Movie Review – Steven Spielberg’s Duel (TV 1971)

Steven Spielberg's Duel (1971) ReviewAlso Known As: Belâ

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Richard Matheson (screenplay), Richard Matheson (short story)
Stars: Dennis Weaver, Eddie Firestone and Gene Dynarski

Storyline: While traveling through the desert for an appointment with a client, the businessman David Mann from California passes a slow and old tanker truck. The psychotic truck driver feels offended and chases David along the empty highway trying to kill him.

I have not seen Duel in a long time. I had actually forgotten about the film when I saw it pop up within my Netflix account. I got excited to watch it again, so I took the opportunity to rent it and decided to post some thoughts on the film.

This is a movie that Steven Spielberg described as High Noon (1952) on wheels and it is an apt description of the film actually. In 1971, Steven Spielberg’s secretary suggested the story to him after reading it in Playboy magazine.

We all get stuck behind these big trucks sometimes, so this is a story that we can all relate to. Actually, this is a story that we can probably relate more to these days since road rage is a lot worse than it was 30 years ago when this movie was released. Back then, it was more of a “what if”. These days, it is more like a “oh yeah, I can see that guy doing this”.

Sometimes the best villains are the ones that we never see and those which give no motivational background. That is what you get in this movie. When Carey Loftin, playing the truck driver, asked Steven Spielberg what his motivation was for tormenting the car’s driver, Spielberg told him, “You’re a dirty, rotten, no-good son of a bitch.” Loftin replied, “Kid, you hired the right man.” Without ever seeing the villian, you fear him even more. I love how the truck driver is completely shrouded by a dark cloud of mystery and intrigue.

According to Richard Matheson, he was inspired to write the original short story “Duel” after an encounter with a tailgating truck driver on November 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

In addition to the brilliant story, you have so many memorable scenes in this film, such as the pest control car that David Mann, played by Dennis Weaver, believes to be a police car. The suspense in that scene is amazing. You are trying to figure out what the truck driver will do because you think that you see the police car as well. When Mann stops, you see that it is not a police car at all and the suspense builds even more.

Another great group of scenes is in the diner when David Mann is trying to piece together the puzzle of who the truck driver is and he goes through a series of actions to try and get out of this situation. You feel the paranoia setting in as he tried to find the villian.

It was Dennis Weaver’s role in Touch of Evil (1958) that convinced Steven Spielberg that he would be perfect for the role of David Mann. The casting of Dennis Weaver as David Mann was a great choice. It is evident in those diner scenes and the final chase.

Overall, this is a psychological thriller that should not be missed. Many people have seen it just because Steven Spielberg directed it, but sadly, a lot of people have never heard of it even though Steven Spielberg directed it.

  • Thanks for the comment. It was a long time for me too. I decided to rent it from Netflix since I do not own the DVD. I was fully expecting it to not hold up. I was dead wrong. Still as tense as ever.

  • Great review. I haven’t seen Duel since …well, since forever. I fondly remember it being a tense thriller, especially when the truck closes in on Weaver’s car. I should plan on revisiting this classic soon too. It’s because of this film, I was drawn to other classic killer vehicle films: Killdozer, The Car (A Favorite!) and Christine.