Have Cheetah,Will View #298 – “Duel” (1971)

11:26 pm

One of the rare benefits of when my local video store closed late last year was they sold a huge amount of older films that were never put on sale. These films were supposed to be viewer favorites and were again,supposedly had high rental traffic. Of course the staff always got a big kick out of that as they said “try running your finger over the top of the DVD case and see how much dust you collect”.
So when these older films went on sale at the closing,I grabbed quite a few of these movies because while today’s young adults wouldn’t be interested in watching them,I knew I would be,many were films I had seen once or twice and never see in the wild and when I did,they often were in very poor shape.
I recently read in another blog about how older films don’t attract the same traffic as newer,more popular titles do. While that is true,I don’t post older reviews with that in mind,I do it in the hope that someone will stumble across it and hopefully like what they read and go take a peek for themselves. Quite honestly,with more and more films being made every year,its easy to how many older films,even classic ones like “Duel”become more and more forgotten. This is just a man and his cheetah trying not to let that happen in our own small way.

One of the films I picked was Steven Spielberg’s film debut,the made-for-TV “Duel”which stars Dennis Weaver. Back in the 1970s,made for TV films were made for a 90 minute time slot,the actual film was 73-75 minutes and as Spielberg noted,didn’t have much time to film. In fact from the time that “Duel” was approved,it was a MONTH until the film was scheduled to air on ABC! 30 days to film,edit and deliver on a budget a entire film!
Normally this may not have been a problem as Spielberg was told to shoot on a soundstage. He held his ground and insisted on a location shoot in the mountains near Los Angeles which really helped create the tension in the film.

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But its the story by one of the masters of suspense,Richard Matheson,that is at the heart of what makes “Duel” a true classic almost 50 years after its debut.
The story is both simple yet complex and it you’ll need to watch the movie a couple of times to pick up a couple of things you may missed like I did when I first watched it.
Dennis Weaver plays businessman David Mann who is on his way to a important meeting with a client. His drive takes him into the mountains and while driving,he comes up behind a slow moving gas truck.

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When Mann passes the truck,the driver of the truck takes offense to this and re-passes David. But when Mann passes again,the stakes get upped instantly as not only does the gas truck pass David again,it nearly hits him as well and its no accident.
David Mann doesn’t know it but not only has he pissed off the driver but the truck driver also happens to be a serial killer and he has done this duel many times across the country. David Mann is in for the ride of his life….

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There are so many things that goes through your mind in watching “Duel” and of course the first one is “Why the hell didn’t he turn around at the first chance he got?” It seems like the most simple answer but Matheson has answered that in the fact Mann was in danger of losing an important account and that may lead to severe money issues at home. Between the account and the fact a neighbor had been far too touchy with David’s wife the night before has led to a uncomfortable fight David had with his wife,he is trying to walk a narrow line here.

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Being that was this was 1971,there weren’t no cell phones or GPS and the mountains didn’t have many side roads where you could possibly take as a short cut. While Mann seems to be comfortable with the route as he has driven it many times before,he isn’t that comfortable in that he takes that choice. He knows the driver is waiting for him and that the driver will wait several miles up the road….what I didn’t understand is why he didn’t take a side road and use the same trick he played before. Mann has a chance to escape when he hides in some brush and the truck driver blows on by,as soon as he was out of sight,Mann could have turned around and drove to one of the many homes we see on the road.

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The story would have you see Mann as a nervous type and he does appears high strung but two things says otherwise….he doesn’t turn around at first chance and his job appears to be a high pressured one and he is used to high stakes….he doesn’t LIKE them but he can deal with them.
The truck driver is never seen but he is identified as a serial killer by the license plates he has kept as trophies on his truck,while Mann thinks is a random act of road rage is far more calculating and deadly. The truck driver has his target and either the victim figures out a plan quickly to escape or else they’ll become just “accident”. The truck,while appearing to be a ugly beater has in fact been souped up to be a lethal killing machine.
What is interesting is to see who is in control slowly switch,David is on the defensive for most of the movie and after a bad encounter at a cafe,he does seem to be losing it….yet he STILL keeps going on his way and the truck driver starts making critical errors as David is starting to push back. One gets the idea that this “duel” has been the longest one for the truck driver as well and he is having a hard time adjusting. This is shown when David finds a phone booth and the driver attacks him in the open and in front of a witness.
Again the driver attacks when David mistakes a pest control car for a police car and slows down,the driver by now completely frustrated,again attacks in the open.
The last 15 minutes is about as tense as one could hope as a piece of advise that David had ignored at the start of the movie almost comes back to finish him…..

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Looking at “Duel” today,its hard imagining it could be made today in the high tech world we live in. Could a simple story like this be made? With cell phones,GPS tracking devices and more roads having been built then in 1971,could “Duel” make as huge as an impact now as back then?
“Duel” did so well that Spielberg was asked to add on 16 minutes of extra footage and the film was released in Europe as a theatrical film where again it did great business and propelled Spielberg to his great career.
The only negative that came out of “Duel” was that it marked Matheson’s last story he ever wrote and for the man who scared so many of his with his words,that was a damn shame.

In the release I got,Duel is shown as it was in the theaters which means its a 90 minute full length film. There several features in the DVD release including a 35 minute interview with Spielberg himself.

The cheetah and I completely enjoyed watching this older classic and we highly recommend it by giving it 4 paws/two thumbs straight up….

Hmmm,I wonder if “Killdozer” was ever released…..

Drop a comment below,we would love to hear from you.

7 thoughts on “Have Cheetah,Will View #298 – “Duel” (1971)

  1. One month to film?! That’s amazing.
    I remember seeing this as a kid, and it certainly did NOT make me feel warm and fuzzy about learning to drive….which I was terrified of to begin with. The last thing I needed would be a psychopath chasing me down!
    And Matheson is one of my favorite authors of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

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