DUEL IN THE SUN, 1946
Cast: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore
Beautiful half-breed Pearl Chavez becomes the ward of her dead father's first love and finds herself torn between her sons, one good and the other bad.
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Not the greatest of westerns but certainly entertaining, Duel in the Sun has a convoluted storyline that moves in one direction then jumps to another. Jennifer Jones plays Pearl an orphan woman who is taken under the care of his fatherís cousin. While there she meets his two sons, one good, and the other bad. Both sons are smitten with Pearl, but itís Lewt (Peck) who continues to make forceful advances on her despite her claim to want to remain a ďgood girl.Ē
Duel in the Sun plays out like an episode of Dynasty but with the old west as the backdrop. The characters are typical good versus evil archetypes. Peck is a villain willing and ready to gun down any man, including his brother, if he feels it necessary to claim Pearl as his own. But she also falls for the better of the two brothers Jesse played by Joseph Cotton, pitting the two siblings at odds and dividing the family.
Despite her dislike for Lewt, she can help but feel a visceral attraction to the outlaw. His attention to her is the part of Lewt she finds flattering and alluring. Thereís a suggestive scene between the two in which Lewt forces himself on Pearl, and it was a controversial scene at the time because of the obvious sexual reference it implies.
Director Vidor wanted to make this picture his next Gone with the Wind but more. He expected this film to be better and more profitable than his iconic picture, however, the movie received poor reviews and did not bring in the amount his first film did. According to reports there were many problems with the production of the film, including constant rewrites.
During, and often after filming, the director would change or add scenes to the script. These changes made it difficult for the actors and sometimes slowed production. There was also a variety of directors that came on board to direct the film, each one providing their own and contrasting perspective on the film. This may have led to a conflict in the final outcome of the picture as some of the opposing ideas may not have meshed well in the final product.
Censorship was high during the early days of filmmaking as evident in one of the scenes which was edited out. Thereís a dance scene in which Jones does a sexy number for Peck at the bar. The dance was deemed too controversial and was removed from the picture; however, nowadays you can see that sequence on tape or DVD.
Itís interesting to see Gregory Peck play against type. His performance reminds me of Henry Fondaís performance in Once Upon a time in the West where he played the main villain. Although Duel in the Sun came before Fondaís villainous role, and honestly, Fondaís performance was better. But Duel in the Sun certainly has its moments and the exceptional performance from Jennifer Jones, who is always a delight to watch on screen, adds some class and sexual appeal to not only her character but to the film as well. Itís not a great western; there are plenty of better ones that came out around the same time. However, itís still engaging and entertaining to watch. For those who are fans of the genre, itís certainly worth checking out.