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Duel in the Sun
July 25

The Invention of the Western Film

Sunday, July 25, 2004
7:25 p.m. Duel in the Sun
King Vidor (U.S., 1946)

Passion and furor swirl around Duel in the Sun, King Vidor and David O. Selznick's Technicolor Western (seen here in a stunning restoration of the "roadshow" version, undertaken at Disney). It's hard to say whether there was more passion on screen (with its exhilaratingly excessive bang-bang-kiss-kiss climax), from outraged critics (who dubbed the film "Lust in the Dust"), or behind the camera (with Vidor quitting after one too many personally delivered memos from producer and credited scriptwriter Selznick). To bring to the screen what remains the top box-office Western (in inflation-adjusted dollars), Selznick ultimately employed another eight directors. It's a lurid tale of a young "half-breed" (Jennifer Jones) who, after the execution of her father for the murder of her Indian mother, is adopted into the household of a pioneering cattle baron (Lionel Barrymore), his wife (Lillian Gish), and their temperamentally opposite sons (hotheaded Gregory Peck and rational Joseph Cotten). Whatever the contributions of others, the film's delirious pitch is recognizably in Vidor's best postwar mode. In an attempt to quell the censorship furor, Duel was cut by nine minutes before wide release.

—Scott Simmon

• Written by David O. Selznick, Oliver H.P. Garrett, based on a novel by Niven Busch. Photographed by Lee Garmes, Harold Rosson, Ray Rennahan. With Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten, Lionel Barrymore. (130 mins, Color, 35mm, From Disney/Buena Vista)