Duel (1971) was initially released as a TV movie on ABC running 75 minutes, later receiving a proper theatrical release in 1983. It was to be a cornerstone for Steven Spielberg’s career. Although he began in television directing the first episode of the Columbo series, he believed that, even so, the results should look like theatrical items. Duel was a quick assignment he received from ABC’s main producer, due to be made in 10 days according to the schedule. Everything was shot on location and was eventually ready in 12 days. What Spielberg learned from Hitchcock, he applied here successfully: he never lets the audience off the hook. He admits he had Hitch on his mind constantly while filming Duel and it shows.
Dennis Mann (Dennis Weaver) plays a salesman taking a trip for a business meeting and who is unlucky to get stalked by the driver of a mysterious, veteran of the roads truck. Spielberg loved Weaver’s performance and anxiety in Touch of Evil (1958) and he particularly wanted him for the part. He also chose the main character’s car to be red to stand out in the colours of the desert. The truck had to have a personality of its own and it was especially chosen by Spielberg from the Universal’s backlot to fit the role. It was the oldest available and the team had to grease it all the time to give it the authenticity sought after by the director. You never see the truck driver’s face, thus using the rule of the unseen being more frightening than what is thrown into the face of the audience. Duel enjoys an extraordinary editing that was necessary in order to highlight the tension and the sound makes everything even scarier. Spielberg declared he wouldn’t be able to make Duel that way, that good, again and I totally agree.
photo: movie still | Universal Studios | I would recommend the Blu-ray, but it’s only available in Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection and I don’t recommend the entire box set