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Duel - Collector's Edition  (1971)


Rating: PG

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Video

Release Date: August 17, 2004
Review posted: August 28, 2004


Reviewed by Dylan Grant




A mild-mannered traveling salesman (Dennis Weaver) unintentionally angers the driver of a semi truck. Suddenly, the truck is not only riding his tail but trying to run him off the road. No matter what he does (pulling over, stopping at a diner, calling the cops), he can't get rid of it.




Originally made for television, then given a theatrical release by Universal, this is the film that put Steven Spielberg on the map. Before this he was directing television; after, he was on to Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and all the other films for which he is known. In a way, Duel is one of Spielberg’s best films; it certainly works better than some of his later movies. It is a grand example of what Hitchcock called “pure cinema.” Pure cinema is the notion that film does not refer to any art form other than itself; it does things that books, paintings, and music are not capable of, though it may contain aspects of each. This is created through edits and dissolves. A simpler way to put it would be to say that the story is told primarily through the images, with little or no dialogue. Other than some rudimentary dialogue – Weaver talking to himself, or trying to convince others of what is happening – Duel could just as well be a silent film.


Wisely, the driver of the truck is never shown, making Duel into more of a man against machine struggle, which works better than what would have become a more worn man versus crazy man struggle. Dennis Weaver, who made his name playing the hayseed, the country bumpkin in so many films, does well here as the weak salesman. The idea of manliness is at the heart of the film. Early on, when Weaver’s character is talking to his wife, we learn that the night before another man made a pass at her, and Weaver did nothing. Right away his manliness is called into question. Then we learn that his job is a precarious position. He is far from the strong, solid type that is usually glorified in films. In the end, he wins just as much by luck as he does by his wits.


Duel is an interesting film. Like a Pinter play, there is so much more going on than simply what is going on; it is all beneath the surface. As the film rolls along, the truck takes on a palpable air of menace, the suspense gradually moving up, notch by notch. As an exercise in horror, Duel prefigures pictures like The Car, Christine, and other evil auto movies that would follow, typically to lesser success. In terms of Spielberg’s work, the similarities between Duel and Jaws are striking. (Spielberg himself has talked about how related the two films are.) Aside from being a great film, Duel is also a must for those fans of Spielberg who want to see where it all began.




Originally made for television, the DVD retains the original full frame format. The picture is sharp, with the colors looking better than they ever did on VHS. There is no grain, and the whole presentation is vibrant.




This DVD offers tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital and 5.1 DTS sound. The presentation is pristine, with all of the effects coming through sharply. The wide sound dispersal also does a remarkable job of putting us out on the road with Weaver and the evil semi.




The special features the DVD offers are quite detailed, giving us an in depth look at this often overlooked masterpiece.


Steven Spielberg on making Duel: Spielberg talks about making the film, what went into it and what it led to.


Steven Spielberg and the small screen: A rare look at the television work Spielberg did prior to making feature films. (Now, if only they would release some of those on DVD.)


Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel: This story comes from the man who wrote the novels I Am Legend, Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come (among many, many others), countless episodes of The Twilight Zone, and other projects too voluminous to name here.  ere he talks about the process of writing the short story and later adapting it into a screenplay.


This DVD also offers a Photo Gallery and the Original Theatrical Trailer for the film.




Duel is a film that would look great on any resume, and Spielberg was only getting started. The film is a rare, remarkable example of pure cinema, and it looks great on the new DVD. The bonus material is also very insightful.




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