Saturday, September 10, 2011
(November 1971, U.S.)
For the benefit of those possible few that aren't widely familiar with Steven Spielberg's career, let's make this perfectly clear - JAWS was not his first film! Got that? Like many other struggling new film directors, the man had to start out at the bottomless pit of television. DUEL was his first film and it was made for the ABC-TV Movie of the Weekend. Look at the film today, though, and you'll likely agree it had all the spectacular makings for a theatrical feature, or at the very least as part of a double bill at the local drive-in movie theater. Actually, it was released as a theatrical feature in Europe.
Let me ask you all a blunt question? Have you ever been driving on the highway and come into contact with a real asshole driver? Or have you ever acted like one yourself? My own answer to that is 'yes' on both accounts? I mean, come on, even the best of us can get a little impatient and angered on the road, and as a result we just might piss somebody off. It can happen. However, you don't want what happens to mild-mannered Los Angeles salesman David Mann (played by Dennis Weaver) to happen to you on the road...ever! All HE did was encounter a grimy and rusty Peterbilt 281 tanker truck, traveling slower than the speed limit and expelling thick plumes of sooty diesel exhaust. Mann passes the unsightly truck, which promptly roars past him and slows down. David passes the truck a second time and is startled when it suddenly issues a long air horn blast. In short, the truck driver (a truck driver that we, the viewer, NEVER get to see!) gets awfully pissed and decides that David will now be his new target in a game, or "duel" of cat-and-mouse wits on the road. Wits will eventually evolve into many attempts of murder as the "Goliath" truck overpowers the "David" (hey, did you get that one, too?) small, red Plymouth Valiant. On paper, the premise may sound a bit mild, but when you watch the film and incredible fear involved in the life of this ordinary man, you can feel the terror happening.
Think back now to the monsterous moments of Spielberg's films when the leviathan of the great white shark in JAWS (1975) stalked it's prey, or when the man-made dinosaurs did the same in JURASSIC PARK (1993). Now consider that the menacing truck in DUEL was the prerequisite to all of that. The monster can come in many forms. For us, the reality of the unstable driver may be a lot more reality to bear than the shark or the dinosaur.
Favorite line or dialogue:
David Mann: "Come on you miserable fat-head, get that fat-ass truck outta my way!"
(I know just how he feels!)