Duel in the Sun (film)

Duel in the Sun (nicknamed Lust in the Dust) is a 1946 American psychological Western film directed by King Vidor, produced and written by David O. Selznick, which tells the story of a Mestiza (half-Native American) girl who goes to live with her white relatives, becoming involved in prejudice and forbidden love. The Technicolor film stars Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore.

Duel in the Sun
Directed byKing Vidor
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
Written byOliver H.P. Garrett
David O. Selznick
Ben Hecht
Based onDuel in the Sun
1944 novel
by Niven Busch
StarringJennifer Jones
Joseph Cotten
Gregory Peck
Narrated byOrson Welles
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyLee Garmes
Ray Rennahan
Harold Rosson
Edited byJohn D. Faure
Charles L. Freeman
Hal Kern
William H. Ziegler
Distributed bySelznick Releasing Organization
Release date
  • December 31, 1946 (1946-12-31)
Running time
145 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.48 million[1]
Box office$20.4 million[2]


Pearl Chavez is orphaned after her father Scott Chavez kills her mother, having caught her with a lover. Before Scott Chavez is executed as a punishment for killing his wife, he arranges for his daughter Pearl to live with his second cousin and old sweetheart, Laura Belle.

Arriving by stagecoach, Pearl is met by Jesse McCanles, one of Laura Belle's two grown sons. He takes her to Spanish Bit, their enormous cattle ranch. The gentle and gracious Laura Belle is happy to welcome her to their home, but not so her husband, the Senator Jackson McCanles, who uses a wheelchair. He calls Pearl "a half-breed" and jealously despises Pearl's father.

The second son, Lewt, is a ladies' man with a personality quite unlike that of his gentlemanly brother Jesse. He expresses his interest in Pearl in direct terms and she takes a strong dislike to him. Laura Belle calls in Mr. Jubal Crabbe, the "Sinkiller", a gun-toting preacher, to counsel Pearl on how to avoid the evils of temptation. Pearl is determined to remain "a good girl."

When she submits to Lewt's aggressive advances one night, Pearl is angry with him and ashamed of her own behavior. But she also cannot help but be flattered by his lust and attentions. Jesse, meanwhile, is ostracized by his father and no longer welcome at the ranch after siding with railroad men, headed by Mr. Langford, against the Senator's personal interests. Jesse is in love with Pearl but he leaves for Austin to pursue a political career and becomes engaged to Helen Langford, Langford's daughter.

Offended when Lewt reneges on a promise to marry her, Pearl takes up with Sam Pierce, a neighboring rancher who is smitten with her. She does not love him but says yes to his proposal. Before they can be married, however, Lewt picks a fight with Pierce in a saloon and guns him down. He insists that Pearl can belong only to him. Lewt becomes a wanted man.

On the run from the law, Lewt finds time to derail a train and occasionally drop by the ranch late at night and press his attentions on Pearl. She cannot resist her desire for him and lies for Lewt to the law, hiding him in her room. Afterward, however, he walks out on her, despite her pleas that she loves him.

Laura Belle's health takes a turn for the worse and the Senator admits his love for her before she dies. Jesse returns to visit but is too late; his mother is dead. The Senator continues to shun him, as does Lewt, their family feud finally resulting in a showdown. Lewt tosses a gun to his unarmed brother but Jesse stands his ground without attempting to pick it up. Jesse warns that Lewt will eventually be hanged as a murderer, and Lewt responds by shooting Jesse.

The Senator's old friend, Lem Smoot tells him that Jesse's wound is not mortal and the old man softens up towards his son. A livid Pearl is relieved that Jesse is going to survive. When Helen arrives, she invites Pearl to leave Spanish Bit forever and come live with them in Austin. Pearl agrees, but she is tipped off by one of the Spanish Bit hands, Sid that Lewt intends to come after Jesse again. She arms herself and engages in a shootout with Lewt in the desert, where they die in each other's arms.



The film was adapted by Oliver H.P. Garrett and David O. Selznick from the novel by Niven Busch. It was directed by King Vidor and filmed in Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California.[3][4]

As shot, the film could not make it past the Hays Code censors or religious review boards and so was heavily edited. It was called "Lust in the Dust", which eventually became the name of another movie. A scene in which Pearl does a seductive dance for Lewton was cut from the film before it was released.[5]


Selznick had high hopes that Duel in the Sun would surpass his success with Gone with the Wind. The film received poor reviews, however, and was highly controversial due to its sexual content and to Selznick's real-life relationship with Jones, which broke up both of their marriages. Despite the bad press, which compared it with The Outlaw, it was a box-office success for Selznick, although not a second Gone with the Wind. It was shown at increased admission prices which boosted its earnings[6] to $11,300,000 in rentals in the United States and Canada during its initial release [7][8] and much more overseas and in the 1954 re-release.

Because of the film's huge production costs (rumored to be over $6,000,000), its $2,000,000 advertising campaign (unheard of at the time) and Selznick's costly distribution tactics, the film only broke even.[1]

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jennifer Jones) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Lillian Gish).


The film was one of the first to be honored by a record album, featuring selections from Dimitri Tiomkin's musical score. Rather than use excerpts from the soundtrack, RCA Victor recorded some of the music with the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler. The music was split into approximately three-minute sections and released on 10-inch 78-rpm discs in 1946. A long musical prelude as well as an overture preceded the film with Tiomkin conducting the studio orchestra; this recording was later issued on LP and CD.

Duel in the Sun was first shown on American television during a special ABC Sunday evening showing. It was released on Region 1 DVD in 2004.

Martin Scorsese has stated to James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio that this was the first film he saw and holds it in high regard. He mentioned it in his documentary of American movies. David Stratton has also stated a similar high opinion of the film, at the ACMI's "Desert Island Flicks" on March 10, 2010,[9]. He first saw the film at the age of six.[10]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Many of the film's plot points (such as the Pearl/Lewt/Sam love triangle) were reused in the Hindi movie Janbaaz (1986).


Duel in the Sun was released the same year as John Ford's film My Darling Clementine and has been described as taking "the moment of sadism" from Ford's film to extremes. Released in the postwar years during a period of economic boom and the changing role of women in society including marriage, sexuality and inclusion in the work force that left some Americans feeling alienated. Psychological westerns, popular in the 1940s, featured characters plagued by a dark torment that reflected the post-war attitudes. The march of progress is symbolized by an advancing railroad cutting across a senator's cattle lands. The film "takes the moment of sadism exhibited in Ford's film and escalates it to extreme levels".[14]

The "civilizing forces" of the American West are represented by the characters of Pearl's father, Laura Belle and Jesse, while Lewt and Senator McCanles are constant reminders that she is not part of the white patriarchal order. After being raped by Lewt. Pearl is not able to meet the Victorian-era standards for moral conduct. Her identity as part Indian is "linked to notions of uncontrollable drives, the fading of subjectivity, and the loss of conscious agency". Believing she encouraged the rape, Jesse ends their romantic relationship. The "dark" or savage element of her sexuality and unrestrained passions has a racial dimension, contrasted with the white feminine ideal in the film's imagery, it is something needing to be tamed. She is "too sexual to be a proper wife, too dark to be a comfortable part of wite society, and too passionate to be controlled with anything but violence".[14]

As Pearl is already "spoiled" by the rape she no longer needs to control her sexuality and enters into a sadomasochistic relationship with Lewt who treats her viciously and with racist abuse like calling her a "bob-tailed little half-breed". Marriage with Pearl is out of the question for Lewt due to his father's expectations that the family ranch not be "turned into an Injun reservation" though Lewt continues to exhibit jealous, controlling behaviors including murdering Jesse when he makes plans for Pearl to attend school in Austin. While in many ways the typical hero of American westerns, Lewt crosses over into the realm of the "savage" or "unicivilized". Due to the violence Pearl encounters from Lewt she develops gradually into a femme fatale type character who eventually murders him.[14]

See also


  1. David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 490-491
  2. Duel in the Sun. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 20, 2010..
  3. Schad, Jerry (2009). Los Angeles County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide. Wilderness Press. Pages 35-36. ISBN 9780899976396.
  4. Randall, Laura (2009). 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Los Angeles: Including San Bernardino, Pasadena, and Oxnard. Menasha Ridge Press. Page 234. ISBN 9780897327077.
  5. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/73733/Duel-in-the-Sun/articles.html
  6. "Upped Scale Films Cop 'Win, Place, Show' Spots in Gross Sweepstakes". Variety. January 7, 1948. p. 63. Retrieved June 11, 2019 via Archive.org.
  7. "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  8. "Top Grossers of 1947". Variety. January 7, 1948. p. 63. Retrieved June 11, 2019 via Archive.org.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-17. Retrieved 2014-03-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpjDHgGcCjw
  11. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  12. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  13. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  14. Marubbio, M. Elise (15 December 2006). Killing the Indian Maiden: Images of Native American Women in Film. University Press of Kentucky. p. 117-121. ISBN 9780813136943.
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