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Anchor Bay presents
"I'm trash, I tell ya, trash."
DVD ReviewDuel in the Sun was a highly personal creation for megalomaniacal producer David O. Selznick. Not only was it conceived of as a vehicle for his girlfriend (and later wife) Jennifer Jones (Song of Bernadette), but he wrote the script and personally supervised nearly every aspect of its production. One wonders why exactly he needed a director. In fact, he dispensed with King Vidor as director before half of the film had been shot, and made do with a variety of others who remain uncredited, including Josef von Sternberg.
This was Selznick's attempt to recapture the magic of his prior massive hit, Gone with the Wind. He was partially successful in that goal, making an enormous amount of money, though nothing like the 1939 classic had done. The elements of lavish production design, cast of thousands, all-star cast and gorgeous photography help rescue this film from its essentially throwaway and predictable story.
Jones stars as Pearl Chavez, a half-breed girl sent to live on the Texas ranch of Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore). There she meets and falls in love with the dual sons of the Senator, Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and Lewton (Gregory Peck). Predictably, these sons show the aspect of a dual nature; Jesse is intellectual and good, while Lewt is wild, selfish and temperamental. Pearl would do well to stay away from son Lewt, who ends up a murderer with a price on his head.
In the midst of this is a range war which is briefly referenced but not seen, and the coming of the locomotive, which threatens to tame the wild range into a series of homesteads. The Senator (who is called that by everyone, including his sons and his long-suffering wife (Lillian Gish) refuses to accept the railroad onto his lands, until the law-abiding Jesse sides with the railroad and the U.S. Army gets involved. Casting Jesse out of his life, the Senator forces Pearl to choose which brother she will follow. This all of course leads to tragedy, as is foretold in the opening sequence of the film.
Jones does a miserable job impersonating an uneducated half-breed; her bad grammar is exceedingly forced, and she doesn't look the part one whit. Selznick no doubt found it impossible to criticize her performance, and Jones in the long run suffers for it. Cotten is predictably stiff as the Good Son, and Peck is just as predictably entertaining as the Bad Son. Probably the best performers are silent star Lillian Gish and gravelly Walter Huston as the itinerant preacher, The Sin-Killer. He has a lot of fun with his role as a lusty man of God, mouthing platitudes while undressing Pearl with his eyes. Butterfly McQueen returns from GWTW playing the insufferable Prissy again, although this time she's called Vashti.
This was at one time the most expensive movie ever made; it's difficult to understand where the money went. There are a few scenes with a thousand or so extras, but their time onscreen is brief. There are no large-scale set pieces such as we saw in GWTW, and the 1800's Western settings could have been shot on any number of backlots. Selznick, in his effort to recapture the past, steals entire shots, such as the silhouette of a horse-drawn carriage against a red sky, and the famous massive crane shot over the city of Atlanta, though here it's over the vacant desert. The photography is lush and beautiful; one wishes that widescreen had been invented earlier so that this film could have taken advantage of the vistas that format presents.
That old cowpoke Dmitri Tiomkin supplies the score (he would later write the theme songs for High Noon and Rawhide, justifying the cowpoke title). It is heavily based on the Stephen Foster tune, "Beautiful Dreamer," echoing nicely the frustrated dreams of Gish's unhappy Laura Belle McCanles and the doomed dreams of Chavez. However, at times the music becomes overpoweringly bombastic, with a massive orchestra and chorus holding forth fortissimo. This kind of treatment seems to be trying to pump this film up to the epic status that Selznick wanted to try to recapture; this insecurity is echoed in Orson Welles' opening voiceover during the overture, which emphasizes that the film was two years in the making (no doubt 18 months more than it should have taken if Selznick weren't such a hands-on producer).
It's too bad all this effort was wasted on what is essentially a Harlequin romance. Still, it's beautiful to look at and it does have its moments.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: This is Anchor Bay's second try with this title. We've not seen the earlier version (now out-of-print, replaced by this version), but understand that it was substandard in image transfer. The second try seems to be the charm, as was the case with Anchor Bay's revisitation of Halloween. Blacks are strong (though not excellent) and colors are quite good. The opening shot of Squaw's Head Rock (which also concludes the film) is drop dead gorgeous and comes across beautifully in this transfer. The many sunrises and sunsets in the film are a treat to look at as well. The three-strip Technicolor used in this film makes for a most pleasant viewing experience. The bit rate is nice and high, usually between 7 and 8 Mbps, allowing for minimal compression. No artifacts of any kind were visible.
Anchor Bay must have done some significant restoration work, because the print is virtually flawless. I didn't see a single speckle or sign of damage of any kind. This looks like a brand new film. Well done!
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 2.0 audio track doesn't come off quite as well as the image. The sound (particularly of Tiomkin's score) sounds somewhat tinny and distorted. The score which plays on the menus sounds much, much better. A slight hiss and a little noise is audible as well. The piano played by Gish does, however, come through nicely, as does the dialogue at most times. The exceptions are some of Barrymore's lines which are clearly dubbed in later and the sound quality suffers badly on these insertions. This is, of course, a problem in the source material. This is probably about as good as this film is likely to sound.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
5 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 01h:54m:23s
Extras Review: For an Anchor Bay release, the extras are surprisingly thin. In addition to the roadshow Prelude, Overture and Exit music, we get five trailers. Three of these pertain to the roadshow exhibition (where reserved-seat advance tickets were sold at higher prices), and one to the "popular" release from 1947. Finally, there is a short tag trailer for the 1954 re-release, extolling the virtues of the film in widescreen! One can only image what atrocities were inflicted on this 1.37:1 film in making it fit a 'scope screen. Luckily, we don't have to see that; Anchor Bay properly gives us the correct aspect ratio and the correct audio format. No subtitles are provided, but the chaptering is adequate.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsThis wannabe spectacle is a gorgeous film, and the romantics will probably enjoy it, predictable though it may be. Anchor Bay provides the film in a gorgeous transfer, although the sound doesn't quite measure up to the visual standards. Worth a rent if your date doesn't want to see Violent Cop.
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