DUEL - now on DVD

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As a young cineaste in training, one of the things I was privileged to see was a 20 minute long 16mm print of Duel.  My parents checked it out from the library.  This was in the days when they would lend film and projectors to, well, us, anyway.  Maybe they still do!  Anyway, it was of course terrific, a guy trying to outrun a killer semi from Hell, whose driver is a mysterious cloaked figure who may or may not have coordinated the driving stunts on It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  We're not talking Arnold Schwarzenegger or G. Gordon Liddy here battling it out with this mahogany semi, it's just a regular guy in a regular car!  Would we fare as well?  It gives one pause.  At that age, however, one tends not to appreciate the Hitchcockian themes and Psycho / Kung Fu - esque music, NOT by John Williams; no, John got to do only the bonafide theatrical releases.  It's much simpler as a kid: does the film suck or not?  Not that I judged films in such a Boolean manner as a lad myself, maybe more like boring or not, but Duel delivered the goods nonetheless, no pun intended.  My cousin took it a step further and actually examined the print frame by frame, but we'll save that story for the authorities.

Later on in life I saw the full theatrical release version and thought it was a bit too padded out.  Having just purchased, and having sat down and watched the whole DVD, which I don't usually do - I probably should more often.  What a backlog I have!  But I digress.  Having watched it again, minus the occasional trip to the fridge, I must say there's enough here for students of film to get out of it.  Directorial motifs, such as the quick cuts between wide-angle and increasingly telephoto shots of the same subject (Dennis Weaver, in this case).  This was done more cleverly in Jaws with Roy Scheider, with people walking past the camera used for smoother edits.  Also a premonition of toy robots to come later on in CE3K (Whew! Saved a little space!).  And, as with CE3K, Duel serves as a historical record of funky ancient 50s and 60s designs of things, since we do see a lot of Dennis Weaver's speedometer.  And of course because this kind of thing wouldn't be as common in the age of cellphones.  Or so you'd think.  This is the kind of thing that might happen on a special action-packed episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  There's a situation that would fit right into Curb Your Enthusiasm where the protagonist tries to figure out which truck driver in the café is the one driving the big rig...

It still feels too padded out, but they at least pretty much leave no stone unturned.  Everything that can happen between one car and one truck duking it out in Wile E. Coyote territory does happen, but at least it holds your attention.  There should be enough fodder here for theologians to show how the truck is in fact the devil, and in fact the truck ends up taunting our guy in quite a few insidious ways.  Devil worshippers will appreciate how the other people in the movie end up thinking David Mann's the crazy one.  So aside from Amblin', it's the lowest budget picture Spielberg's done, but with the over-arcing three act Hollywood formula with a fairly decent explosive finale, ending with a shot reminiscent of the opening sequences of Kung Fu, a contemporary at the time.  

Also, the picture quality was pretty good!  (Comment not yet been rectified by persons in the biz, or Tony the Tiger, to say "Good?  It's GRRRREAT!!!!")

'Duel' clones, not as good: Breakdown, Joy Ride.

Inter-movie motifs: Spielberg working with ancient cameramen, as on the Indiana Jones films, but you wouldn't know it from all the creative angles used, in addition to the telephoto work that would make Tony Scott salivate.

Good double bill with: The Shining.  The music is at times a little bit similar!  And some of the shots from the top of the semi reminded me of the helicopter shots from The Shining's opening credits sequence.

If it were made today: The title card 'Duel' would be wiped away by the tunnel entrance in the opening sequence. (see Fig. 1)

Movie philosophy: There's some slight modernism in David Mann's internal monologue during his trip to the men's room for a breather, but otherwise it's mostly in-the-moment stuff.  Why me?-type stuff.  

Moral of the story?  Get that radiator hose.  

 



Fig. 1 - 'Duel' opening credits, circa 2005. (c) Universal

***1/2

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

(c)2005 Bulk Entertainment

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