Duel (1971)

(In French, On TV, May 2018) There’s been a Duel-sized hole in my Steven Spielberg filmography since forever (I remember wanting to see the film in the late eighties after reading a book about Spielberg and E.T.), so it’s great to finally being able to watch the film that propelled him to the big leagues. Originally made for TV, Duel proves to be a classic suspense film starring a harried long-distance commuter, a winding road and a mysterious truck that just wants to kill him. (The trucker is almost entirely absent from the film, so the truck becomes the antagonist.)  Executed on a budget but with high standards, Duel ends up carrying its rather simplistic premise far longer than anyone would have expected. Road rage is now a more common fear than back in 1971, so there is some universally applicable suspense in seeing a truck become murderously determined to harm a motorist in a small car. While the premise isn’t bulletproof (get off the road! Take a real highway!), Duel does multiply plot points and mini-vignettes in an attempt to keep the suspense high. Dennis Weaver is bland but serviceable as the everyday man protagonist—not much is required of him but channel your average audience member and he does it well. There is some thematic content here about dehumanization and masculinity, but the focus is on pure suspense: the film is still effective today, largely because of its focus on essentials. Very few TV movies have aged as well as Duel.

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