Duel in the Sun

Friday, September 12, 2008

Duel in the Sun is David O.Selznick's attempt to top Gone With the Wind. Like that film it sticks to the formula of breathtaking visuals, lavish production values and bright, shining stars. But like Gone With the Wind it also contains a heroine so annoying, so exaggerated, so overwhelmingly vile and shallow that the film doesn't move the viewer one iota. In fact, the whole film is so ridiculous that it's best viewed as a quaint piece of kitsch. It's certainly impossible to take it seriously.

What kills the film right from the outset is Jennifer Jones. Her acting is atrocious. Everything she does is exaggerated. She turns her back on people she doesn't agree with, she arches her eyebrows like Roger Moore and she seems like she's perpetually on the verge of going catatonic. Plus she doesn't look the least bit Mexican. She's supposed to be a 'half-breed' but it merely looks like someone has covered her in Ronseal, or that she's modelling George Hamilton's latest range of fake tans. And what makes it even more ridiculous is how bright her teeth are. They're almost luminous. She's a brown Scartlett O'Hara with pearly whites that glow in the dark.

Speaking of Scartlett O'Hara, I have to say that while I'm no fan of her character, finding her one of the most reprehensible heroines in cinema, Pearl is just as bad. As she says, she's trash (trash, trash, trash, trash). Just look at the way she treats the nicer of the two brothers that are fighting over her. She flirts with him, she gives him eyes and she goes for strolls, but all the while she's engaged in a torrid affair with Lewt – a swaggering cowboy who thinks rape is an effective flirting technique. But Lewt is proved right. Pearl falls for him. It just shows there's nothing sexier, nothing more appealing and nothing more romantic than forcing yourself on a woman.

Not that I feel particularly sorry for Jesse, the nicer brother. He may lose Pearl, but the wife he picks up later is infinitely more attractive. Good going. Still, he can't help but get into a fight with his brother over the infuriating Pearl. Not that it ends up as much of a fight. Always one to prove himself with phallic symbols, Lewt proves he's the straight shooter in the family by shooting his brother in the gut.

Lewt also proves himself with stallions – not only can he handle a big gun but he can handle a large horse. These scenes are so subtle that he might as well just drop his trousers and show how well endowed he is. And then there's Pearl's request to ride his horse and later to 'ride him some more'. What on Earth could they mean?

However, Lewt isn't the only one that feels that he has to prove his manhood. The disabled Senator, father of the two brothers, to prove that he still has it, demands to ride his horse into battle against the rail gangs. It's a rather pathetic show of masculinity from a man who is fantastically horrid. All through the film he mumbles racist insults and all through the film he praises his randy son Lewt while shunning the thoughtful Jessie. He's also particularly horrid to his wife. Basically he's a conservative capitalist that is friendlier towards murderers than he is to liberals. Yet when his wife dies he sees the error of his ways and we're supposed to be moved by the change in him. Well, it's too little too late as far as I'm concerned.

But back to the sexual imagery in the film: the opening scenes are quite amusing. At the beginning you see Pearl's mother, a shameless floozy, dancing for a bar full of cowboys. To show their delight, and to perhaps express their inner feelings, they shoot their guns into the air in a collective orgasm. The message is quite clear. In this world men only want women for the pleasure they give them, for their sexuality. They're objects.

Yet Pearl's father perhaps shows that there might be some hope, that there are some decent men out there, men whose minds are more expansive and less Neolithic. But while Pearl's father is more gentlemanly – there's nothing more gentlemanly than killing your ex and her lover and then asking for the death penalty – he does have a rather worrying relationship with his daughter. The two seem like lovers. Although having said this, the excessive affection seems to come from the daughter's side. She clings onto her daddy for dear life, smothering him in kisses and later guarding his photo and memory with her life. Perhaps she's looking for that one man that can measure up to her dear old pa.

Therefore, seeing that her dad seemed like a decent sort of guy, it's infuriating that the dumb girl falls for such a sleazy piece of work like Lewt. She could have had Jesse, a man that would have treated her well and would have been loaded. But no, the woman chooses the scumbag. Yet instead of learning her lesson and moving on, she gets herself killed.

The final scene is rather amusing in an over the top way. Pearl and Lewt decide to shoot each other to death. It's a final sex act. They're penetrating each other with bullets. But rather than end their torrid love affair with hate and malice they end up kissing and dying almost simultaneously. If it's supposed to be a tragic ending, one filled with depth and meaning, then the filmmakers were seriously mistaken. It's just an over the top conclusion to an overripe story about a couple of people who should have just found a quiet corner, had lots of sex and got their lust out of their system. The horn isn't worth dying for.

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  1. thanks for this beautifully sarcastic comment. You're completely right!!!