Producer David O. Selznick never thought small. Dreaming of a magnum opus on the same grand scale as his Gone with the Wind (1939) and, perhaps a little bit self-conscious of the fact that his recent affair with Jennifer Jones had yielded only one stellar performance from the starlet - and not even in a film he had produced - Selznick's driving ambition to make Jones a star on par with the likes of Vivien Leigh, led him to handcraft Duel in the Sun (1946): an extravagant Technicolor western epic about doomed mulatto, Pearl Chavez (Jones) and her rabid lust for Lewton McCanles (Gregory Peck, uncharacteristically but effectively playing the part of the villain).
Lewt’ is the ruthless son and roguish playboy of Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) a retired senator and bigoted rancher. After Pearl’s father, Scott (Herbert Marshall) murders her gypsy mother, Pearl is sent to live with Jackson and his wife, Laura Bell (Lillian Gish) on their sprawling estate - Spanish Bit.
In promise to her late father, Pearl is determined to live purely and plainly. Though Pearl’s temperament first leads her to embrace the senator’s kind-hearted younger son, Jesse (Joseph Cotten), their unrequited relationship is tragically put to an end when Jesse is forced off of Spanish Bit for supporting the governmental vision of one United States. Jesse returns several years later to learn that his brother Lewt’ has become a ruthless rapist and outlaw.
Buttressed by its fiery backdrop of colliding ‘old West’ sensibilities and Northern ambitions to tame it, Duel In The Sun is one of the most ambitiously mounted spectacles of the 40s and one of the most intensely overblown melodramas of the decade.
Save Selznick’s reputation as a master showman, and some of the most sumptuous visuals ever conceived, the film is quite an undesirable claptrap of clichés. It did little to advance Jones’ career. Prior to its release, a sensual dance Pearl performs around a tree stump for Lewton was deleted because the censorship board found its sexual implications…well, shocking, earning the film the rather unflattering moniker of ‘Lust In The Dust.’
Previously made available from Anchor Bay in its’ longer road show edition, MGM DVD’s reissue is the truncated theatrical version which was also made previously available through Anchor Bay. All three DVD incarnations exhibit colors that are well balanced. Side by side comparisons reveal slightly more refined colors with a bit less of a dark characteristic inherent on the MGM DVD.
There is a fine patina of digital grit visible on the MGM DVD, whereas the Anchor Bay versions have no age related artifacts. All three transfers exhibit the same minor flaw of Technicolor misregristration for a very brief few moments of running time shortly after Pearl meets Jesse for the first time. The audio has been re-channeled to stereo but is only marginally effective. There are NO extras on any of the three versions.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Anchor Bay 'theatrical cut' 3.5
Anchor Bay 'road show edtion' 4
MGM 'theatrical cut' 3.5