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Duel (1971)

After mentioning it in my Jaws post at the weekend, I decided on Sunday afternoon to watch this absolute classic:

Duel (1971)

I’ve had a real yearning to watch this film recently. I’d probably put it in my top 100 movies of all time (and it might even make it into the top 50).

If you haven’t seen it, it’s a brilliant suspenseful, action/thriller directed by Steven Spielberg that stars Dennis Weaver (Touch of Evil) and not many others.

This is what it’s about:

“A mild mannered salesman on his way to a meeting with a client finds himself relentlessly pursued and terrorised by the psychotic driver of a massive tanker truck.”

I love this movie! It’s one of those old school thrillers that’s just super easy to watch.

It has a very simple premise, a minimal cast but the idea is executed to perfection!

Based on the short story by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) who also adapted it into a screenplay, this was Steven Spielberg’s first feature film.

It was actually inspired by a real life incident in which Matheson, while driving home from playing a round of golf, was relentlessly tailgated by a truck (on the same day J.F.K was assassinated as it happens).

The short story was published in a copy of Playboy magazine (of all things) and was originally pitched as an episode of a number of popular TV shows at the time. After little success with this, Matheson adapted it into a screenplay which was then made into a TV movie by Spielberg who was put onto the story by his secretary.

Spielberg was only 25 at the time, and up to that point the most notable thing he'd directed was an un-aired episode of Columbo called "Murder by the Book" (season 1, episode 1). In fact, he took a rough cut of that episode with him to a meeting with the producer of Duel as an example of his work, and it was that that got him hired.

The TV movie version of Duel was so well received that it was eventually given a theatrical release, but being only around 70 minutes long Spielberg had to shoot an extra 10 minutes of footage to make it long enough to show in theatres. These scenes include the railway crossing scene and the scene in which Weaver’s character, David Mann reluctantly helps the driver of a stranded school bus, among others.

What I love about this film, and one of the things that makes it so good is that you never actually see the driver of the truck. Other than his arm and his boots his identity remains a complete mystery right up till the end of the film. This, very cleverly almost makes you believe that the truck itself is the villain and not the sinister guy behind the wheel. It’s very much what makes Jaws so effective. It’s often what you don’t see rather than what you do that makes it all so terrifying.

Dennis Weaver’s performance in this film is absolutely superb! Being pretty much the only character in the movie he had a tough job on his hands but he totally delivers. The way he gets across his fear, desperation and panic is utterly convincing, not to mention his odd bursts of relief and excitement at certain moments throughout the film.

The score by Billy Goldenberg (who also composed music for several episodes of Columbo) is the icing on the cake for me. It does exactly what the movie needs when it needs doing.

This is an excellent film that not only started Spielberg’s movie career, but also went on to inspire countless other films like it over the years. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and get it watched. You won’t regret it.

Seen it? Let me know below.👇

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