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Duel (1971)

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  • Duel (1971)

    For our "keep the projector tuned up" project this week, my wife and I watched this 1971 flick via a converted-from-DVD DCP tonight.

    For the uninformed, "Duel" was a made-for-TV movie and was Steven Spielberg's second feature-length movie as a director. The success of "Duel" is what opened the door for him to direct "Jaws" a few years later.

    The movie has the world's barest plot. The story is: Dennis Weaver gets terrorized by a crazed truck driver. That's it. There's not much dialogue (and what there is, is kind of painful to 2020 ears) and there's also no motivation. We never learn why the truck driver's pissed; we get a couple of subtle clues but nothing confirmed.

    For anyone who has ever been terrorized by a truck on a two-lane highway (and usually those incidents are caused by the person in the four-wheeler, not the truck driver) the movie will be relatable. In other words, everyone can relate to this story because just about everyone has gotten "too close" to a trucker and come away with that queasy "I could have just been killed" feeling.

    The movie is 89 minutes long. I read somewhere that the original version was 74 minutes for TV, but it was lengthened out for a brief theatrical release. They would have been better off to leave it at 74 minutes. The movie tends to drag a little in spots, although this could partly be due to your typical viewer these days not being used to the more casual pace of movies from the 1970s.

    I was thinking this movie could stand a great remake. With 2020 special efx and sound, and a more fleshed-out story and some better acting, it could be awesome. Although they would probably ruin it by making the truck have supernatural powers, or adding a few gun battles, or having Spider-Man swoop in at the last second to save the day.

  • #2
    Duel was so popular at the time that it was also released in theaters.


    • #3
      I think Duel shows why Steven Spielberg is at his core, a pretty talented filmmaker. He managed to make a compelling movie with rather minimal resources, largely told by visuals and not just by easy exposition.

      While the movie probably doesn't qualify as horror movie by modern standard, I would very much qualify it as such. Humans are terrified of the things they don't know, the things they can't see. I think it's exactly this what a young Spielberg was able to get right for his breakthrough movie.


      • #4
        I watched the "special features" on the DVD last night and got a few fascinating facts about the movie.

        - Spielberg had a shooting schedule of only 10 days, but ran overtime -- it took 13 days to shoot the movie.
        - About a dozen different trucks were "auditioned," with the old Peterbilt being selected because it had a more ominous looking "face" than the flat-nosed modern trucks.
        - Dennis Weaver was picked for the lead role based on his performances in episodes of "The Twilight Zone."
        - Among the scenes added to stretch out the movie for theatrical release is the scene where the truck tries to push the car into a train (one of the scariest scenes in the movie).


        • #5
          i love duel! years ago ('90's i think) i kept stumbling on it on tv and getting sucked in. a few years ago i finally saw it from the beginning in 35mm, and the setup, such as it is, adds quite a bit. no, we don't learn what motivates the truck driver as a character, but he isn't really one. in the early scenes, weaver is repeatedly "emasculated" or, more broadly, de-humanized and confronted with his own impotence. the truck is all the soul-crushing forces of modern (1971) life given 18 wheels and a diesel engine. what can we do but mop our brows, mutter to ourselves, and run for our lives?


          • #6
            The only other movie that did so much with so little was The Thing From Another Planet.... the original one. Not the effects laden Carpenter version. Not only did the B&W help, but so did the the monster catching on fire and all the suspense they built up. And the great ending. Its still my favorite Sci-Fi movie.


            • #7
              For a minimal but extremely effective movie, I'll submit The Cold Equations (1996 version) which is a made-for-tv movie that takes place almost entirely with two actors in one room.

              That's one intense movie.


              • #8
                About 10 years ago, the Landmark Loews Jersey in Jersey City NJ ran a stunning new 35mm print of Duel. I was the first time I revisited the film since it's original television release. I was much more impressed with it on the big screen.