Duel In The Sun


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Current Rating 8.25/10 | 4 Votes

     It's big, bold, over-the-top, literally colorful, and one of those movies Martin Scorsese never shuts up about. It's got a massively cool cast, one where the often priggish Gregory Peck gets to play a lustful outlaw. And, of course, it ignited the wrath of Catholics and Protestants for its juvenile obsession with sex, becoming in the process a huge hit and earning from amused critics the name "Lust In The Dust" (later co-opted by Paul Bartel for his parody of the film). Not only that, but it's become a semi camp/cult classic in the process. But I didn't like it. Damn, it takes a lot to make me happy, right? Wrong. I'm not a Pauline Kael fan, but what she said (correctly) about Eisenstein's Ivan The Terrible applies to this film as well: it's a terrific techinical achievement, but so lacking in human dimensions you may find yourself staring at it in outraged disbelief. Selznick tried to top Gone With The Wind with this film. GWTW isn't a film I'm too fond of, but it does have its moments. Duel In The Sun, meanwhile, has beautiful cinematography, an over-the-top performance from an out of place Jennifer Jones, an unusually fun one from Gregory Peck, and some excellent crowd scenes - but not much more. Duel In The Sun is the story of fiery half-breed Pearl Chavez, a woman whose passion was too big for life, or something like that. The only problem is that Pearl's played by Selznick's soon-to-be wife Jennifer Jones, and there's no one less believable as a fiery free spirit. We're introduced to Pearl when she's dancing a "traditional" Mexican dance, and her lack of enthusiasm is notable. Circumstance leads Pearl to the home of Lillian Gish and "the Senator" (Lionel Barrymore, for once over-the-top), where she states her wish to be a "good girl." (Feminists, start bitching.) Emotionally, she's torn between the home/ranch's two brothers: Joseph Cotton (for once, as an uncomplicated saintly guy) and Gregory Peck (in a part originally meant for John Wayne, who shied away because of the script's dubious quality [!]). The climactic duel is an unbelievable shoot-out between Pearl and Peck, as they declare their love for each other while blowing each other to bits. It's pointless really to say much more. The performances range from excellent (the patient Cotton) to ludicrous (Jones) and cover the whole gamut in-between. The dialogue is uniformly cliched and corny. The color is brilliant, and the crowd scenes thrilling. Stuck in the mix is a stupid, reactionary romance which dismays the viewer interested in seeing a realistic relationship unfold, instead of Jennifer Jones begging Peck to take her with him on his gambling expeditions. It's one of those movies whose wavelength you either connect with or don't, and I don't.

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