Friday, March 25, 2011

Duel (1971)

***(out of four stars)

This 1971 made for television film was written by Richard Matheson and directed by Steven Spielberg. It is a simple, yet edge-of-your-seat film that really pulls you in from start to finish.

David Mann is alone and on his way to a very important business appointment. He's delayed behind a slow moving 18 wheeler going up a mountain. He becomes agitated and passes the truck. From there on out he's terrorized by the truck driver. Though we never get a good glimpse of the driver it's not all that important anyway.

The real scare tactic here is the menacing image of the truck. Speilberg does a superb job of making the 18 wheeler a terrifying villain. When watching this film you get a sense of, I guess, road rage, yet we never really understand the reason for the truck's vengeful presence.

The truck itself was personally chosen by Spielberg, who, initially had the vision of the truck already in his head. This story goes along the lines of Jaws, in which, a terrifying force is causing havoc to seemingly helpless victims. In Jaws you fear the water, but with the great suspense of "DUEL" you don't ever want to piss off another truck driver.

The film ends with the truck driving over a cliff, thus, blowing the truck to pieces. The last scene was filmed in only one take with multiple camera angles.

On a final note. I really liked the fact that we are left in the dark about who the driver is and what his intentions really are. The truck has a presence all its own that we really don't need any other explanations. It seems to me that films in the seventies worked more with the atmosphere, rather than actually diving into back story that would otherwise make the pacing slow and redundant. This film is the classic tale of cat and mouse and does a good job with the suspense factor. Kudos to Mr. Spielberg for being (at the time) a hungry, fresh, and innovative filmmaker who knew what he wanted and dictated the screen and audience's emotions. It's definitely one film you should have in your library.

Starring: Dennis Weaver

Directed by Steven Spielberg

run time: 74 min


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