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Duel (Special Edition) [DVD]
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Businessman David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is driving on a lonely stretch of highway when he notices that he is being followed by a huge, menacing diesel truck. The truck then starts trying to push him off the road, and despite Mann's attempts to defuse the situation, it soon has him engaged in a punishing duel to the death. Originally made for American television but given a cinema release in the UK, this was director Steven Spielberg's feature debut.
This is the TV movie that put Steven Spielberg on the map, shortly before he made The Sugarland Express. Working from a script by Richard Matheson, the film stars Dennis Weaver as a mild-mannered traveling salesman who unintentionally angers the driver of a semi truck. Suddenly, the truck is not only riding his tail but trying to run him off the road. No matter what he does (pulling over, stopping at a diner, calling the cops), he can't get rid of it. Spielberg makes the wise decision of never showing the driver, even as he cranks the voltage on the film's suspense elements. As a result, the truck itself takes on an air of satanic menace--even a personality of sorts--as it seems to hunt its human prey. Spielberg made a lot out of a little, suggesting just how skilled a storyteller he would become. --Marshall Fine
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I have always loved this film. I consider it to be a masterpiece of suspense and one of the best films of the early 1970s. There is very little dialogue spoken in the film, but it is very creepy and full of tension. Although the film is basically one long car chase scene, there isn't a single dull moment and it is consistently gripping. I never tire of watching this and I give it the maximum five stars. A superb film.
While this may come across as boring and one sided, Spielberg's direction, together with Weaver's acting really manage to make an excellent, multifaceted movie out of it.
Much has been said about the fact that the nemesis - the driver of the rusty, greasy tanker truck haunting Weaver (whose character is aptly named Mann) - remains unseen throughout, thereby allowing a multitude of interpretations in terms of motivation and cause of menace towards the meek opponent that is Weaver. In a sense a modern day viewer may not be as impressed by the approach as someone at the time the movie was released but it is effective nevertheless, and possibly one of the key elements turning this from an also ran road movie into a classic. The fact that the truck completely respects all other road users, even lends a helping bumper to the stuck schoolbus but still relentlessly hounds Mann, makes it even scarier.
The writing and acting that produced the range of emotions in the protagonist also deserve a mention. It is very easy to slip into Mann's shoes and understand him, he is definitely both interesting as a character and completely believable. The movie is PG rated and after seeing it I can understand how it would not be scary to children (hence PG) but how Mann's hopeless situation still produces a first rate thriller for an adult.
Finally, Spielberg's touches are the final component elevating the movie to greatness, some of the scenes (truck's wheels slowly rotating against a branch towards the end as an example) certainly matching the drama and tension of classics such as Once Upon a Time in the West -- Special Collector's Edition (2 discs) [DVD] . And while the ending may be somewhat predictable in 2011, I can imagine it being fresher when the movie was made in 1971.
If you enjoyed Vanishing Point  [DVD] or Two-Lane Blacktop [DVD] this will definitely be a movie to add to your collection. If you are a Spielberg admirer, it is probably a must have.
The DVD offers some appealing additional features, too. There is the interview with Spielberg on the making of the movie, a short documentary on his work for the small screen, an interview with Richard Matheson, the writer of the story, as well as the trailer and some stills and posters for the film.
Overall a fabulous package and at this price an absolute steal.
What makes this film so great is the fantastic camera shots from both the vehicles concerned; Dennis Weaver's red Plymouth and the demonic gasoline truck. You get such a sense, from Spielberg's direction, of the crazy speeds this killer truck was travelling at, which is what makes it all the more horrific in that it is even possible for this situation to be happening. "How can he go so fast?" as Dennis Weaver exclaims at one point.
Dennis Weaver's performance is first-rate. His inceasingly desperate attempts to out-manoeuvre the deadly truck are captured brilliantly by Spielberg, including some extreme close-ups of Weaver's terrified face.
This film rightly put Steven Spielberg on the map. Great stuff!