The restored “Road Show” DVD of David O. Selznick’s production of “Duel in the Sun” is a most impressive experience. What this restoration has done is to place the viewer back to 1946 at the premiere itself.
Selznick’s vision was huge, romantic, and sumptuous. He had the means to spare no expense or effort in realizing this grandiose concept. The result is a sweeping drama set in the west, yet rising above the normal trappings of most movie westerns.
First a trio of photographers headed by the peerless Lee Garmes, and assisted by Ray Rennahan and Hal Rosson, provided a rich and colorful canvas of romantic artistry and beauty. Then a screenplay by producer Selznick emphasized the Gothic and overripe emotions with great relish. If you’re going to do it, do it, was the attitude. Let the trash explode on the screen. Added to this formidable group of artists came director King Vidor, beautifully directing a carefully chosen and extremely talented cast, and creating some magnificent and memorable set pieces.
Lastly came the legendary composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, crafting a superb score, exuding the pent up and released emotions of the characters and painting the hot and sultry essence of the desert setting. The way to fully experience the Selznick vision is to take the time to position one’s self before the DVD monitor, adjust the sound volume to near peak level, and absorb the score from the first note of the 15-minute Prelude, the 5-minute Overture, through the 144-minute drama, and continue until the final, crashing chord of the 5-minute Postlude (Exit Music). Only then will the true meaning and power of “Duel in the Sun” be realized.
It’s a one-of-a-kind film work, and a lasting tribute to that mad, disorganized, titanic and great genius of film production, Selznick.