After my successful Alfred Hitchcock project in 2021, I decided to undertake a similar project in 2022. Unlike my Hitchcock project, this time I’m focusing a director I am already familiar with: Steven Spielberg, one of my all-time favorite directors. I debated on starting with Duel, his first feature-length film, or Sugarland Express, his first theatrical film. In the end, I chose to start at the very beginning with Duel. I am delighted that I started with Duel because it was well worth my time.
The premise of the film is extremely straight forward: a businessman is harassed by a truck driver on the way to a client. Despite this simplicity, Steven Spielberg manages to create a suspenseful ride from start to finish. The camera angles, the pacing, the editing, Dennis Weaver’s fantastic acting, all of it created an experience reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock himself. Taking a page from Hitchcock’s playbook, the antagonist is never actually seen throughout the movie. Going off the idea that the unknown is scarier than the known, the truck driver’s arm or the driver’s boots may be seen but that’s as much of the character as we see. This adds to the tension and the suspense because neither the audience nor David Mann (Weaver) knows the madman trying to kill a fellow driver. To make up for the lack of visibility of the truck’s driver, the truck itself is just as much of a character as David. There is a lot of character in the truck’s appearance; it’s all grimy and dirty, and covered in plates from other cars where the driver had successfully performed similar menacing acts in the past, and has a distinct and memorable silhouette. My only knock against Duel is it might be a little long for such a simple plot. However, seeing as how this was originally a made-for-television movie and had extra scenes added to extend the run time to receive an international theatrical release, this is a minor gripe.
I thought Duel was GOOD 🙂 It’s very high quality for a television movie, which usually pale in comparison to their theatrical counterparts. Spielberg weaves a story that is suspenseful and exciting, creating a monster movie reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. If you want to see where Spielberg’s film career began, be sure to check this one out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Duel marked Steven Spielberg’s feature-length directorial debut. It originally aired as a television film as part of the ABC Movie of the Week series on November 13, 1971, later receiving an international theatrical release with an extended version featuring scenes shot after the films original broadcast. (via Wikipedia).
Cast & Crew
Steven Spielberg – Director
Richard Matheson – Writer
Billy Goldenberg – Composer
Dennis Weaver – David Mann
Jacqueline Scott – Mrs. Mann
Eddie Firestone – Cafe Owner
Lou Frizzell – Bus Driver
Gene Dynarski – Man in Cafe
Lucille Benson – Lady at Snakerama
Tim Herbert – Gas Station Attendant
Charles Seel – Old Man
Shirley O’Hara – Waitress
Alexander Lockwood – Old Man in Car
Amy Douglass – Old Woman in Car
Dick Whittington – Radio Interviewer (voice)
Carey Loftin – The Truck Driver
Dale Van Sickel – Car Driver