Duel: A Retrospective


Duel is the debut film from Steven Spielberg, who had so far, only directed a segment for the debut episode of Night Gallery and episodes for other television shows. With this clout and credit, Spielberg was told about Duel by his assistant who came across the short story ( by Richard Matheson) in an issue of Playboy.

A script for a film adaption was being worked on, and Matheson would write the screen play.  Duel was set to be filmed in 10 days, Spielberg wanted to shoot on location instead of in studio as it would of looked fake ( yes, the film would of come across as too forced and cheap, though some in studio drive scenes in films do look good). So a deal was agreed on, if Spielberg couldn’t do it, the movie would be done in studio, but how Spielberg managed to get all on location shots done, with help of the camera car ( used to film bullit) goes to show why he is 1 of the best directors and why Duel was offered to him.

Ok, filming went 3 days over schedule, but the result is a fine thriller starring the late great Dennis Weaver as David Mann.  David is out on the road to secure an account, along the way he passes an old frightening looking tanker truck, whose driver won’t let him pass and continues to stalk and menace Mr Mann. The driver of the truck is legendary stuntman Cary Loftin, who does a fantastic job handling the truck, it makes you think, do I fear this metal beast knowing it was taken care of, or…

Well, forget that, the truck is a supreme killing machine and the number plates have been revealed to be the states where the truck killed motorists, or the plates are of the victims cars. Such a plot makes the driver more terrifying. How everything is shot is done with careful precision and caution. The close ups of the truck urging forward and ramming the car is fun and intense, the open shots of the car being chased down the road are some of the most beautiful moments in film history.

Yes, Duel was a T.V film, the T.V film of the week, though it did get theatrical releases with extra scenes. The bus scene ( where David attempts to help a broken down school bus and the truck arrives to do the job) and the fan favourite train scene ( this is where the truck is pushing the car into an ongoing diesel, it really makes you think twice when driving, because truckies are intimidating, though they keep many resources going, but thanks to Duel, many have a phobia of them).

Duel is one of those films that leave a solid memory and many movies and games after have referenced the film.  Joyride can be considered a sequel of sorts as it’s two brothers being stalked by a crazy trucker, in Duel, David has 2 sons. There hasn’t been a direct remake, though 1 film, Wrecker is just a poorly done film that comes across as a remake and like many, it is shit.

Without Duel, we wouldn’t have got Jaws and many upon many Spielberg classics. One of Spielberg’s best and I will say, it is a masterpiece. Yes, you can see the truck driver in full view the first time David passes the truck, yes there are crew reflections, but c’mon, how can this film not be any better than it is, we are still wondering how David Mann got home.


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