Friday, August 17, 2007

Duel (1971)

I finally dusted off my copy of Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first major film, at the request of a friend who had fond memories of the killer semi-truck driver flick. Let me tell ya, I had reservations about watching a film that basically took place inside a car (bad flashbacks of watching Penny Dreadful) but Duel pleasantly surprised me. It was a rip-roaring, gas-guzzling good time!

The premise is very, very simple: A middle-aged business man named David is driving on his way to a business appointment in the middle of Nowhere, California and pisses off the wrong truck driver who is driving a souped-up but very rusty and old gas truck. From there on out it is a game of cat and mouse as the dangerous driver toys with the man.

I was always curious about this movie and after buying it a while ago, I’m glad I finally sat down to watch it. From the cool opening credits that show the point of view from the driver’s seat of a car to the explosive finale, Duel is definitely an entertaining film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Dennis Weaver does a fantastic job as the business man who unwittingly picks a fight with a semi and its driver. He is the embodiment of a middle-aged man. He’s not heroic or courageous but entirely believable as he becomes angry, then panicked, then paranoid and eventually decides to stand and fight against his harasser. We never see the truck driver, and besides a few patrons at a café, The character of David is the only one we see or is developed. The semi-truck driver is never seen, and because of this the actual semi takes on its own persona. Every time the semi is seen in a rearview mirror, barreling down the road or stock still at a gas station, it fills you with a foreboding sense of dread.

The film is packed with suspense, much due in part to the fantastic camera work. There are some truly stunning shots in the film, many of them coming from within the car that David drives. There were some great shots where the semi can be seen in the rear view mirror before David sees it and it took all my strength not to scream out, “Look behind you!!”

I thought David’s interaction with the few other characters in the film ratcheted up the suspense even more. There is one scene in particular that involves a broken-down school bus and little kids milling around the road. Whew! Was I gripping the edge of my seat on that one! I also enjoyed the scene in the café where David’s paranoia gets the better of him and he believes anyone inside could be the truck driver.

Duel does tend to drag a bit in some parts and others have complained of the rather abrupt ending. The ending seemed fitting to me and didn’t bother me too much. The film does get bogged down a few times, but it’s only for a few minutes and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the film.

Duel was released in 1971 and it is considered Spielberg’s first major film. The budget may have been slim compared to his other endeavors, but even with his first film anyone could tell this guy had talent. Duel is packed full of action, suspense, great performances and stunning direction.

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