Made-for-tv film (1971). ABC/Universal. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Richard Matheson, based on his original story "Duel" (April 1971 Playboy). Cast includes Eddie Firestone, Charles Steel and Dennis Weaver. 75 minutes; expanded and released outside the USA as a feature film, 90 minutes. Colour.
Universal Studios were so impressed by this television film directed by the young Spielberg – who has gone on to direct at least fifteen more films of genre interest, beginning with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – that they added extra sequences and released it outside America as a feature film, which attracted a great deal of favourable critical comment, particularly in Britain. A tightly constructed thriller (the original 75-minute version being superior to the expanded one whose extra scenes served only to slow it down), it well displays Spielberg's ability to create an atmosphere of unremitting tension. It is also a typical Matheson variation on his usual theme of Paranoia, in this case that of the motorist who feels that every other vehicle on the road is out to get him. Duel concerns a travelling salesman pursued by a mysterious oil-tanker truck, the driver of which is never seen. The film has a strong sf or Technofantasy feeling, with the tanker coming to seem like some animate, malevolent, technologized nightmare of the American West (see Monster Movies), even emitting a Dinosaur-like bellow of rage in its ultimate plunge down the face of a cliff. Matheson published the screenplay in his Duel & The Distributor (coll 2004). [JB/PN/DRL]
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