Release List Reviews Price Search Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise
DVD Talk
Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
HD Talk
Horror DVDs
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info



Savant Review:

Standard Edition

Duel in the Sun, Standard Edition
DVD company
1946 / Color / 1:37 / Single Layered, single-sided, Dolby Digital English 5.1 mono
Starring Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotton, Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish
Original Music Dimitri Tiompkin
Writing credits David O. Selznick, Oliver H. P. Garrett from the novel by Niven Busch
Produced by David O. Selznick
Directed by King Vidor

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Duel in the Sun is mogul David O. Selznick's attempt to duplicate the success of his Gone With the Wind in the Western genre, a grandiose entertainment intended to do for his wife Jennifer Jones, what Scarlett O'Hara did for Vivien Leigh. What he ended up making was one of the weirdest epics of all time, an undeniably entertaining and grossly overproduced film that combines powerful filmmaking and witless clich�s in equal measure. Released with a saturation booking scheme that turned it into one of the most profitable Westerns ever released, Duel was called Lust In The Dust by the public, in reaction to heroine Pearl Chavez' oversexed histrionics. There's nothing unsubtle about it: scenes alternate between jaw-dropping crudity and compelling emotion without a chance to catch a breath. Modern audiences laugh uncontrollably at excessive scenes, only to applaud some breathtaking moment a few minutes later.


Orphaned half-breed Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones) comes to the Ponderosa-like cattle ranch Spanish Bit run by despotic Lionel Barrymore, and finds kindness in the heart of ex-Dixie Belle Lillian Gish. But her romantic presence splits the empire apart. Bookish son Jesse (Joseph Cotton) is disillusioned when his malevolent brother Lewton (played against type by Gregory Peck) openly seduces Pearl. Both sons are forced to leave the ranch, Pearl agonizes in sexual self-loathing ("Trash! Trash! Trash!) and the picture self-destructs in an orgy of blazing Technicolor sunsets, bombastic music, and vengeful shootouts. Oh yes, and Orson Welles provides narrative bookends!

Duel in the Sun's plot and structure is proof that Selznick learned all the wrong lessons from GWTW. The simple story is overproduced in ways that add little to the overall impact. Several directors quit over producer interference and Selznick kept scores of writers constantly changing scenes. The continuity of the film is such a jumble of rewrites and reshoots that some scenes seem invented just to hold the plotline together. An insignificant cowboy character named Sid ends up delivering most of the setup and motivations for the story's entire last act. Pearl has three almost identical scenes where she's molested by the rape-crazy Lewton; in one of them her graduation from protesting waif to brazen harlot is an on-camera transformation comparable to Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or The Wolf Man!. The whole picture has that kind of producer-induced overkill. When white-gowned Pearl runs, Scarlett-like, down a hill from the ranch house, you can see Selznick's desperation to make lightning strike twice.

Selznick's racial attitudes haven't improved, unfortunately. Butterfly McQueen is back as the twitterpated housemaid, if anything, a more exaggerated character than before. Worse, Selznick's spokesman for lost values and decency in the film, Herbert Marshall, states at his trial that his real crime was not murder, but taking a Mexican wife and thereby trashing his family name.

Even when the characters don't make much sense, the acting in Duel in the Sun is excellent. Jennifer Jones was never better as Pearl, whether writhing in sexual frustration, or smashing herself into jagged rocks in the bloody finale. Gregory Peck's villainy is great fun to watch. His role goes completely against his usual underplayed decency. In the similar The Big Country a decade later, he seems anemic by comparison. Joseph Cotton hasn't much to do, considering this film launched his romantic pairing with Jones. Of the rest of the cast, Lillian Gish is a standout, breathing life into a part that might be an extension of her character in Birth of a Nation. Her scenes as Lulubelle, are dramatically valid, and very moving. They make a good case for 'primitive' acting as actually being just as sophisticated as modern styles.

Anchor Bay's DVD of Duel in the Sun like most of their output, is a solid product at a level of quality just under the best work from major studios. The Technicolor hues of Lee Garmes' images are accurate, and William Cameron Menzies' distinctive production design looks great in the film's original 1:33 aspect ratio. The only drawback is a slightly greater awareness of compression artifacts; especially at the beginning. Some fades look a little blocky, details like smoke in the air sometimes don't move smoothly, and there seem to be dozens of little micro-cuts in a few closeups that betray some erratic updating of pixels. Yet many scenes are just as vivid as Gone With the Wind, like the perfect smoke rings blown by Joseph Cotton (ch 6, 25 00).

The disc is a vast improvement over the miserable Fox VHS version (there has never been a laserdisc). Unless you count the nice little reproduction insert of a reissue poster, there are no extras, yet just having this unique title available at all earns my gratitude. That Anchor Bay is taking time out from rare Horror classics is our gain.

Duel in the Sun is something of an acquired taste, but is one of those titles worth giving a shot if you're not afraid of grandiose extremes. Once accustomed to the exaggerated style, it becomes a hugely enjoyable movie.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Duel in the Sun (Standard Edition) rates:
Movie: Good-
Video: Good
Supplements: Poor
Packaging: Keep Case
Reviewed: March 5, 1999

The Special Roadshow Edition of Duel in the Sun is also reviewed here at Savant.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

Advertise With Us

Review Staff | About DVD Talk | Newsletter Subscribe | Join DVD Talk Forum
Copyright © All rights reserved | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Release List Reviews Price Search Shop SUBSCRIBE Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise