, and Sidney Blackmer. Butterfly McQueen appears for what was apparently meant to be comic relief, essentially reprising Prissy of GONE WITH THE WIND, but I suspect most viewers will agree that once was enough.

DUEL IN THE SUN was directed by King Vidor and numerous uncredited contributors. According to IMDb, Selznick's script also had an uncredited contributor, Ben Hecht.

The Technicolor cinematography was shared by Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, and Hal Rosson. The movie was filmed at numerous Arizona locations as well as in Southern California "movie ranch" territory. There's a location sequence in which the ranchers faces off against a railroad crew which employed scores of riders; it's incredibly impressive.

I reviewed the Kino Lorber Blu-ray, which is truly stunning, a feast for the eyes and ears. It's a marvelous way to enjoy this one-of-a-kind movie.

Extras include a trailer gallery with several DUEL IN THE SUN trailers, along with trailers for Peck's YELLOW SKY (1948) and THE BIG COUNTRY (1958); a commentary track by Gaylyn Studlar, which I'll be listening to this coming week; and an interesting new 10-minute interview with Peck's children Anthony, Cecilia, and Carey. Cecilia Peck shared that Jennifer Jones was one of her father's favorite leading ladies and that they remained lifelong friends. Joseph Cotten, who worked with Jones on four films, has also said she was his favorite leading lady.

A postscript: Later this month I'll be reviewing an entirely different kind of Kino Western release, SON OF PALEFACE (1949), with Bob Hope, Jane Russell, and Roy Rogers. SON OF PALEFACE will be released on August 29th.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Big movie, big cast of big names! Gosh, I'm quite surprised this was your first viewing, Laura. Glad you obviously liked it, over-the-top though it is LOL!
This is the kind of film that would really benefit from Blu-Ray - wonderful eye-popping Technicolor, fine locations and BIG performances.....

2:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, I enjoyed it! It definitely benefits from the Blu-ray. A fun watch all the way.

Best wishes,

12:27 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I didn't care for this film, but thought the prologue with Herbert Marshall compelling. What I did do was go on a Selznick jag, and found all of the films he supervised at RKO and other places were of great story telling taste and craft. In the forties I was still on board up until Since You Went Away -- which I thought a great example of Selznick at his best, and more than a few self consciously jarring moments. And from that point on, I was lost to him, and vice versa. Portrait of Jennie coming next on Blu ray was I thought an interesting exploration of the artistic process, and from that point of view made sense. But, I disliked the obvious hysteria and sadly, though hoped it would be otherwise, Jennifer Jones, but her name alone is enough to, for me, to go the other way. As for Selznick, too much speed I suppose was culprit.

7:54 AM  

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