The Story (continued)
Duel in the Sun (1946)
The Senator supports his spoiled son, and surreptitiously meets him on a hilltop as the sun sets. The sequence is bathed in deep red tones as he gives his son money: "You better clear out of here till this thing blows over...it's gonna take plenty of fixin', so you better stay away from here until I send you the word. It'll take a year maybe. Maybe more than that even."
Shortly afterwards that August, dissolute son Lewt, thinking he's helping his father, muses: "Now here's a chance to do somethin' for Pa." He reads a sign about a work train loaded with explosives, and then he singlehandedly derails and wrecks the train, causing a massive explosion and catastrophe. Afterwards, he rides off callously singing to himself: "I've Been Working On The Railroad," proving how insensitive and bad he really is.
Unable to stay away, Lewt pays Pearl a late night visit telling her that he couldn't stay away. He rode thirty miles to get a kiss from her. He approaches her in bed in her nightgown, while she holds a gun on him:
Lewt: Of all the ornery females. One minute you're yammerin' 'cause I don't love ya enough. And when I go out and show ya how much I do, you're wantin' to plug me. You're my girl, honey.
Pearl: I was your girl.
Lewt: Anybody who was my girl is still my girl. That's the kind of guy I am, you know, loyal.
Pearl: Stay back.
Lewt: There ain't nobody gonna take my girl. (He strokes her arm) Nobody. (Disarming her) Same little tigercat. You know, just when I figure I'm doin' fine and dandy, I start thinkin' about ya, I start thinkin' about ya and nothin' else is any good...
The sheriff visits Spanish Bit looking for Lewt, and finds Laura Belle in bed. She is seriously ill, and sadly looking at a signed picture ("To Mother with Love") of her two sons as children. Awakening Pearl from her sleep during their search, she protects Lewt, who hides behind the door (with only his gun visible), calling him a "murdering, sneakin', no-count."
After the sheriff has left, Lewt promises Pearl that he's going to buy a ranch in Mexico. When Pearl begs to be taken away with him after she asks him to saddle up her pinto, he rejects her request in a scene dubbed the "degradation" scene: "You wouldn't like it down there, honey...I'm gonna live my own way. Nobody's gonna hog-tie me...I'll come back every once in a while and see ya, like tonight....I'll send for ya some day, honest I will." She is dragged pleading and screaming along the floor, while holding on to his legs. He kicks her off, yells "Aw shut up," and goes riding away. She is left rejected and alone, writhing and whimpering on the floor.
On a rainy afternoon in a memorable death bed scene, the Senator is brought into his wife's bedroom. An overbearing husband all their married years, he confronts his dying wife with a past indiscretion that had haunted and wrecked their marriage. Years earlier in her youth, Laura Belle had fled from him. He jealously assumed she was involved in a passionate relationship with Scott Chavez, Pearl's father:
Laura Belle: I never had the courage to discuss it with you before, but it doesn't matter now. I paid for my mistake. You've hated me all through the years.
Senator: You paid? What about me with these legs? As useless as a hog-tied steer. And all because you couldn't stand to be mistress of the biggest ranch in Texas. And why, huh? Why? I'll tell you why. Nobody needs to tell me who you was running away to that night. Nobody needed to tell me you was runnin' to Chavez.
Laura Belle: It's not true. It's not true. I was running away, but not to Scott. Not to Scott.
Senator: Well, true or not, you left me. And true or not, I went after ya, like any love-sick, half-baked boy...
Laura Belle: I'd give anything, anything to undo it.
Each tenderly confesses their love for each other. They attempt to reconcile themselves after a long and emotionless marriage. The Senator is absorbed in remorse as he professes his love to Laura Belle:
I loved you, Laura Belle. Yes, I loved you. Kept on saying to myself all through the years that I hated you, until finally I did hate ya. In my heart, I knew all the time it wasn't your fault. It was my fault. It was my jealousy made me like I was. Hard and cruel like, till I guess you had to leave me. I never should have gone out after you that night. But when I found out you was gone, I got to thinkin' you was goin' to him and I couldn't stand it. I swore I'd stop ya and bring ya back...
Taking the blame upon himself for once, he admits that in his "own crazy jealousy," he pursued her and was thrown off his horse, and thereby became a cripple. The ailing Laura Belle leaves her death bed and comforts him, and then collapses - falling to the floor dead. The image through the rain-swept window reveals that his rocking chair on the porch is empty. He cries by his dead wife's side: "Laura Belle, Laura Belle..."
Later, after Laura Belle's death, Jesse returns to the ranch to see his dying mother: "Nothing on earth would bring me back here except mother," but sadly learns that he is too late. Learning of Pearl's deep grief from Vashti, he finds that Pearl has secluded herself in the barn. He tells Vashti to pack Pearl's belongings, and then goes to her. Jesse tells her that he wants her to come and live in Austin with him and Helen Langford (Joan Tetzel), the daughter of the railroad president and the girl he will soon marry. But Pearl feels unworthy of his love and concern:
Oh Jesse, if only I could be good again.
Jesse promises her education, protection, stability and a conventional life - she can go to school, "learn to waltz and make small talk and have pretty dresses." She is given a gift of a picture/locket of his mother Laura Belle - the lady she loved and admired. She gratefully thanks him:
Pearl: Oh Jesse, I wish, I wish I could die for ya.
Jesse: Let's hope you never have to do that, Pearl.
Jesse informs Sid to bring a message to Lewt - challenging Lewt to a duel over Pearl. Lewt confronts his brother at dawn on the street in Paradise Flats. Lewt shouts toward Jesse: "I hope Pearl gives you a pretty funeral, Jesse," and then shoots down and wounds his unarmed brother.
The Senator meets Lem Smoot outside the ranch house. Against the setting sun with its shadows and reddish glowing sky, his loneliness is reflected in his thinking:
You see them plains and hills. I was so almighty proud of what I carved out of this country. I figured I was building something. Lewt and Jesse. And what have I got now? Lewt a murderer, an outlaw. And Jesse, Jesse...I'm just a lonely old man who needs a friend. Like you said, Lem.
Pearl nurses Jesse until Helen arrives to take over for his care. Then, outraged by her sadistic lover's act and the possibility that Lewt will gun Jesse down later, she tricks Sid into telling her how to reach Lewt. She decides to pursue Lewt and track him down herself, to take revenge on his two brutal attacks on unarmed individuals - his wounding of Jesse and his killing of Pierce. She is determined to be free of his hold on her. She takes the two-day ride south through the searing heat to Squaw's Head Rock, where Lewt has fled to the mountains as a fugitive outlaw. She signals for him to show himself with two shots.
The final notorious, and infamous show-down scene is the climax of all their confrontations together. When Lewt appears in the rocks at a long distance from her, Pearl takes aim and shoots her lover to end their passionate love-hate affair. She shows immediate remorse, thinking he's dead. But he is still alive, although wounded in the leg. He fires back, calling her a "double-crossin' bobcat." Pearl is still drawn to him, re-cocking her gun and moving forward. As she approaches, Lewt shoots Pearl in the chest, sending her bloodied body into the rocks and rubble. Satisfied that he has killed her, he says: "I guess that does it," but then feels twinges of regret that he has shot his beloved, calling out "Pearl, hey Pearl!"
The ex-lovers continue their bloody shoot-out in the hot desert sun and Lewt is shot in the stomach. Seriously wounded, she drags herself over the rocks and up the side of the mountain toward her dying lover, while spouting blood and shouting threats. Dying, Lewt asks Pearl: "No use my lyin' no more. I'm through. Pearl, do ya hear me?...I'm dying. Pearl, I'm going fast. Ain't ya comin' up? I wanna see ya. I gotta see ya. Pearl, where are ya?...Please, I gotta hold ya just once more before...I love you. I love ya. Hurry, hurry. Hurry, honey."
In their final moments, she cries out for him: "Lewt, hold on Lewt, Hold on. Wait for me, Lewt," and lustfully crawls toward him, as she slides back with her grasp of sand. When she finally reaches him, they stretch their hands out toward each other:
Lewt: You always said you could shoot. I never believed ya.
Pearl: Lewt, I love you. I love you.
Lewt: Oh, don't cry, honey. Don't cry.
Pearl: I had to do it, Lewt. I had to do it.
Lewt: Of course you did. Let me hold ya.
Pearl: Just hold me. Hold me once more.
Lewt: Little bob-cat. (He dies mid-kiss. She dies shortly thereafter.)
They bloodily embrace and die in the dust in each other's arms. As they die, the camera pulls back until they are lost in the landscape under the blazing, hot sun, under the massive face of Squaw's Head Rock.
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AMC Filmcritic's Review of Duel in the Sun