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Duel in the Sun is a Technicolor 1946 Western film directed by King Vidor, produced and written by David O. Selznick, which tells the story of a Mestiza (half-Native American) girl who goes to live with her Anglo relatives, becoming involved in prejudice and forbidden love. The movie stars Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore.


Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones) is orphaned after her father Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall) kills her mother (Tilly Losch), having caught his wife with a lover (Sidney Blackmer). Before his execution, Chavez arranges for Pearl to live with his second cousin and old sweetheart, Laura Belle (Lillian Gish).

Arriving by stagecoach, Pearl is met by Jesse McCanles (Joseph Cotten), one of Laura Belle's two grown sons. He takes her to Spanish Bit, their enormous cattle ranch. The gentle and gracious Laura Belle is happy to welcome her to their home, but not so her husband, the wheelchair-bound Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), who calls her "a half-breed" and despises her father.

The second son, Lewt (Gregory Peck), is a ladies man with a personality quite unlike that of his gentlemanly brother Jesse. He expresses his interest in Pearl in direct terms and she takes a strong dislike to him. Laura Belle calls in the "Sinkiller" (Walter Huston), a gun-toting preacher, to counsel Pearl on how to avoid the evils of temptation. Pearl is determined to remain "a good girl."

When she is overpowered by Lewt in her bedroom one night, Pearl is angry with him and ashamed of her own behavior. But she also cannot help but be flattered by his lust and attentions. Jesse, meanwhile, is ostracized by his father and no longer welcome at the ranch after siding with railroad men against the Senator's personal interests. Jesse is in love with Pearl but he leaves to pursue a political career. He eventually becomes engaged to Helen Langford (Joan Tetzel), the daughter of a railroad man.

Offended when Lewt reneges on a promise to marry her, Pearl takes up with Sam Pierce (Charles Bickford), a neighboring rancher who is smitten with her. She does not love him but says yes to his proposal. Before they can be married, however, Lewt picks a fight with Pierce in a saloon and guns him down. He insists that Pearl can belong only to him. However, Lewt becomes a wanted man.

On the run from the law, Lewt finds time to derail a train and occasionally drop by the ranch late at night and foist his attentions on Pearl. She cannot resist her desire for him and lies for Lewt to the law, hiding him in her room.

Laura Belle's health takes a turn for the worse and the Senator admits his love for her before she dies. Jesse returns to visit but is too late; his mother is dead. The Senator continues to shun him, as does Lewt, their family feud finally resulting in a showdown. Lewt tosses a gun to his unarmed brother but before it can be picked up, he shoots Jesse.

The Senator's old friend, Lem Smoot (Harry Carey) tells him that Jesse is going to make it and the old man softens up towards his son. A livid Pearl is relieved that Jesse is going to survive. When Helen arrives, she invites Pearl to leave Spanish Bit forever and come live with them in Austinmarker. Pearl agrees, but she is tipped off by one of the Spanish Bit hands, Sid (Scott McKay) that Lewt intends to come after Jesse again. She arms herself and engages in a shootout with Lewt in the desert, where they die in each other's arms.



The film was adapted by Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht (uncredited) and David O. Selznick from the novel by Niven Busch. It was directed by King Vidor, Otto Brower (uncredited), William Dieterle (uncredited), Sidney Franklin (uncredited), William Cameron Menzies (uncredited), David O. Selznick (uncredited) and Josef von Sternberg (uncredited).

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jennifer Jones) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Lillian Gish).

The film received the nickname "Lust in the Dust", which eventually became the name of another movie. A scene in which Jones does a seductive dance for Gregory Peck was cut from the film before it was released. The film as shot could not make it past the Hays Code censors or religious review boards and so was heavily edited. This reportedly included the changing of rape scenes to love scenes and downplaying the original story's more overt sexuality.

Selznick had high hopes that Duel in the Sun would surpass his success with Gone with the Wind. The film received poor reviews, however, and was highly controversial due to its sexual content and to Selznick's real-life relationship with Jones, which broke up both of their marriages. Despite the bad press, it was a box-office success for Selznick, although not a second Gone with the Wind. It earned $11,300,000 in rentals during its initial release and much more overseas and in the 1954 re-release. Because of the film's huge production costs (rumoured to be over $6,000,000), its $2,000,000 advertising campaign (unheard of at the time) and Selznick's costly distribution tactics, the film apparently only broke even.


The film was one of the first to be honored by a record album, featuring selections from Dimitri Tiomkin's musical score. Rather than use excerpts from the soundtrack, RCA Victor recorded some of the music with the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler. The music was split into approximately three-minute sections and released on 10-inch 78-rpm discs in 1946.

A long musical prelude as well as an overture preceded the film.

Duel in the Sun was first shown on television during a special ABC Sunday evening showing. It was released on DVD in 2004.

Martin Scorsese has stated that this was the first film he ever saw and holds it in high regard. He mentioned it in his documentary of American movies.

David Stratton has also stated that he holds it in high regard. He first saw the film at the age of six.

The film appears on a They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list of the 1,000 greatest films of all time. [27334]

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