Duel – USA, 1971

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‘The most bizarre murder weapon ever used!’

Duel is a 1971 television thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws; producer of Poltergeist) from a screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his short story, originally published in Playboy magazine.

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The film stars Dennis Weaver (What’s the Matter with Helen?; Don’t Go to Sleep) as a terrified motorist stalked on a remote and lonely road by the mostly unseen driver of a mysterious tanker truck.

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Following Duel ’s successful TV airing, Universal released the film overseas in 1972. Since the TV movie was not long enough for theatrical release, Spielberg spent two days filming several new scenes, turning Duel into a 90-minute film. The new scenes were set at the railroad crossing, school bus, and the telephone booth. A longer opening sequence was added with the car backing out of a garage and driving through the city. Expletives were also added, to make the film sound less like a television production.

Plot:

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a middle-aged Los Angeles electronics salesman driving his red 1971 Plymouth Valiant sedan on a business trip. On a two-lane highway in the California desert, he encounters a grimy and rusty 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker truck, traveling slower than the speed limit and expelling thick plumes of sooty diesel exhaust [ironically actor Weaver was a noted environmentalist in real life].

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Mann passes the unsightly truck, which promptly roars past him and then slows down again. Mann is unmoved, passing the truck a second time, and is startled when it suddenly issues a long air horn blast…

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Reviews:

‘Much like Carpenter’s brilliant Halloween (1978), the pure simplicity of Duel’s structure and presentation permits the engaged viewer to layer on additional meanings and connections; to see more lurking beneath the hood, as it were, than the elegant screenplay literally expresses on the surface.  In this manner, Duel goes from being a basic tale of inexplicable road rage and survival to something infinitely more symbolic; a meditation on fate, and on Evil itself.’ John Kenneth Muir, Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV

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‘Matheson’s script provides a sturdy framework of steadily increasing stakes with deft exposition and remarkably little padding, and provides just enough detail about the protagonist that we understand who he is and relate to his struggle. David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is written in broad, archetypal strokes, but he still seems recognizably human; and there’s slyness in the way Duel tackles its themes of male aggression and identity.’ Jordan Krause, CHUD.com

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‘The sure eye of Spielberg is evident from the first as he captures some of the best car-chase footage ever staged. He also keeps the story gripping throughout its entire 90 minutes, despite the slender theme. He may have gone on to make Hollywood blockbusters but the modest Duel remains one of Stephen Spielberg’s most accomplished and memorable films.’ David Tappenden, Fright Films

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‘The allegory in Duel is something Spielberg leaves for us to decide. By not revealing much about the characters or their conflict, he paradoxically breathes life into them because they represent primal tensions between city and country residents and white- and blue-collar workers. Two other conflicts emerge as well: business vs. industry and man vs. machine. However, determining their messages is confusing. These tensions collide into an allegorical Armageddon that literally ends on the side of a road.’ Chris Justice, Classic-Horror.com

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Cast and characters:

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The surviving truck, a 1960 281 at a 2010 truck show, displayed with a Plymouth Valiant.

 

Wikipedia | IMDb | Related: Killdozer | The Car

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