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Overall Rating

Awesome: 35.42%
Worth A Look43.75%
Average: 10.42%
Pretty Bad: 2.08%
Total Crap: 8.33%

2 reviews, 36 user ratings

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by MP Bartley

"The first sprouting of genius or just a damn solid flick?"
4 stars

It's easy to look too hard at 'Duel' and debate its worth in the list of great cinematic debuts. After all, when it's the first film directed by a certain Mr S. Spielberg, you should really sit up and take notice. But then considering it's a made for tv movie bumped up for a theatrical release, couldn't its importance be over-estimated? Truth be told it's a little of both, as it can't quite escape it's tv roots, but it more than stands the test of time as a snappy little thriller.

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is trying to get home to his complaining wife by driving through the dustbowls of California. On his way however he becomes threatened by a massive truck and its unseen driver. And this isn't someone merely trying to show off their superior driving skills; this truck is lethal and David is dragged into a cat and mouse game for his life.

Originally a tv movie in America then dusted off and expanded into a theatrical for Europe, the influence of 'Duel' is obvious. Besides being the starting point for the general all-around God Spielberg (yes I'm a fan), it's also the blueprint for many a film after, such as 'Breakdown'; 'The Hitcher' and 'JoyRide'. It's even 'Jaws', but on land.

But is possible to praise this too much simply because it is Spielbergs debut. It has no moments that stand-out and make you cry 'Genius!', there's no moments to equal the face-off with the Arab swordsman, the placed memory of Devils Mountain, the sneak attacks of the shark for example. But what it does, it does very effectively as it immediately shows Spielbergs natural skill at storytelling without overly showing off. The simple plot is made taut in the extreme, simply by the contrast of the roaring truck against the spluttering car, and effective cutting into the tiny interior of Mann's car to show his terror in sweaty close-up.

It also shows Spielbergs early love of set-pieces as the truck tries to force the car into the path of an oncoming train and Mann stopping off at a roadside store for help only for it to be demolished into splinters by the truck.

There's also a vein of his usual black humour running throughout which is generally overlooked in his films. If you look closely you'll see notches on the bumper of the truck indicating that Mann is not the first victim of the driver and there's a great moment where half-way through his vengeful mission against Mann, the truckdriver stops to help a broken down school bus.

But you can't get away from the fact that this is still an inflated tv movie. It does eventually become quite repetitive with Mann as just the one main character, as Weaver gives a limited performance. And nowhere is the padding more obvious than in the cafe scene where a voiceover from Mann wonders if the driver could be any of his fellow customers. The voiceover seemingly drags on forever, and you can imagine Spielberg wincing in embarrassment at that scene now.

Nevertheless, it's hugely effective for the most part and Spielberg and the writer Richard Matheson admirably refuse to reveal the killers face or even his motivation. The killer is a killer, simple as that.

So is 'Duel' a forgotten masterpiece, teeming with Spielberg tics and themes or is it a forgettable film to be discarded at the bottom of his cv? Neither actually, it's a well drawn out thriller that, while no classic, still entertains and thrills, and that manages to disguise most of its cheapness. You know what, I'd tip this Spielberg guy for bigger and better things...

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originally posted: 04/01/04 20:21:02
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell a great thrill ride 5 stars
3/08/15 stanley welles a lean, efficient thrill ride 4 stars
9/24/10 Kill the critics!!! Best film ever made 1 stars
12/03/07 Screwball Excellent. I love it !!! 5 stars
6/15/07 Vincent Ebriega A good jumpstart to a film career. A. 4 stars
5/12/07 Christopher Well done for his first 1971 movie. only took 10 days to make! 4 stars
1/28/07 Durwood I'll bet you anything Dave Mann's wife was the truck driver! 5 stars
1/22/07 David A. This movie is great. It's conflict freebased down to its most basic form. 5 stars
10/19/06 David Pollastrini great! 5 stars
10/03/06 hiu total crap and boring way repetetive and totaly waste of time 1 stars
7/28/06 David Cohen An exciting and engaging movie, pity Spielberg can't make movies like this anymore 5 stars
6/03/06 Wipef Impressive, but it isn't Woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo 4 stars
4/08/06 p the worst film ive seen, this critic doesnt know what hes talking about!!! 1 stars
11/15/05 malcolm so simple. so effective. spielberg was already expertly using music to enhance. 4 stars
11/02/05 David Fowler Quigley&Josh should stick to 5 stars
10/25/05 Green Gremlin A kick ass debut !!! 5 stars
6/19/05 Quigley spielberg had some great stuff in the movie, but it all adds up to nothing. a waste of time 2 stars
10/19/04 Broken Sword I loved it! That big Peterbilt sure is awesome! 5 stars
10/18/04 will rogers (ivan campo) one of my favourites, spielberg delivers well! 5 stars
10/08/04 Josh This is the most boring film I have ever seen! 1 stars
9/22/04 American Slasher Goddess Excellent Made-for-TV movie. 5 stars
9/14/04 Mike Palmiter Way excellent!! 5 stars
9/13/04 keithers.. the king's beginning 3 stars
9/12/04 Debbie This movie made me afraid of BIG TRUCKS 5 stars
9/04/04 Ron Newbold An example of the excellent TV movies of the 70s. Very entertaining!! 4 stars
8/28/04 Al Guy I have loved this since I was a kid, and it holds up! 5 stars
7/30/04 Jack Bourbon Repetitive as hell 3 stars
2/06/04 tatum Very good, but the ending doesn't live up to the rest of the film 4 stars
12/17/03 john great thriller! 5 stars
11/22/03 ross hendrick good for a 23 year old director 5 stars
6/16/03 Alice great suspense. Top ! 5 stars
4/06/03 R.W. Welch The first hint that Spielberg was something else. Very tautly rawn. 4 stars
1/10/03 Jack Sommersby Okay stuff, but it's widly overpraised. 3 stars
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  13-Nov-1971 (PG)
  DVD: 17-Aug-2004

  02-Oct-1972 (PG)

  13-Jan-1972 (PG)

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