|Sep 21 2013
You know the saying there’s a thin line between love and hate? Duel in the Sun shows just how thin.
Duel in the Sun was a huge movie. We mean important stars, vibrant Technicolor, David O. Selznick in the producer’s chair, King Vidor directing the action, and a gigantic promotional budget. It’s a movie made by people absolutely sure they’re dealing with the hit of the year. Not because the movie is good. But because with so many important people involved it simply had to succeed. And like so many other movies of that stripe, its failures are manifold. We could talk about the overcooked score, the bombastic acting, the improbable script, and more, but there’s no point. Let’s just say a story about two people who love each other so much they end up shooting each other in the final scene is going to be hard to pull off under the best of circumstances. Spoiler alert, by the way. Or were we supposed to write that first?
Well, in any case, the best of circumstances are not those provided by Duel in the Sun’s old West backdrop. Still, though, if a movie is big enough it can bludgeon people into acceptance, and Duel in the Sun today rates well on various review sites. But all of those reviewers are wrong. And the funny thing is they know it, too. They all say things like, “Preposterous but worth the ticket price because it’s beautifully shot.” One critic calls it “fragmented and ultimately destroyed by its obsessive producer,” yet goes on to give it a positive recommendation. You see what we mean? Even professional critics sometimes suffer from cognitivedissonance. A movie that is destroyed by its producer is not good—period—and movie going shouldn’t be a mercy fuck.
On the plus side, Gregory Peck is always fun to watch and Jennifer Jones as the dusky Pearl Chavez cannot fail to stir something inside you, but the whole proposition is just silly. Really. If you want to see a big studio flick implode spectacularly, this may be the one. And if you want to know how studios began to understand that they didn’t need to make good movies to make money, this is a prime example, because in adjusted currency it remains one of the most successful productions of all time. But at least the promo poster is a total winner. It was made for the movie’s Japanese premiere, which was today in 1951.
JapanDuel in the SunDavid O. SelznickKing VidorJennifer JonesGregory Peckposter artcinemamovie review