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How Duel paved the foundation for Steven Spielberg’s career

We have all been there. You are on the road, alone behind the wheel of your automobile, and you begin to feel a strange sense of threat. Another car comes a little too close for comfort, making itself known in a way that suggests an antagonistic force in its driver’s seat. Maybe they were going too slowly and you made the decision to pass them. Maybe you haven’t done anything at all. Whichever path you take at this point, something seems undeniably strange and you start to think about what might happen next.

This is the setup for Duel, Steven Spielberg’s feature debut from 1971, which initially aired as ABC Movie of the Week before its success led the studio to ask the director to add a few scenes so that the film is long enough to work. in theaters abroad.

Adapted by Richard Matheson from his own short story, which originally aired on Playboy, the film imagines the worst-case scenario of such a situation for David Mann (Denis Weaver), a salesman who runs into the tanker driver ever. seen. a truck. What follows is a heart-wrenching tale of tension escalation, with Spielberg never taking his foot off the accelerator. David’s sporty Plymouth Valiant – painted bright red to stand out against the desert landscape – becomes a death trap, as he is unable to escape this menacing cat-and-mouse game.

In one of the film’s landmark sequences, David stops abruptly at a roadside cafe, hoping to lose the truck driver. We follow a shaken David, who thinks he has finally escaped his pursuer, in a one-shot that follows him entering the building, heading for the bathroom, then exiting into the main cafe area. The shot only breaks when he reaches the front window, where he sees his worst fear: the truck is parked across the street. He realizes to David that one of the cafe patrons could be the abuser.

“It’s a film stripped down to the essentials, and Spielberg likes to be creative to make every moment as fresh and energized as the last.”

It’s a brilliant bait-and-switch moment, the kind of thing Spielberg would hang his hat on later. One need only watch the infamous moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where a swordsman confronts Indiana Jones only for Indy to take him down quickly, to see the wrong direction Spielberg will take later. It’s a move straight out of Alfred Hitchock’s playbook, which Spielberg cited as a major influence on Duel, which he described as being “like Psycho or The Birds, just on wheels.”

Spielberg thrives here in minimalism, which is precisely why Duel endures today. Whatever your thoughts on Spielberg, there’s no denying his technical mastery – this is a stripped-down film, and the director excels at having to get creative to make every moment as fresh and energized as previous. Shot in just 13 days on location, Spielberg uses unique camera placement, editing rhythms, and attention to detail, to transform what could have been an overly thin premise into a biting thriller.

Credit also goes to Matheson, whose script features plenty to chew on. There is always something lurking beneath the surface in Matheson’s writing, as evidenced by The Incredible Shrinking Man and the many Twilight Zone episodes he has scripted. In Duel, it’s an exploration of fragile masculinity, which emerges even before meeting the film’s protagonist in the flesh. Before seeing David, we hear what’s on his car radio: a man filling out a census, wondering if he’s still allowed to consider himself “the head of the family” because his wife is going to work to support himself. to his needs. family while he is home all day.

Soon we find out that David and his wife were in an altercation the night before where a man harassed her and David did nothing. In light of his broken ego, this gigantic truck that towers over David’s tiny sports car has a deeper meaning, reflecting the state of masculinity in early 1970s America. Spielberg would revisit this theme several times over the course of his career, from Jaws’ portrayal of three very different types of men in Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, to the many absent father figures appearing in his films.

As with many early feature films, there is a temptation to see Duel as a stepping stone, but in a way it exemplifies all of Spielberg’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker before there was any room for potential weaknesses to sink into. It remains a lean, average, and wildly exhilarating descent into the dark depths of American male fragility.

Reference of the Article-post – lwlies