Starring: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Richard Matheson
Rating: PG Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min
Duel is what happens when you combine Hitchcock film-making sensibilities, Twilight Zone level writing, and a young Steven Spielberg hungry to make his mark within the world of film. It’s brilliant, tense, occasionally terrifying and maddening all at the same time. A ‘what if’ scenario that will grab your attention and have you mentally drawing up your own plans – just in case a homicidal maniac in a monstrous old truck comes gunning for you!
At times it feels experimental, as Spielberg cuts between tight close-ups of meaningless objects and tracking shots of the open road. But despite that occasional unevenness, this Made-for-TV movie is a real treat. A story (according to the DVD commentary from Spielberg and Matheson) designed to be a straight up suspenseful thriller, truck vs man, but I saw more than that here.
This to me was a story about the modern world as it pertains to men losing their ‘head of the household’ status. Overpowered by their wives and the rest of society. Men who are derailed when confronted by real power, and become the hunted instead of the gatherer. As David Mann (Dennis Weaver) laments after taking refuge in a roadside café, “There you are, right back in the jungle again.”
Mann’s journey through this film is mostly about control. He can’t defend his wife when she’s pursued by another alpha male, or control unruly kids. He’s stuck in a dead-end career, and is powerless against this monster on the road. To survive this journey, he’ll need to fight for that control (man up essentially), and Spielberg and his team did a great job getting all that into this entertaining ABC Movie of the Week.
Try not to focus on the mechanics of this story, because if you do, you’ll likely find a lot here to irritate you. You’ll say to yourself, “I know what I’d do,” and start listing off common sense solutions to Mann’s problems. This film isn’t really about that, and it pays to look beyond the simple premise and interpret the other messages being delivered in this story.
This was shot for TV, and later had footage added for a theatrical release in Europe. I’d love to see this in a movie theater because it looks great. The film is available to purchase in HD.
The truck! Big, old, rusty and relentless! It’s Jaws on the highway. A bigger angrier Christine!