|Jennifer Jones watches as horse gives Gregory Peck a kiss|
DUEL IN THE SUN (1946). Director: King Vidor.
In post-Civil War Texas, the tempestuous "half-breed" Pearl (Jennifer Jones) comes to live with her aunt Laura (Lillian Gish) after the death of her father (Herbert Marshall), who was convicted of murdering her mother. Laura's husband, Senator McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) is an anti-Indian bigot who refuses to accept Pearl, and whose main occupation is keeping the railroad off of his property [leading to a tense confrontation between cowboys and train men halfway through the movie]. McCanles has two sons, the decent Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and the more unsavory Lewt (Gregory Peck). While Pearl falls in love with the kind Jesse, she can't fight her attraction to the sexy "bad boy," Lewt, creating a lot of problems, not to mention a highly perverse climax. Producer David Selznick was hoping for another Gone With the Wind when he made Duel in the Sun, but the film is almost forgotten. The acting in this entertaining "epic" is generally of the second-rate "Hollywood" variety across the board, but on that level it isn't bad. Jones [Love Letters] gives a good performance, although she looks almost ugly in some shots, and a miscast Peck [Mirage] does his best with a role he's really not suited for; neither Peck nor Jones are that good with transitions of mood, which occur frequently in their exchanges. Barrymore, Butterfly McQueen (who is great despite the patronizing attitude held toward her by both the other characters and the filmmakers), Charles Bickford (as one of Pearl's suitors), Otto Kruger, Charles Dingle as a sheriff, and Scott McKay as nasty Syd all make a favorable impression. Some beautiful cinematography from Lee Garmes and others. King Vidor also directed Beyond the Forest and the silent masterpiece The Crowd. Possibly the first of the "sex-westerns," as lust has a lot more to do with it than cow-punching.
Verdict: This could have been a lot better, but it certainly has its moments. ***.