Friday, July 2, 2010

Duel in the Sun (1946)

By Eric Jessen July 2, 2010

After ten minutes of Dimitri Tiomkin Prelude and Overture the movie starts. The opening credits say King Vidor's Duel in the Sun with Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton, Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore, Herbert Marshall, Lillian Gish, Walter Huston, Charles Bickford, Harry Carey and on and on. With so many names in big bold letters how could it go wrong? The only more amazing list was of the uncredited directors: William Dieterle, Josef von Sternberg. Another was David O. Selznick who also produced and wrote the script.
Then again I asked myself, how could it not go wrong? And so so wrong it did. Duel in the Sun, which was more accurately known at the time as “Lust in the Dust,” is so bad it's impressive.
Jennifer Jones plays the ravishing “half-breed” who puckers her lips and puffs up her chest. She makes them cowboys go wild. Gregory Peck keeps his hair wet and his hands dirty and does his best impression of a hunk. (Southern drawl has never sounded so articulate.) From the moment they make eye contact they look like they want to take a bite out of one another. (I think I saw Jones lick her lips.) All that's missing is a mating cry. Finally they kiss and it brings the house down. Jones resists at first – then again she aspires to be a lady. But eventually Peck's manly charms overcome her to the point she decides to loathe him for it. The passion boils over resulting in the two trying to kill each other. Fantastic! They both shoot each other then ask, “Are you okay, darling?” Outstanding! One of the great endings I can remember – two people dying in their killers/lovers arms. They didn't realize how much they loved each other until they'd killed each other. Did I mention this was a love story?
Joseph Cotton plays Peck's brother, the good guy, who Jones loves until she realizes how boring he is, and presumably sterile. Just before Peck shoots Cotton he delivers this line, “Don't give me your high and mighty noble talk, Big Words.” Brilliant! Lionel Barrymore plays the same part he played in It's a Wonderful Life except on a horse. Lillian Gish plays Mr. Potter's wife and she really is never bad enough for this movie, although she has her one overwrought dying seen. And how could I forget Butterfly MacQueen, who didn't get her name in bold, again playing the mousy maid from Gone with the Wind.
Duel in the Sun is so bad it's great. And hilarious. And irresistibly entertaining. Some would even say it's good. Maybe it is? Don't see no reason why not.

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