Duel In The Sun

While much attention has been paid to the recent restoration and re-release of Gone With The Wind, it's worth noting that producer David O. Selznick's lesser-known, less successful attempt to outdo himself, 1946's Duel In The Sun, has resurfaced on video. Though nominally directed by King Vidor (Ruby Gentry, The Champ), Duel, like GWTW, ended up a collaborative effort. The results are less than perfect, but it's still a fascinating film. If you thought GWTW had melodrama and confused notions of sex and race, Duel In The Sun manages to one-up it. Set in the Old West—but as much a Western as GWTW is a war movie—the film stars Jennifer Jones as a beautiful half-breed who, following the execution of her father, is sent to live with distant, wealthy relatives. Once there, she meets hostility from patriarch Lionel Barrymore and finds her affections divided between the family's good son (Joseph Cotten) and his abusive brother (an uncharacteristically villainous Gregory Peck). When, following a harrowing "seduction" scene, Jones' affections shift toward Peck, the already tense situation spirals out of control. Beautifully filmed, overheated, uneven, and in many ways troubling, Duel In The Sun may be little talked about outside of discussions of Martin Scorsese (it's the first film he ever saw), but it's well worth seeing. Boasting a "cast of 2,500," it's a grand spectacle, and as an example of how much psychological complexity could be squeezed into the seemingly simple formulas of the studio system, few surpass it. It may not have the decades of curious affection behind it that Gone With The Wind does—perhaps because its dark streak is much closer to the surface—but it's every bit as compelling.

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