After her father shoots her mother, Pearl (Jennifer Jones), a young half Indian-half white girl, is sent to a Texan ranch where she comes between two brothers (Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten) with murderous results.
How do you follow Gone With the Wind? That was producer David O Selznick's problem. His answer was to cast his wife in this epic, over-the-top Western. In its day, Duel in the Sun courted controversy for its general air of sexual tension, but it's actually more hot and sweaty than hot and steamy.
All you need to know about Pearl is that she takes after her mother, with her hair and skirt flying and eyes and teeth flashing. Your basic force-of-nature type - the film puts this down to her Indian blood, although the white characters are hardly retiring.
In an all star cast, Peck is the bad brother and Cotten is the good; Pearl knows she should go for the stability of the good brother, but the temptation of the bad brother is too much. You can't deny the potency of the idea of two people so obsessed by one another that they are forced to gun each other down. The whole film is intense, passionate, yet somehow difficult to take seriously. This is the Western turned up to eleven.
Lionel Barrymore steals the show as the irascible, prejudiced, railroad-hating patriarch, but I also like Walter Huston's self-styled preacher (who only has three short scenes, unfortunately). Blaring music by Dimitri Tiomkin and narration by Orson Welles. Also with: Peck singing and playing guitar, and a train crash. "I've been working on the railroad..."