Duel in the Sun (1946)

Duel in the Sun
Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten

'Duel in the Sun' is Western movie made in 1946, directed by King Vidor and with a strong cast including Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore. The film received poor critical reviews although its box-office takings were high.

Producer, David O. Selznick had hopes that the film would equal or surpass his previous blockbuster, 'Gone With the Wind' but it received just two Academy Awards nominations (without winning), a Best Actress nomination for Jennifer Jones and Lillian Gish was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

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The story is set in Texas in the 1880's. Jennifer Jones plays Pearl Chavez, a beautiful half Indian girl who goes to live with relatives in Texas after the death of her father. She joins a dysfunctional family headed by the irascible, racist Senator Jackson McCanles, played by Lionel Barrymore and his wife, the ladylike Laura Belle McCanles, played by Lillian Gish. Pearl's presence intensifies tensions already present in the family, particularly between the two sons of the house, Lewt, played by Gregory Peck and Jesse, played by Joseph Cotten.


The movie is an adaptation of a 1944 novel of the same name by Niven Busch, the then husband of Theresa Wright. RKO purchased the film rights from Busch in 1944, planning to have John Wayne and Hedy Lamarr in the lead roles. Later in the same year RKO sold the rights on to David O. Selznick. The script was adapted for the screen by Oliver H.P. Garrett and the screenplay written by Ben Hecht and Selznick himself. It was Selznick who created the lurid ending in which the lovers shoot each other and die in each other's arms.
Busch wrote the role of Pearl originally for his wife, Teresa Wright, as a means of changing her sweet, girl-next-door image. However, pregnancy forced her to drop out. When Selznick took control he miscast his own mistress and future wife, Jennifer Jones in the role of Pearl. The movie never really recovers from this huge, initial mistake.
The credited director of the movie is King Vidor, although several other directors were used by Selznick who cannot have been an easy man to work for. He had a habit of insisting on rewriting scenes which had already been shot and his constant meddling caused Vidor to quit shortly before the end of the shoot. He was replaced by William Dieterle who completed the picture. At different times during the shoot, other directors were used, uncredited, including Josef von Sternberg, and Sidney Franklin. Selznick still gave sole directing credit to Vidor.

Main Cast

Jennifer Jones ... Pearl Chavez
Joseph Cotten ... Jesse McCanles
Gregory Peck ... Lewton "Lewt" McCanles
Lionel Barrymore ... Senator Jackson McCanles
Herbert Marshall ... Scott Chavez
Lillian Gish ... Laura Belle McCanles
Walter Huston ... Jubal Crabbe, The Sinkiller
Charles Bickford ... Sam Pierce
Harry Carey ... Lem Smoot
Charles Dingle ... Sheriff Hardy
Sidney Blackmer ... The "Lover" of Mrs. Chavez
Butterfly McQueen ... Vashti
Otto Kruger ... Mr. Langford
Joan Tetzel ... Helen Langford
Tilly Losch ... Mrs. Chavez
Orson Welles ... narrator (uncredited)


Director ... King Vidor
Producer ... David O. Selznick
Screenplay ... Oliver H.P. Garrett, David O. Selznick, Ben Hecht
Music ... Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography ... Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, Harold Rosson
Distribution Company ... Selznick International Pictures
Release date ... December 31, 1946
Running time ... 145 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actress ... Jennifer Jones
Best Supporting Actress ... Lillian Gish