Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Duel

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
7 out of 10
Extras Rating:
9 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: PG

Starring:
Dennis Weaver as David Mann
Jacqueline Scott as Mrs. Mann
Eddie Firestone as Cafe Owner
Lou Frizzell as Bus Driver
Gene Dynarski as Man in Cafe
Lucille Benson as Lady at Snakerama
Tim Herbert as Gas Station Attendant
Charles Seel as Old Man
Shirley O'Hara as Waitress
Alexander Lockwood as Old Man in Car
Amy Douglass as Old Woman in Car
Dick Whittington as Radio Interviewer
Carey Loftin as The Truck Driver
Dale Van Sickel as Car Driver

Special Features:
Steven Spielberg on Making Duel (30 min)

Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen (9 min)

Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel (9 min)

Photograph Gallery

Trailer

Production Notes

Cast & Filmmaker Bios

Other Info:
Full Frame (1.33:1)
Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound
DTS 5.1 Surround Sound
English, French, and Spanish Language Track
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 1 Hr. 30 Minute

Synopsis:
This film was the first feature length movie made by Steven Spielberg. It was an ABC TV Movie of the Week and it helped jump-start his big screen career. It originally aired in 1971. It was also based on a short story written by Richard Matheson for Playboy. (Yes, one of those articles that nobody reads.)

David Mann is a traveling salesman making his way across the back roads of California. His trip is rather uneventful until he happens upon a dirty old fuel truck on a lonely stretch of highway. As David repeatedly tries to pass the truck, the unseen driver taunts him and harasses him. The driver's game of cat and mouse eventually escalates to dangerous levels as they get up to high speeds. David soon finds his business trip turned into a fight for survival as the homicidal truck driver repeatedly attempts to kill him.

Duel is rated PG.

The Movie:
Despite being a big Steven Spielberg fan, I had never seen his first feature length film, Duel. It was the film that really helped put him on the map. Now having seen it I can understand why. He was able to take a potentially weak script and turn it into a suspenseful film that looked like it was made for the big screen rather than a TV Movie of the Week. And as you watch the film you can see little touches here and there that end up being Spielberg trademarks in his later films. After seeing this movie, it's also easy to see why Spielberg was chosen for Jaws. Between the suspense, the truck acting like a monster, and the action, Jaws was right up this director's alley.

The concept for the film was great. Who hasn't been on the freeway and been tailgated by a large truck? The movie takes a common occurrence and turns it into a terrifying experience. In the wrong hands this movie never would have been able to play out to the full 1 ½ hours, but Spielberg makes it work along with writer Richard Matheson. Taking cues from Alfred Hitchcock, they even take the action off of the road and into a roadside café for an intense scene where David Mann agonizingly tries to figure out which customer is the mysterious driver that has been harassing him. The fact that we never see the driver makes him all the more intimidating. The whole road rage formula has often been imitated since but never equaled.

Dennis Weaver is excellent as David Mann. He switches from being laid back to being in absolute terror with convincing ease. The contrast in his character from the beginning of the film to the ending is remarkable. But as you watch the movie you keep wondering what you would do in his situation and you second-guess some of his choices. There aren't many other actors in the film, so the spotlight is typically on Weaver. However, I suppose you could consider the truck a character as well.

If you like suspense thrillers, car chases, or Hitchcock-ian scariness, then you'll thoroughly enjoy Duel.

The Extras:
There are a few excellent bonus features included on this DVD:

Steven Spielberg on Making Duel – This half hour documentary features an interview with Spielberg himself. He talks about how he got the job of directing the film and all of the challenges associated with it. He was only given 10 days to shoot the film and he made it in 12. That's quite an accomplishment. Spielberg talks about some of the tricks he used to film the movie so fast. If you're an aspiring filmmaker, you may want to take notes on some of the tricks he used. He also points out some interesting bits of trivia about the film. He points out where he can accidentally be spotted in the picture here and there. He talks about how he used some of the Duel actors in 1941 and Close Encounters. He also talks about how and why he chose the truck and how he used a "roaring" sound effect from it in Jaws. All in all this is an excellent and informative documentary. I highly recommend viewing it.

Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen – Though I'm a big fan of Spielberg, I had no idea that he had done so much television before hitting the big screen. He did episodes of Columbo, Marcus Welby, M.D., Night Gallery, and more. This feature highlights those shows. Spielberg talks about how he got into TV and how the experience shaped him as a director. It's quite an interesting look at his work. It is about 9 minutes long.

Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel – This 9 minute documentary features Matheson talking about how he came up with the idea for Duel, how it was turned into a short story, and how it was eventually turned into a screen play. He talks about his visits to the sets and he credits Spielberg for some of the key moments in the film. I didn't realize just how prolific a writer Matheson was. He wrote the Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Omega Man, What Dreams May Come, A Stir Of Echoes, and more. This, too, was a very interesting bonus feature.

The Bottom Line:
If you're a fan of Steven Spielberg, this is a required addition to your collection. Even if you're not, you'll find this to be a suspenseful thriller that gives a whole new meaning to "road rage".

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