Duel in the Sun (1946) was directed by King Vidor and stars Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Lionel Barrymore, and Joseph Cotton.
Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones) is a half Native American. Her mother is Native American and her father is caucasian. Pearl is orphaned after her father Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall) kills her mother (Tilly Losch) after he catches her with a lover (Sidney Blackmer). Before his execution, Scott Chavez arranges for Pearl to live with his second cousin and old sweetheart, Laura Belle (Lillian Gish).
Arriving by stagecoach, Pearl is met by Jesse McCanles (Joseph Cotton), Laura Belle's oldest son. Pearl is instantly attracted to Jesse. He takes her to the family ranch, Spanish Bit. The gracious Laura Belle is happy to welcome her to their home, but not so her husband, the wheelchair-bound Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) who calls her a "half breed."
The second son, Lewt (Gregory Peck) is a womanizer, gambler, violent, and an all around jerk. Whereas, Jesse is a gentleman. Lewt expresses an interest in Pearl in very direct terms and she takes a strong dislike to him. When Pearl is overpowered by Lewt in her bedroom one night, she is angry with him and ashamed of her own behavior. But she also cannot help but be flattered by his lust and attentions and is therefore attracted to him.
Laura Belle calls in the "Sinkiller" (Walter Huston) a self proclaimed preacher, to counsel Pearl on how to avoid the evils of temptation. Pearl is determined to remain "a good girl." However, she eventually gives in to her temptations and Lewt. Jesse catches them one night and tells Pearl although he has feelings for her, he can never forget what happened between her and Lewt.
Meanwhile, the railroad is building tracks across Spanish Bit. The Senator organizes his men to stop the railroad. However, the railroad has the legal right to build their tracks across Spanish Bit. Jesse, a lawyer himself, sides with the railroad. The Senator bans Jesse from the ranch. Ostracized by his father, Jesse moves to Austin and opens a law practice. Although, Jesse still has feelings for Pearl, he becomes engaged to Helen Langford (Joan Tetzel).
Pearl feeling rejected by Jesse becomes Lewt's "women." Lewt promises to marry her and they intend to announce their engagement at a family barbeque. However, Lewt not wanting to be tied down and knowing people do not think highly of Pearl, reneges on his promise to marry her.
Pearl, heartbroken, meets Sam Pierce (Charles Bickford) a rancher who is instantly smitten with her. They plan to marry. Lewt, who does not want to marry Pearl, also does not want anyone else to have his "women." Lewt picks a fight with Pierce in a saloon and murders him. Lewt is now on the run and a wanted man.
Laura Belle's health takes a turn for the worse and the Senator admits his love for her before she dies. Laura Belle had always blamed herself for the Senator's accident. He was following after her when she left him for Pearl's father and is paralyzed after being thrown from a horse on his pursuit to reclaim Laura Belle. The Senator and Laura Belle make amends just before she dies in a very touching and heart warming scene.
Jesse returns to visit his dying mother but is too late. The Senator continues to shun him and Jesse leaves the ranch but takes Pearl with him stating she can stay with him and his soon to be bride. Lewt gets wind that Jesse is with Pearl, and sends a message to Jesse that he is to return Pearl to him at once or else.
Jesse and Lewt have a show down in the street. Jesse is unarmed so Lewt tosses him a gun. However, before Jesse can pick up the gun, Lewt shoots Jesse.
We learn that Jesse is going to be all right. A livid Pearl is relieved to learn Jesse is going to survive but arms herself and goes after Lewt.
The movie ends with a show down between Pearl and Lewt.
This is a wonderful movie and is one of the rare times Gregory Peck plays a bad guy. Gregory Peck gives an awesome performance as Lewt. Joseph Cotton is splendid as the gentlemanly Jesse. Lillian Gish is wonderful as the gracious and kind Laura Belle. Lional Barrymore steals every scene he is in and gives some wonderful one liners. Walter Huston is an absolute hoot as the "sinkiller."
Jennifer Jones was miscast for this role. At times her acting is terrible and you can tell many times she is over acting. Despite the poor performance by Jennifer Jones, the rest of the cast is excellent and the film is very enjoyable.
The film does touch on some risky subjects for 1946 and was very conterversial when released. It is obvious that Lewt and Pearl are having a pre-marital sexual relationship. It is also obvious that Lewt frequently takes Pearl by force. Also the relationship between Lewt and Pearl is the classic abusive relationship that we see so common today, despite everything Lewt does to Pearl, she still loves him and returns to him time and time again.