It’s incredible to think that this film was a TV movie that was released in 1971. It still holds up extremely well to this day and doesn’t feel like a film made for TV at all. In fact, it was so good, that Hollywood decided to release it for a couple of days only in theaters. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Duel tells the story of David Mann, played by Dennis Weaver, who is a businessman who is driving long distance for an important meeting. Everything is going well until he passes a truck, and soon realizes that this truck driver is following him and he becomes chased by this madman who never stops to pursuit him. David cannot prove that this man is really after him, and starts to be obsessed with this insane truck driver who is clearly out to get him to the point of Mann loosing his sanity, and what follows is one of the best car chase film ever made.
The direction by Spielberg is incredible. The shots are all fantastic and there’s also a sense of mystery and suspense injected in this movie since we never see the truck driver, which makes the truck a character of it’s own and entirely menacing and mysterious. There’s a great scene that lies near the second act, where David stops at a Diner after being harassed by the truck driver and has lunch, only to realize that the driver who attempted to kill him on the road might be eating at the same restaurant. This scene is so suspenseful and so well orchestrated as you hear Mann’s thoughts depicting the situation.
Steven Spielberg did such a fantastic job directing this movie. The script is fantastic and is adapted by Richard Matheson’s short story, which was published in a Playboy magazine believe it or not. It was inspired by Matheson’s real life encounter with a Truck Driver who followed him home from a golfing match on November 22 1963, the same day of the Kennedy assassination. The short story was given to Spielberg by his secretary who read the magazine for the short stories.
Spielberg also did auditions to find the perfect truck and settled on the 1955 Peterbilt 281 and chose a red car for Mann’s vehicle so that the car would stand out in the wide shots of the desert highway.
This film is a hundred times better than any of the Fast and Furious movies, since it realistically depicts the dangers of the road and it never plays it for comedy or an over the top kind of way.
As for flaws, the film is fairly self-contained and it never leaves the road, which can be a bit slow at times, but Steven Spielberg always manages to keep things moving at a coherent pace and it rarely feels like the movie drags. You care about David Mann and his plight and that is what is the most important in a movie like this. There was also something that I expected to happen at the very end, and while the ending is fantastic and true to the rest of the film, I was anticipating something else to happen, and when it didn’t, I was a bit bumped out, but it made sense in the end.
Overall, the film has you on the edge of your seat from start to finish and the direction by Spielberg is terrific especially for a first time director. Duel offers a superb performance from Dennis Weaver and is an extremely suspenseful movie that ranks among the director’s best films.