In David O. Selznick's florid, overheated melodrama Duel in the Sun Jennifer Jones
stars as half-Native American Pearl Chavez, who everyone has tagged as a "bad girl" foredoomed to an unhappy end. Her father is Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall), an ill-fated fellow who kills his wife and her lover (Sidney Blackmer) and gets hung for it. Pearl is taken into the home of the greedy rancher McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) and his kindly wife Laura Belle (Lillian Gish), who'd once been Scott's sweetheart. McCanles's virtuous son Jesse (Joseph Cotten), befriends Pearl and ffeels some stirrings of attraction to her, though Jesse is far more taken by Helen Langford (Joan Tetzel), the daughter of a wealthy railroad tycoon (Otto Kruger). In the mean time, Pearl catches the eye of Jesse's evil brother, ne'er-do-well Lewt (Gregory Peck), who seduces her but refuses to marry her. Pearl falls for straw boss Sam Pierce (Charles Bickford), who proposes marriage, though the engagement is short-lived: Lewt learns of the couple's involvement and ends up killing Sam; then McCanles turns up and cautions Lewt to stay out of sight until things quiet down. Lewt indeed flees the premises and becomes an outlaw. Meanwhile, McCanles organizes his cattlemen into an enormous stand against Kruger and other railroad men; Jesse initially decides to aid his father but then switches sides at the last moment, and in response, McCanles disowns him. With this film, producer Selznick attempted to recreate the success of Gone with the Wind
; it fell far short in terms of box office success, though Duel
was critically acclaimed upon release. Many have often jokingly referred to the picture as 'Lust in the Dust,' which eventually became the actual title of a 1985 comedy western by Paul Bartel.