Martin Scorsese reckons Duel in the Sun was the first film he ever saw and one of the reasons he became a director. It was made in the mid 1940s when David O Selznick was still basking in the glow of Gone with the Wind, in terms of bums on seats the biggest film ever made.
The legendary producer was also feeling pretty pleased with himself at having tempted Alfred Hitchcock to Hollywood, Rebecca and Spellbound being the result of that bit of handiwork.
Selznick was riding high. The stocky fortysomething was also riding a new starlet, 25-year-old Jennifer Jones. In a case of extreme hubris – those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make movie producers – Selznick decided that he was going to make a film to top Gone with the Wind, and simultaneously make his hot girlfriend into a huge star.
So he got King Vidor in as director and cast Jones as a mixed-race orphan girl (“built by the Devil to drive men crazy,” as the poster has it) who finds herself caught between decent Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and his sexually forward brother Lewt (Gregory Peck). It’s a tug of war between head and loins, and there’s no prizes for guessing which wins out, albeit in a torrid, sensationally destructive way (see Gone with the Wind for the template).
The critics called Selznick’s film a hymn to the folly of middle-aged desire, gave it the nickname Lust in the Dust and tried to laugh it off the screen. The public liked it though, but not enough to actually make it profitable – it was at the time the most expensive film ever made.
Fittingly, it’s shot in Technicolor, as every film as loud, lavish, exotic and gloriously camp as this should be.
Duel in the Sun – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013