“I’m trash, I tell ya, trash,” Jennifer Jones says in Duel in the Sun and there’s no way we would want to disagree. Wearing a sombrero and deep in half-breed courtesy of Max Factor that accentuates her teeth and the whites of her eyes, she greets Lionel Barrymore who, as the wheelchair king of putdown, inquires, “Gurl, what are you doing in that getup? Is that what they’re wearing this season in Wigwam?” There’s no recovery—it’s a non-stop screamer that only gets funnier as the “immoralities” get more serious. Reading Memo From: David O. Selznick, we learn that starting roughly a year and half before the picture premiered, a gargantuan publicity scheme was devised to secure an enormous national box office, with special attention paid to avoid a first opening in New York, where the producer knew most of its critics were waiting to deplore his idea of cinema. This was the central reason Duel was given a reserved seat engagement in L.A. five months before the rest of the nation got it sans the hardticket treatment. (The “exclusive” run was also used to increase chances for nominations and possible wins for the 1946 Academy Awards, issued two months before the movie’s national release.) Helping much more was the avalanche of hysteria about and the calls of censorship over the movie’s alleged wickedness and Jones’ prominent sluttishness. The best box-office inducement, published in the Congressional Record on 6/19/1947, came from Lloyd T. Binford, a movie censor in Memphis, Tennessee: “This production contains all the iniquities of the foulest human dross. It is sadism at its deepest level. It is the fleshpots of Pharaoh, modernized and filled to overflowing. It is a barbaric symphony of passion and hatred, spilling from a blood-tinted screen. It is mental and physical putrefaction.” As bad as the whole thing is, it’s saved by Jones and her Oscar-nominated writhing, Gregory Peck and Barrymore. They wouldn’t have been able to give decent performances even if they wanted to—not with eight directors and the lengthy and often chaotic filming—yet without what they do give, there’d be no salvation. They’re Carol Burnett camp on the range. The supporting cast is exceptional in name-value: Joseph Cotton, Lillian Gish (Oscar nominated), Herbert Marshall. Walter Huston, Charles Bickford, Harry Carey, Butterfly McQueen, Otto Kruger and Sidney Blackmer. King Vidor gets the official director’s credit, but Selznick, Otto Brower (listed as second unit), William Dieterle, Sidney Franklin, William Cameron Menzies, B. Reeves Eason (listed as second unit) and Josef von Sternberg also worked on it. J. McMillan Johnson is listed as production designer, but there are plenty of us who see the uncredited magic of Menzies. Original running time 138 minutes. TCM runs an excellent print, complete with prelude, overture (with narration) and exit music.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.