Home > Reviews > DUEL IN THE SUN – Dimitri Tiomkin

DUEL IN THE SUN – Dimitri Tiomkin


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Famed studio executive David O. Selznick had long sought to recapture the past glory he achieved with Gone With The Wind (1939). He at last found his film within the pages of the novel Duel in the Sun (1944) by Niven Busch. He secured the film rights and joined with screenwriters Oliver H.P. Garrett and Ben Hecht to write the screenplay. For Selznick this film was a passion project, which he would produce and distribute. King Vidor was tasked with directing, and a stellar cast was brought in, which included; Jennifer Jones as Pearl Chavez, Joseph Cotton as Jesse McCanles, Gregory Peck as Lewt McCanles, Lionel Barrymore as Senator Jackson McCanles, Herbert Marshall as Scott Chavez, Lilian Gish as Laura Belle McCanles and Walter Houston as Jubal Crabbe – The Sinkiller. The film was beset with drama and controversy from day one. Its controversial sexual content resulted in Hayes Code censoring, causing numerous editing, which disrupted its storytelling and narrative flow. In addition, Selznick’s constant interference and micromanaging resulted in numerous rewrites of the script, and reshoots, which expanded the film to over 26 hours in length! In the end, this contributed to the breakup of Selznick’s marriage with Jennifer Jones, as well as King Vidor quitting the project. In total, seven directors and six cinematographers were casualties in the making of this film.

The story is set in Texas during the 1880s and spins a tale of lust, prejudice, avarice, seduction and forbidden love. It tells the story of a Mestiza named Pearl who is orphaned after her father murders her mother. She goes to live with her 2nd cousin Laura Belle, however her mix heritage elicits prejudice from Laura’s husband Senator Jackson McCanles. Adding to her woes are the unwanted advances of the Senator’s younger son Lewt. Although she is repelled by him, she in a moment of weakness surrenders to his lust. When Lewt refuses to marry her, she spites him by agreeing to marry neighboring rancher Sam Pierce. Lewt will have none of it and murders Sam. He is now a wanted man, but Pearl persists in loving him. When Lewt once again rejects her love she resolves to move to Austin never to return. Once there he sends a message for her to come to him. She does but not for love, but instead, revenge. They engage in a gunfight, both are mortally wounded, and end up dying poetically, in each other’s arms. The film was a modest commercial success, earning 2.5 times its production cost of $8 million; however its critical reception was poor, with many critics deriding it with the mock title “Lust in the Dust.” Despite all this, the film did manage to earn two Academy Award nominations for the exemplary performances of Jones for Best Actress and Gish as Best Supporting Actress.

Selznick’s original idea was to hold a contest where he would pay six composers to score a scene from the film. This idea died a quick death when he received a scathing rebuke from Miklós Rózsa. As such Selznick shifted gears and tasked Dimitri Tiomkin with the scoring assignment. Tiomkin would soon regret his decision as Selznick was omnipresent, intrusive and micromanaged. He would send detailed memos outlining how he wanted each and every scene scored. Well it all came to a head over the love theme. After hearing Tiomkin’s theme Selznick admonished Tiomkin and stated; “I want real, fucking music!” Tiomkin’s pointed rejoinder is legend; “You fuck your way. I fuck my way. Fuck you – I quit!” Well, Selznick normally would not suffer this from anyone, but he admired Tiomkin’s chutzpah and backed off, thereby allowing Tiomkin the creative latitude needed to utilize his compositional gifts.

Tiomkin decided early on to employ leitmotifs for his score. He provides seven themes; of which first and foremost is the Spanish Bit Theme that serves as Senator McCanles identity, but that is also emblematic of his Spanish Bit ranching empire. The theme offers one of Tiomkin’s finest, with an A Phrase that has a grand and majestic sweep carried by proud horns nobile, while its evocative B Phrase offers a pastoral lyricism that speaks to the beautiful vistas of the Rio Grande. The Heading Home Theme just carries us with confidence, and offers a lively, jaunty and unbridled joie de vivre. It emotes with a travel music sensibility, which carries one homeward with sweet anticipation. Lewt’s Theme serves as his identity, and of all the themes is rendered in the greatest number of forms; seductive, romantic, flirtatious, sinister, and even as a dance. There is incongruity with its romantic rendering given that Lewt is a cad. Tiomkin however speaks to outward perceptions, for he is the handsome unattainable head turner who makes women swoon, but ultimately breaks their hearts.

Jesse’s Theme emotes with a warm, genuine and salt of the earth sensibility. Unlike Lewt, Jesse is the genuine article and Tiomkin informs us of this with its forthright romantic articulation carried exquisitely by woodwinds and strings. For Laura Belle’s Theme Tiomkin interpolates and embellishes Stephen Foster’s sentimental ballad, “Beautiful Dreamer”. Lyrical strings emote a serenade of carefree beauty, which perfectly embody the devoted and compassionate motherly love of Laura Belle. Pearl’s Theme speaks of her yearning for Lewt to commit to her in love. Sensual strings full of desire and longing weave a long-lined statement, which speaks of her ardent thirst for his love. The Father’s Love Theme offers one of the most beautiful of the score’s themes, and speaks of the abiding love of Pearl’s father. It is carried intimately by strings gentile, woodwinds, with harp accents, and often articulated exquisitely by solo violin or cello. The Indian Legend Theme offers a percussive carried rhythm carried by nativist drums, which speaks to the Indian lore of the west. Lastly, we have the Legend Theme, which speaks to the inevitable and climactic confrontation between Lewt and Pearl, their shared destiny. As such it emotes with a stunning, unabashed, and melodramatic power. Bold horn declarations, male chorus and percussion carry its repeating five-note phrasing. Given the film’s setting, Tiomkin understood that he needed to infuse his score with Mexican auras as well as the martial trumpet fare of the U.S. Calvary. Noteworthy is that this was the first film score to receive an album release.

The film was unusual in that it was preceded by two pieces of music, which played to a black screen. The first piece was the near nine-minute “Prelude”, which offered a parade of Tiomkin’s primary themes. We open with a grand declaration of the Spanish Bit Theme with both its A and B Phrases, which embody the rank of Senator McCanles, and the vastness of his Spanish Bit ranch. We segue at 0:29 into the delightful prancing Heading Home Theme. At 1:10 we begin four and a half minutes of Lewt’s and Pearl’s Themes, with some fine passages of thematic interplay. At 5:41 we shift gears with the festive Mexican El Balero music, before returning at 6:28 to the Spanish Bit Theme. At 7:00 we are graced with a gentile rendering of the Laura Belle Theme, the perfect embodiment of this sweet soul. We return at 7:33 to Pearl’s Theme that at 8:42 flows seamlessly into a seductive rendering of Lewt’s Theme, which culminates boldly on horns to end the piece. “Overture” offers the second piece, which features the score’s three primary themes. We open proudly and with a grand sweep upon the Spanish Bit Theme, which flows into a romantic rendering of Pearl’s Theme at 0:28. At 1:14 we have a delightful segue into the dance variant of Lewt’s Theme, which closes the piece with a grand statement.

The film opens with Max Steiner’s iconic bell tolls and fan fare, which supports the “Selznick Studio Logo”. At 0:14 we segue into “Main Title” and begin the roll of the opening credits supported by Jesse’s Theme, whose melodic flow is quickly severed by gunfire. We resume dramatically at 0:23 with a grand and sweeping statement of the Spanish Bit Theme, which is articulated fully with both its A and B Phrases. We flow into “Legend” at 1:34 supported by Orson Welles narration, which tells the tale of Pearl Chavez who along with her lover met her end beneath the edifice known as Sqauw’s Head Rock. The Indian Legend Theme supports the cinematography for this was once Indian lands. Sunset fire baths the landscape and we close upon a single flaming flower, which marks the site of her death. At 1:51 we segue into Lewt’s Theme, which closes the narration with a close up of Pearl’s legacy – the flaming flower. The marriage of cinematography, storytelling and music is just superb. “El Balero” reveals Pearl dancing outside a casino where her mother works. Tiomkin supports the festive ambiance with his ethnic El Balero piece, with a small ensemble, which includes marimbas, guitars and tambourines. Pearl just glows as we are bathed in Tiomkin’s warm Mexican auras. I finely dressed lecher who is seeking her mother makes an unwelcome pass, which she rejects with disdain. As he enters the casino in “Casino Dance” we are treated to a truly remarkable set piece. As we enter the casino’s smoke filled hall, we are buffeted by a pounding cadence by tom-toms, which supports Pearl’s beautiful mother erotic and seductive dance. The casino offers exotic decadence, and Tiomkin’s music propels its primal and ignoble energies with relentless, seductive driving rhythms, full of desire and unstoppable. I believe Tiomkin’s music is spot on, and provides the casino scene the vital energy and ethnic auras to capture the film’s narrative.

“Pearl’s Humiliation” offers a torrent of emotions as we see Pearl’s father watch his wife leave the casino in the arms of her lover. Pearl follows them out yet stops her pursuit with disappointment in her eyes. When her father joins her, she attempts to restrain his anger. From out a sea of dark Mexican auras rise portentous declarations by horns arrabbiati, which speak of her father’s inner fury. At 0:31 his fury subsides as we see in his eyes his love for Pearl. Strings gentile, join woodwinds and harp accents to introduce the Father’s Love Theme, which creates an intimate, and precious father-daughter interlude. He tries to assuage her fears, but as a plaintive solo cello plays, we see in his eyes a dark resolve that will not relent. At 1:17 an orchestral strike carries his departure atop a crescendo of fury driven by horns arrabbiati, which powerfully culminates at 1:37 with his murder of his wife and lover. In a scene change to the court, he has pleaded guilty and is sentenced to hang. At 1:45 we segue into “Border Town Jail”, one of the most beautiful cues of the score. As we see him read a letter from his cousin Laura Belle, Tiomkin introduces his Laura Belle Theme as he counsels Pearl to go live with her. The theme’s expression is beautiful as Tiomkin transfers its articulation among the various instruments of the orchestra. At 2:44 a dark orchestral utterance and tolling bells portend his doom as he is told he has 5 minutes left before his execution. Pearl screams that he must not die and he consoles her, telling her that she must be strong, and that she will find the happiness she deserves with Laura Belle. Tiomkin supports this heartfelt parting with an exquisite rendering of A Father’s Love Theme for one of the score’s most tender and moving moments.

In “Stage Arrival” we see a stagecoach carrying Pearl across a brilliant sun filled vista. Tiomkin supports her progress and arrival with a happy go lucky rendering of the Heading Home Theme. After an awkward introduction to Laura Belle’s son Jesse, we segue into “The Buggy Ride” where we see him take her in his buggy to her new home, the Spanish Bit ranch. A slower and folksier rendering of the Heading Home Theme with harmonica carries their progress. At 1:13 we have a solemn and full rendering of the Spanish Bit Theme as they come upon a vista and Jesse speaks of his brother Lewt, his imperious father the Senator, and his vast Spanish Bit Empire. As they arrive Laura Belle observes from the balcony and her theme carries her joy. We conclude as we began on the Heading Home Theme. We now come to a complex multi-scenic cue. As they step off from the buggy in “Arrival at Spanish Bit”, a lush quote of Jesse’s Theme carries the moment. At 0:10 we segue into “Beautiful Dreamer” as Laura Belle’s Theme supports her warm welcome. The moment is broken with the arrival of the racist and cantankerous Senator who proceeds to mock Pearl. Tiomkin supports this uncomfortable introduction with a reprise of the ethnic Casino dance music. Pearl feels unwelcome and the Spanish Bit Theme plays as Laura Belle comforts her. At 1:30 the dashing younger son Lewton rides in and captivates Pearl with his charm. A seductive rendering of his theme supports the introduction and his leering as she departs. At 2:12 in “Laura Belle’s Room”, Laura Belle sings her theme as she plays the piano for Pearl in her room. As she speaks of her two sons their themes carry the conversation. We return to her theme on piano at 4:18 in ‘”Beautiful Dreamer” as Pearl promises that she will be good and not disappoint her. We conclude at 4:55 with “Minnehaha” where the Senator comes upon Pearl and mocks her name, which he declares is incongruous with her brown skin color. When he states that the Indian name Minnehaha would be more appropriate, she recoils. Tiomkin supports his boorishness and Pearl’s discomfort with the Spanish Bit Theme.

In “Smoke Rings” Pearl is walking to her room when she encounters Jesse, who is blowing smoke rings from his cigarette. A gentle yet forthright statement of his theme supports the intimate moment. He is genuine, and his warm embrace and desire to kiss her alludes to a nascent attraction. After she departs she encounters Lewt at 1:22 who unlike Jesse is not a gentleman. We transition darkly with a menacing rendering of his theme as he enters her room, which builds to a terrible crescendo as he forces a kiss. He departs with mock courtesy, with Pearl spitting as he closes the door. In “Horse Tricks” it is the following day and Lewt introduces Pearl to his horse Dice, which Tiomkin supports with a playful rendering of the Heading Home Theme replete with horse neighs. Jesse’s Theme enters as he asks Lewt to let Pearl be, the subtext being he understands his brother’s ignoble motives. We return to the Heading Home Theme as Lewt entices, and then challenges Pearl to ride Dice. She accepts the challenge, and we segue at 1:30 into “The Runaway” where Lewt slaps Dice, causing him to bolt out of control through a fence carrying Pearl away. Tiomkin whips his orchestra into a kinetically charged scherzo, which propels her flight and Lewt’s furious pursuit. The flight music culminates dramatically at 2:30 as she is thrown to the ground. We conclude comically at 2:34 in “The Ride Back” as Lewt mocks her riding skills. We hear a nascent voicing of her theme as she regains her composure and insists that Lewt gift Dice to her, to which he agrees. The Heading Home Theme supports their journey back, but transitions to a seductive rendering of his theme as he entreats her to join him later that evening for a swim at the sump.

In “Round Up” Lewt and his men are performing a horse roundup. Tiomkin supports their efforts with a spectacular rendering of the Spanish Bit Theme, which transitions to a folksier rendering when joined by accordion and violin. As Lewt observes Pearl riding to the sump, he leaves the men with lustful intentions atop his theme. “The Sump” reveals Pearl bathing, only to be startled by Lewt. Strings gentile and trilling woodwinds create an idyllic setting that is shattered at 0:14 with Lewt’s arrival. The music becomes comic and frankly, silly when he teases her of his plan to join her. At 1:08 a romantic rendering of Lewt’s Theme unfolds with all its splendor as he sits on the rocks daring her to come ashore. Hours pass in the standoff causing her to miss dinner.

“Sid’s Message” reveals Sid informing the Senator that the railroad construction team is at the East fence with then intention to lay track across the Spanish Bit. Repeating phrases by high register tremolo strings support the Senator’s call to arms. At 0:14 we segue into “Riding Cavalcade”, a score highlight, with solemn statements of the Spanish Bit Theme as the paraplegic Senator if lifted atop his horse. As he rides forth to the East fence with hundreds of his men a powerful and militarized rendering of his theme carries him. The marriage of the rolling hill vistas and music here is astounding! In “Cavalry to the Rescue” the Senator refuses to grant the railway passage onto his land and threatens to shoot all the coolies unless they withdraw. Jesse understands that the Law is against them and crosses the fence to join the railroad men. This act of disloyalty earns his father’s contempt. Before he can signal his men to fire, a choir of trumpets resounds, emoting the Cavalry Motif to support the arrival of the US Cavalry. As they line up opposed to the Senator’s men his theme and the Cavalry Motif contest. As the Senator states with resignation that “I once fought for that flag; I’ll not fire on it”, a twinkling passage by strings, harp and piano support his words. The moment is fleeting, severed by dark low register orchestral growling, which enters at 1:23 as he disowns Jesse. As the Senator departs at 1:36 he is thrown off his horse and dragged on the ground. The orchestra descends ingloriously and writhes at his humiliation. A plaintive viola and celli carry Jesse to him, but he is called a Judas and rebuffed. We conclude on the Cavalry Motif as the US Cavalry departs and we see the railroad men cut through the barbed wire of the eastern fence.

Lewt returns home and finds it deserted save Pearl in her room. She throws a towel at him, but when he again forces himself on her, she surrenders to him. “Returning Cavalcade” offers a solemn and sad rendering of the Spanish Bit Theme; replete with tolling bells as the humiliated Senator is brought home ingloriously on a liter. We transition to Laura Belle’s Theme as she bids a sad farewell to her son Jesse. At 1:30 we segue into “Jesse’s Discovery” where he seeks out Pearl to say goodbye. He is devastated when he finds her and Lewt together in her room. A full but plaintive rendering of his theme supports his search, and disappointment. We conclude at 2:30 with “Pearl’s Transition” where she decides as Jesse departs, to not join him, instead casting her fate with Lewt. Tiomking speaks to her inner conflict and fateful choice by first rendering Jesse’s Theme and then Lewt’s. In “Sump Fever” Pearl invites Lewt to join her for a swim at the sump. Once there, she again surrenders to him as they passionately embrace and kiss. When Lewt confirms that she is his girl, Pearl is ecstatic and speaks of marriage. Tiomkin supports their passion with a sumptuous romantic rendering of Lewt’s Theme.

“Cowboy’s Dream” reveals the Senator and Laura Belle hosting a lavish party at the ranch during which Pearl waits with anticipation for Lewt to announce their engagement. It never comes as the Senator pulls him aside and makes it clear there will be no marrying a half-breed. Lewt assures him that he has no such designs. Tiomkin sets the perfect ambiance for the party with a gentile and folksy waltz. When Lewt puts off the announcement Pearl and him argue, and she is devastated when he say there will be no marriage, and then calls her a half-breed. She goes outside crying where she meets their neighbor Sam. To spite Lewt she returns and selects Sam for the Ladies Choice dance. “Frolicking Colts” offers a carefree and prancing rendering of the Heading Home Theme as Sam introduces her to his colt. At 0:48 we segue into “Sam’s Proposal” where the theme is transformed into a romantic rendering as he proposes to Pearl. She is surprised, hesitates, and then refuses, yet when he persists, she relents and the Heading Home Theme resumes its happy go lucky expression, carrying them as they ride off happily together. “Jesse and Helen” offers a fine cue, which showcases Jesse’s Theme. We open with a solemn statement of the Spanish Bit Theme, which flows into Jesse’s Theme as he opens up to his fiancée Helen that Pearl once held his heart. We see that he is genuine and that his love for Helen is true. We close upon a proud rendering of the Spanish Bit Theme as he adds that he fears how Lewt will react to Sam and Pearl’s wedding announcement.

In “Sam’s Burial” an unarmed Sam is drinking at the saloon. An armed Lewt enters, enraged at the wedding announcement. He guns down Sam in cold blood and flees to avoid arrest. We segue into “Hilltop Rendezvous” where we witness Sam’s burial. At the ranch after the burial the Senator and Laura Belle are at war, each blaming the other for the fate of their two sons. Later that night in a scene change, the Senator offers Lewt money to support his escape. Tiomkin supports the sad times and parting with an aching rendering of the Spanish Bit Theme. “A Risky Visit” offers n astounding, and emotionally dynamic score highlight. The scene reveals Lewt putting himself at risk to visit Pearl at the ranch. Pearl greets him warmly with her gun drawn, but her fleeting moment of anger surrenders to lust as she finds refuge in his arms. A seductive rendering of Lewt’s Theme atop saxophone supports the reunion, attended by an eerie Novachord counter line, which sows disquiet. At 0:52 Tiomkin at last introduces his theme for Pearl, a sensuous line carried by strings romantico, which entwine with Lewt’s Theme. The moment is shattered at 1:32 by ominous horns sounding a dire rendering of the Spanish Bit Theme, which carries us into “Sheriff Visits Laura Belle” as the Sherriff arrives to search the ranch for Lewt. At 2:14 Laura Belle’s Theme joins as the Sherriff visits her on her deathbed. We segue at 2:43 into “Sheriff’s Close Shave” atop the disquieting and tense Novachord motif as he enters Pearl’s room. As Lewt hides behind her open door with his gun drawn, the Sheriff asks Pearl if she has seen him. She lies to him, and after he has left; she once more turns to Lewt and begs that he take her with him. Their two themes entwine, joined by the Heading Home Theme as we see desperation in Pearl’s eyes. As her longing grows, we begin a stirring and impassioned ascent on her theme, which swells as though rising up from the very sinews of her heart. A seductive, yet aloof rendering of Lewt’s Theme rejoins, but is overtaken by her theme, which culminates with her desperate longing upon a crescendo of pain at 4:55 as Lewt coldly rejects her fervent offer.

“Mrs. McCanles’ Death” offers another evocative score highlight. Laura Belle’s life is ebbing, and she and her husband reconcile in love. Tiomkin supports the tender scene wondrously with a magnificent, lush joining of the Laura Belle’s and the Spanish Bit Themes, which ends with a glorious, inexorable ascent to a stirring religioso crescendo, replete with resplendent chorus. “Laura Belle’s Letter” offers a tense scene as Jesse returns home to comfort his dying mother. The Senator however will not forgive his betrayal and informs him that he has arrived too late. As he reads his mother’s last testament her choral supported theme returns with heartache. He leaves and seeks out Pearl, who he finds grieving in the stables. She opens up that she both loves and hates Lewt, and Jesse offers her an out, to come with him to Austin to meet Helen and start a new life. Powerful and conflicting emotions intersect, and Tiomkin speaks to this with inspired interplay of Lewt’s, Jesse’s and the Laura Belle Themes. We segue at 4:46 into “Grand Hotel” atop fan fare where Jesse’s Theme is severed by a rock crashing through Jesse’s hotel window. Sid calls out Jesse give up Pearl, or meet Lewt on the street below the next morning. When an unarmed Jesse meets his brother, Lewt callously guns him down and flees. Tiomkin supports the shooting with a grave orchestral surge of pain. We conclude the cue with a segue at 5:14 into “The Lonely Senator”, another magnificent score highlight. The Sherriff arrives to inform the Senator that Jesse was only wounded by Lewt and is alive. Tiomkin supports the emotional revelation with beautiful renderings of the Spanish Bit Theme with tolling bells, Jesse’s Theme, Laura Belle’s Theme and Indian Legend Theme. The thematic interplay here is just outstanding with each theme offering evocative expressions, which achieve a stirring religioso climax as the Senator informs Sheriff Lem that he was wrong and wishes Jesse to return home. In “Helen Meets Pearl” Pearl has joined Jesse and Helen in Austin. Tiomkin supports the meeting with exquisite and extended rendering of Jesse’s Theme. At 1:33 a forlorn Spanish Bit Theme sounds as Pearl receives a message from Sid that Lewt wants her to join him at Squaw’s Head Rock. She resolves to join him, but Tiomkin’s music informs us through a grim rendering of Lewt’s Theme, that it will not be for love, but instead for revenge.

In the following two cues we bear witness to Tiomkin’s masterful use of grand orchestral power. “Trek to the Sun,” offers gorgeous cinematography as we see Pearl journeying to her fate across the expansive chaparral vistas of the southwest. Tiomkin introduces his epic Legend Theme, which emotes with a stunning, unabashed, melodramatic power. He pits low and mid register male chorus with counter upper register female chorus, supported by bold horn declarations of the theme’s repeating five-note phrasing. Grim percussion provides a dire and fateful cadence, which carries Pearl to her destiny. At 1:04 we segue into “Squaw’s Head Rock” atop powerful repeating statements of the Legend Theme with male chorus as she reaches the monument. In “Duel and Transfiguration” the score achieves its emotional apogee and we bear witness to one of the finest pieces of music in Tiomkin’s canon. Lewt and Pearl come together one last time in a tragic shared destiny. Lewt calls out to Pearl from his vantage point above her, yet to his shock, he suffers a mortal wound when she shoots him with a rifle. Tiomkin unleashes his orchestra with Lewt’s Theme culminating on a crescendo of pain. The Legend Theme resounds and supports his return fire, which mortally wounds Pearl. At 0:58 we segue tragically into Love Is Eternal” where we see Lewt in a deception, call for her, intent on shooting her should he get a chance. This elicits her painful climb to reach him one last time. Tiomkin sows melodrama with impassioned interplay of The Legend, Lewt’s and Pearl’s Themes as she shocks Lewt by shooting him again. At 2:00 we commence an inspired and glorious ascent on her theme as Pearl strives with her ebbing strength to reach Lewt. At 2:36 she is won over after he confesses that he is dying, loves her, and he needs to kiss her one last time. The Legend Theme joins with his theme to empower her desperate ascent. At 3:16 the Spanish Bit Theme unleashes a fervent and unabashed joining of Lewt’s and Pearl’s Themes; an immortal tête-à-tête, which crescendos with a stirring and glorious testament of love as our lovers kiss one last time and die in each other’s arms. At 5:55 we segue into a powerful alternative-ending cue “Love is Eternal”, which was to conclude the film grandly atop a final reprise of Pearl’s Theme followed by a fortissimo statement of the Spanish Bit Theme. I believe this version to be the better choice. At 7:00 we actually conclude with a choral supported reprise of Lewt’s Theme in “Finale” as the camera pans out from our dead lovers to the sun lit vistas of the arid plains.

“Exit Music” played as the audience left the theater and offers a wonderful score highlight where Tiomkin showcases three of his themes. We open with a playful and dancelike rendering of Lewt’s Theme. We segue into a bold horn rich rendering of the US Calvary Motif, and close in fine fashion upon one last grand reprise of the Spanish Bit Theme! “Duel in the Sun – Concert Suite” offers a beautiful bonus cue and score highlight. Selznick was so impressed with Tiomkin’s score that he commissioned orchestrator Carroll Huxley to arrange a concert piece for radio presentation, which he would use to promote his film. The suite features a grand and glorious presentation of Tiomkin’s themes, and offers a rich and rewarding listening experience. We are graced with a full rendering of the Spanish Bit Theme with its A and B Phrases, Lewt’s Theme, the Heading Home Theme, the Indian Legend Theme, and Pearl’s Theme, with the suite concluding atop a glorious flourish!

I offer a heartfelt thank you to James Fitzpatrick and Prometheus Records for this long sought rerecording of Dimitri Tiomkin’s epic masterwork, “Duel in the Sun”. The sound quality of the recording is pristine and provides stunning, and dynamic 24-Bit 96kHz digital sound. The conducting under the masterful baton of Nic Raine and the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus is exceptional. This score never found its place in the sun, and for us to now receive a 2 CD version, which includes the famous Concert Suite, is a godsend. By all measures “Duel in the Sun” was a failed film, instructive is how Tiomkin’s music elevated its narrative, and fleshed out the emotional drivers of the characters. In scene after scene Tiomkin enhanced the film, and sustained its narrative flow. This score offers a testament of the capacity and power of music to mitigate a flawed film. For the film, Tiomkin provided eight primary themes with two motifs. His Spanish Bit Theme perfectly spoke to the grand stature of the senator and his sprawling ranch, while his themes for our lovers Lewt and Pearl perfectly captured their personas, achieving a stunning confluence as they died in each other’s arms. The powerful Legend Theme, which spoke to the unfolding of Lewt’s and Pearl’s shared destinies, propelled the film to its tragic outcome. This score offers one of the finest of the Western genre, is a classic embodiment of the Golden Age, and stands as one of the best in Tiomkin’s canon. I highly recommend you purchase this CD for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a Youtube link to the brilliant Main Title from the actual recording session with Nic Raine; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qumeD3i9Cxs

Buy the Duel in the Sun soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude (9:37)
  • Overture (2:15)
  • Selznick Logo/Main Title/Legend (2:35)
  • El Balero (0:50)
  • Casino Dance (4:10)
  • Pearl’s Humiliation/Border Town Jail (5:26)
  • Stage Arrival/The Buggy Ride (2:44)
  • Arrival at Spanish Bit/Beautiful Dreamer/Laura Belle’s Room/Beautiful Dreamer/Minnehaha (5:21)
  • Smoke Rings (3:01)
  • Horse Tricks/The Runaway/The Ride Back (4:56)
  • Round Up (0:58)
  • The Sump (3:03)
  • Sid’s Message/Riding Cavalcade (1:32)
  • Cavalry to the Rescue (2:53)
  • Returning Cavalcade/Jess’ Discovery/Pearl’s Transition (4:10)
  • Sump Fever (2:15)
  • Cowboy’s Dream (1:35)
  • Frolicking Colts/Sam’s Proposal (4:07)
  • Jesse and Helen (1:28)
  • Sam’s Burial/Hilltop Rendezvous (2:51)
  • A Risky Visit/Sheriff Visits Laura Belle/Sheriff’s Close Shave (5:42)
  • Mrs. McCanles’ Death (3:29)
  • Laura Belle’s Letter/Grand Hotel /The Lonely Senator (7:12)
  • Helen Meets Pearl (2:36)
  • Trek to the Sun/Squaw’s Head Rock (2:34)
  • Duel and Transfiguration/Love Is Eternal/Finale (7:29)
  • Exit Music (3:20)
  • Duel in the Sun – Concert Suite (12:26)

Running Time: 110 minutes 49 seconds

Prometheus Records/Tadlow Music XPCD-180 (1946/2017)

Music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin. Conducted by Nic Raine. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Original orchestrations by Paul Marquardt, Joseph Nussbaum, Paul Smith and George Parrish. Recorded and mixed by Jan Holzner. Score produced by Dimitri Tiomkin. Album produced by James Fitzpatrick.

  1. avietar
    July 10, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    “Selznick’s constant interference and micromanaging resulted in numerous rewrites of the script, and reshoots, which expanded the film to over 26 hours in length!

    I have no idea what “expanded the film to over 26 hours in length” means. Gobbledygook, Craig. That’s about 140,000 feet of film; most feature films shoot several times that, but it includes every unused take of every scene, but I can guarantee that there was no cut of the film at 26 hours, or 13 hours. Seven, maybe, but the whittling down of what are often called “sprawling epics” is a laborious process.

    As for

    “In the end, this contributed to the breakup of Selznick’s marriage with Jennifer Jones, as well as King Vidor quitting the project…”

    There was NO breakup of Selznick and Jones’s marriage; at the time “Duel in the Sun” was in production, Selznick wasn’t even married to Jones: he was still married to Irene Mayer. He and Jones didn’t wed until 1949, and remained married until Selznick’s death from a heart attack in 1965.

    You really need to learn what you’re writing about before you write it.

    As for the music, itself, the CPPO under Nic Raine has produced some terrific CD’s, especially four magnifcent scores by Rozsa. With “Duel in the Sun,” however, what can be said, other than that they played bad music (which describes most Tiomkin) as well as bad music can be played.

    And, regarding your review, as the great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe phrased it so memorably, Less in more. Overwriting rarely, to use Dale Carnegie’s book title, wins friends or influences people.

  2. Karoly Mazak
    July 10, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Hi Craig,

    Does this entry really belong to the “100 greatest scores of all time” series and not perhaps into the “Movie Music UK classics” series?
    It would be a 12-year step back from Vertigo, the last score you discussed in this series.

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