Duel in the Sun Blu-ray Review

Uneven but entertaining western melodrama from the Golden Age 3.5 Stars

King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun is one of the more notorious epics of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line of releases brings the roadshow edition of this classic with most of its Technicolor splendor intact to high definition with some informative bonus material.

Duel in the Sun (1946)
Released: 12 Sep 1947
Rated: UNRATED
Runtime: 129 min
Director: King Vidor, Otto Brower, William Dieterle, Sidney Franklin, William Cameron Menzies, David O. Selznick, Josef von Sternberg
Genre: Drama, Romance, Western
Cast: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore
Writer(s): David O. Selznick (screenplay), Niven Busch (suggested by a novel by), Oliver H.P. Garrett (adaptation)
Plot: Beautiful half-breed Pearl Chavez becomes the ward of her dead father's first love and finds herself torn between her sons, one good and the other bad.
IMDB rating: 6.9
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Kino
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 24 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/15/2017
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3.5/5

After winning back-to-back Oscars for producing Gone with the Wind and Rebecca, producer David Selznick tasked himself with two objectives: make a film that would surpass Gone with the Wind in scope and popularity and win for the woman with whom he was besotted a second Academy Award. King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun was the production he placed all of his hopes on. It’s big in every way possible, both in the size and splendor of its production and in its award-winning cast, but the movie is often too mammoth for the relatively small story it’s choosing to tell, and its extreme length isn’t supported by the narrative contained within it.

After the tragic deaths of her father (Herbert Marshall) and mother (Tilly Losch), teenaged Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones) is taken in by her cousin Laura Bell McCanles (Lillian Gish), wife of the wealthiest land and livestock baron in Texas Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore). His million acre land empire Spanish Bit is home to thousands of heads of cattle and horses, but the activities of his sons occupy a lot more of his attention. Older son Jesse (Joseph Cotton), trained as a lawyer, is eager to welcome the coming railroad to the area, hoping its arrival will expand the town and bring civilization to the mostly wild western countryside while younger son Lewton (Gregory Peck), a spoiled and headstrong cowpoke, sides with his father in decrying any changes to the region and is willing to do anything to stop its growth. Both young men fall for Pearl, but while Jesse wants to make a lady of the uneducated, eager-to-please young girl, Lewt is more interested in her lusty side, constantly goading her into compromising sexual situations which make his father despise having her around and disappoint Jesse with her giving in to Lewt’s temptations.

Overwrought is probably the kindest word to apply to producer David O. Selznick’s screenplay, suggested by a novel by Niven Busch which was originally adapted by Oliver H. P. Garrett. Emotions among several of the key characters run high throughout the movie making this a melodrama extreme. Selznick’s script never seems to solve the problems with the character of Pearl whose on again/off again feelings for Lewt regularly inspire emotional whiplash in the viewer. Despite her young age and an often stated eagerness to be good, Pearl gives in time and again to her baser instincts even to the last, sometimes a difficult pill to swallow for audiences who expect her at some point to learn from her mistakes and move on to find happiness elsewhere (she does so in the book; not so here). Lewt and the Senator likewise display high-pitched, racially prejudicial emotions throughout though they’re more consistently intoned despite their obnoxiousness. But the two love triangles at the center of the movie (after Jesse moves away, Pearl takes up with straw boss Sam Pierce – Charles Bickford – much to Lewt’s outrage) isn’t really enough to sustain a two-plus hour movie, and the railroad/immigrant subplot that so riles the Senator isn’t given enough time to be fully developed either leaving us with a huge production with quite a few high spots but not a completely satisfying through-line.

The size and spectacle of the movie is never in doubt. This roadshow edition includes an almost ten-minute musical prelude with themes compiled rather haphazardly from Dimitri Tiomkin’s score followed by a bizarre two-minute overture with flowery spoken interludes in verbiage that had to have come from the pen of David Selznick. The number of extras seems limitless: hundreds of ranchers, townsfolk, and cavalry take part in the production, and the herds of cattle and horses are vast and always impressive. Director King Vidor (along with several others who were brought in during the troubled shoot) certainly gives viewers an eyeful with some of the vastest panoramas seen in a film: the call-to-arms that finds hundreds of ranchers and cowhands rushing to defend Spanish Bit is captured in a stunning long shot of cascading hordes storming the prairie from all directions that inspires real awe, and in the memory of some compositions in Gone with the Wind, there are black silhouettes against an orange sky that are breathtaking in Technicolor. Smaller moments are also beautifully directed: Lewt’s thrilling bronco busting sequence, a wild race across the plains with Pearl on a runaway pinto and Lewt trailing after her, and a pan through a huge barbecue celebration where we get to hear bits and snatches of gossip and small talk that clues us in on the latest developments in the McCanles family disputes. But there’s no excusing the ludicrously staged, hard-breathing climax that pits the feverish lovers against one another while still proclaiming their heated passions.

Jennifer Jones earned top billing and an Oscar nomination for her against-type portrayal of the fiery Pearl Chavez, but while the actress was only twenty-six at the time of filming, her free flowing hairstyles and voluptuous wardrobe delineate a woman much older than Pearl’s seventeen years (only at the barbecue with her hair tamed and her figure in a modest white gown does the actress appear younger than her years). She does what she can with an unevenly written part and does earn a bit of sympathy for her inability to resist temptations even after being stung by them time and again. Gregory Peck was likewise cast against type as the hedonistic, untamed Lewt having previously played priests and earnest, good men (and likely would have earned an Oscar nomination for this film had he not already appeared the same year in the big hit The Yearling which did earn him a nomination). Joseph Cotton plays another of his well-meaning, kindly gentlemen as Jesse, and Lionel Barrymore bellows with the best of them (without much shading) as the ornery Senator. Lillian Gish is fragile and delicately beautiful as the emotionally abused Laura Belle (which brought her an Oscar nomination), and Butterfly McQueen is around to provide stereotypical good humor as the ditzy maid Vashti. In smaller roles, Scott McKay is very good as the sneering ranch foreman Sid, Charles Bickford gets a few moments to impress as Pearl’s intended Sam Pierce, Walter Huston steals all his scenes as the region’s itinerant preacher, and Herbert Marshall gets the show started with classy finesse as Pearl’s quietly jealous father.

Video: 3.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. At its best, images are sharp, detailed, and deeply colorful, and generally the color is under control despite its rich saturation levels. But there are several moments where registration problems plague the image leaving it soft and even occasionally jumpy, and there are sporadic problems with digital contouring in an early shot, some missing frames, and some dust specks here and there. Black levels can be nicely deep, but they can also disappoint in other scenes where they’re closer to gray than black. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 4/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is typical for its era but seems a little flat in comparison to the spectacle which is unfolding before our eyes. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been mixed professionally with the numerous atmospheric effects of the film and composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s celebrated (but oddly not Oscar nominated) score. No age-related problems with hiss, crackle, flutter, or hum are present.

Special Features: 3/5

Audio Commentary: film historian Gaylen Studlar offers a very informative commentary balancing analysis of on-screen activities with background on the stars and featured players and information on the film’s production personnel, censorship problems, and critical and box-office reception.

Peck Family Interviews (9:33, HD): Celia, Cary, and Anthony Peck relate anecdotes about their father’s involvement with the project including his relationships with David Selznick, King Vidor, Jennifer Jones, and Lionel Barrymore.

Theatrical Trailers (SD): three trailers must be viewed separately and run 2:15, 0:54, and 0:32.

Trailer Tags (SD): three trailer tags must be viewed separately and run 0:17, 0:07, and 0:14.

Promo Trailers: The Big Country, Yellow Sky

 Reversible Cover Art

Overall: 3.5/5

King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun is one of the more notorious epics of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line of releases brings the roadshow edition of this classic with most of its Technicolor splendor intact to high definition with some informative bonus material.

Published by

Matt Hough

administrator

9 Comments

  1. Well, I'm kind of disappointed in your review grading. I didn't expect a 5.0 grade, but I'm hopeful that my viewing experience is more rewarding than a 3.5 grade. Thanks for the review as I look forward to comparing my thoughts to yours.

  2. For better or worse, that seems about on par with the other ABC/Disney titles that Kino licensed. Of those released so far, I only have Paradine Case, and while it was completely watchable, it did not look as good as it could have.

  3. Ronald Epstein

    Is this worth a blind purchase?

    This is a very polarizing film. They are those who consider just awful and those that consider it a masterpiece of its kind. There's almost hardly ever middle ground. So I'd suggest borrowing or renting it rather than a blind buy. For what it's worth, I think it's a great film. 🙂

  4. Ronald Epstein

    Is this worth a blind purchase?

    I wouldn't recommend this film to you. Like Thomas stated, it's a very polarizing film. Personally, I like this film a lot, but I first viewed it when I was about 12 years old so I didn't mind some of the plot angles.

  5. It’s an older recombine so the registration is not going to be all that great. But at least the muted pallet here seems more accurate to the film than the rather lurid image Anchor Bay gave us 17 years ago.

  6. Thomas T

    This is a very polarizing film. There are those who consider it just awful and those that consider it a masterpiece of its kind. There's almost hardly ever middle ground. So I'd suggest borrowing or renting it rather than a blind buy. For what it's worth, I think it's a great film. 🙂

    Perhaps this titles should be renamed as "Duel in the Polar Rising Sun".:D

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