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Duel (1971)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast overview: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott
Running time: 90 minutes

Duel is one of Spielberg's earliest works, and its premise couldn't be simpler. Starring Dennis Weaver as David Mann - an, ironically, Everyman on his way to a business meeting. Driving along the desert roads of rural California, he overtakes a huge tanker - his grave mistake. The mysterious truck driver, never really seen, begins to stalk him along the aforementioned roads, seemingly intent on causing death. Indeed, the truck itself is a character.

The fact that we never see the truck driver gives rise to the tension that can be seen in other films - the shark in Jaws, for example, in that we know it's there, but it's not often seen. The same idea works here, and Spielberg is a master at creating suspense with minimal props. It's a truck, a car and its driver, and miles and miles of desert road - but it works tremendously. There's a terrific scene where Mann stops at a roadside diner and attempts to evaluate his situation, and it's here that we see his confusion and frustration boil over into violence as he attacks one of the diner's patrons.

Much of the credit must go to Richard Matheson, the man who came up with this simple-yet-effective story, and the man whom Stephen King claims was his biggest influence. He takes an ordinary, everyday object and manages to create a storyline that is both realistic and suspenseful, all filmed by Spielberg in a 90-minute film. It's one of the few TV movies I've seen that is actually well-made - they don't have to be crap, but too often they are.

There's very little character development, very few locations, not much dialogue or exposition, yet it leaves you fearful, exhilarated, asking questions, and it's why it's one of my all-time favourite films. For me, one of Spielberg's best - his talents, although nascent and not fully formed, can clearly be seen here. Simple, yet superb.

David Mann: Don't... don't... don't sit on the hood. That hood will dent. I told the kids not to get on the hood! Just see if you can bounce it loose, and I'll... ah... just bounce it loose.

David Mann: Come on you miserable fat-head, get that fat-ass truck outta my way!

David Mann: Fill it with Ethel.
Gas Station Attendant: As long as Ethel doesn't mind.

While filming the shot where the truck drives off the cliff, a piece of machinery designed to keep the truck traveling in a straight line without a driver failed. Instead of calling a halt, the driver, who had an important engagement the next day and didn't want to miss it, stayed in the driving seat and only jumped out at the very last second before the truck went over.

During the chase, a parked sedan resembling a squad car is seen, briefly raising Dennis Weaver's hopes, but it turns out to be a service car for a pest exterminator named Grebleips... "Spielberg" in reverse.

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."