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Duel

Published January 28, 2022

Duel

Film info

  • Title Duel
  • Director Steven Spielberg
  • Year 1971
  • Run time 1hr 30m
  • Genres Action, Thriller
  • Tagline The most bizarre murder weapon ever used!

In Steven Spielberg's first full-length movie, Duel, a travelling salesman is harassed by a menacing 40-ton truck on a remote desert highway. Brilliant in its simplicity, the cult favourite takes road rage to a dangerous level as the traveller and the mysterious truck-driver are pitted against one another in a motorised duel to the death. Gripping with psychological tension, this is a desperate battle for survival.

Live blog

Time Comment
1:37 Ooh, California tunnels.
2:27 Can we talk about how bad that font is?
10:43 Why are the garage people looking at the engine just at a petrol stop?
15:52 “I gave you the road, why don’t you take it?”
20:10 Aw, tuning the radio through all the static!
25:05 I don’t believe that truck can go that fast.
29:41 He has some kind of PTSD? This has more levels than I thought!
35:40 Ah, the diesel has some kind of nitro button, does it?
43:46 Is he not going to offer to pay for the fence?
44:38 Is the truck NOT REAL??
52:38 I always find it amazing how open the US rail tracks are.
55:44 He’s so late for his meeting now, why doesn’t he turn round and go home?
1:10:48 He’s gonna speed it up.
1:17:56 Oh, maybe he shoulda listened to the rogue garage guy.
1:27:45 Presumably now he is in the middle of the desert with absolutely nothing except the shirt on his back.

Thoughts

Right, this is a complicated one. I remember watching this as part of my media studies class at school, and we went into so much detail on it, it was basically ruined for me. I vividly recall over-analysing the meaning of an indicator scene, it went on and on, ticking and ticking. What does this mean, is it like a stand-off in a Western, what did Spielberg intend with this, argh! But, you know what? Watching it fresh so many years later, it was fine… I didn’t even see the indicator bit happen and it was far more entertaining than it has any right to be.

So to the film itself: it’s a clear representation of how good Spielberg is, even at this early stage in his career, because this film is really just two cars driving near each other… a lot… and yet it managed to remain interesting for 90 minutes. There are some areas where you can feel it’s stretched out (the made-for-TV movie of an hour was elongated to make it ‘proper’ film length), but overall it’s a great piece of directing.

Having said that, though, the story could use some work. Mr C came up with a great premise involving PTSD and the truck not being real and it all being in his head, and that worked right up until near the end, and it would have been so much better. Without that, why did the truck driver not just kill him straight away? How has he managed to get away with killing people for so long when he’s blatantly happy to run over an old woman and her snakes in broad daylight? And more than anything else, just why? There’s no motivation.

Overall, happy to have watched it and banished some dusty old school memories, pleased that it was a better movie than I’d expected, but frustrated at what could have been.

Rating: 2 / 5

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