Sunday, 26 July 2009

Duel in the Sun

: A bit like an episode of EastEnders. Jennifer Jones plays saucy half-breed Pearl Chavez (for whom I reckon the word coquettish must have been invented), whose father kills her mother and lover and so gets hisself hanged. Pearl is sent to live with Dad's cousin/first love Lillian Gish, who's married to cantankerous senator Lionel Barrymore, and their two sons: one bad, Lewt (Greg Peck) and one good, Jesse (Joseph Cotten). Cue lots of sexually frustrated looks, bright red lipstick, skinny dipping and floor scrubbing and the two sons fighting over the confused Pearl.

Dubbed Lust in the Dust, this one's a bit of an epic with some classic themes: mixed-race issues, female desire, feuding brothers, empires headed by tyrants and so on. Jennifer Jones is well OTT as Pearl, a character who is one part catalyst for all the men's actions, one part Bertha Rochester and one part Katherine Minola. Her main motivation appears to be masochism as she constantly invites suffering and pain in a very confused attempt to belong, both to a man and to a decent society (in contrast to her parents' ending). Lillian Gish's character is a great counterpoint to Pearl: aging and frustrated, she illustrates many of Pearl's fears for the future (ending up unhappy and regretful with her husband) and shows us much restrained and delicate acting.

Pearl sees how good Jesse is but just cannot seem to stop getting down with her bad self, if you know what I mean. She cannot deny the strongest part of her personality, represented by Lewt, who lays humiliation upon humiliation on her. Hey, maybe it's the men who are the catalysts for Pearl? A bit like the metaphorical angel and devil on her shoulders, Pearl wants to be good and follow Jesse but somehow can't resist the evil Lewt as she recognises her bad heritage in him.

We see how Pearl identifies with nature and wildness in a great scene near the end of the film: she's riding to meet Lewt and stops to drink from a stream and we see the horse drinking alongside her - showing where her true nature and allies are. By this time we realise she's reached the end of her tether and she finally confronts Lewt in a shoot out. Talk about hammy, mutual self destruction - they're worse than Sid and Nancy.

Reminded me a bit of The Big Country, even though BC was made 12 years later and is, in many ways, a superior film.

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