The first film in the Steven Spielberg collection is the thrilling and mysterious film Duel. , and its biggest stars are Dennis Weaver and a truck.
On an ordinary day, David takes the car to get to his appointment. Everything seems fine at first. The weather is nice and the road is quiet, with the exception of a very old and scary looking truck. However, after David passes by, his trip changes drastically into the most nerve-racking one he has ever had.. This old brown, scary looking truck starts chasing him which eventually leads to a life threatening car chase between David and the mysterious truck driver.
This film is a special one, since it is the first film Spielberg made. He had to make it in ten days, but he didn’t want to record it in a studio. Spielberg wanted to film Duel in the ‘open air’ and on a real road where people were actually driving a car, so it looked less fake. I can already tell you that this film doesn’t look fake at all and we do see the maincharacter driving his red car! Duel gave me a bit of a ‘Hitchcock’ vibe and I think a lot of horror makers used this film, and in particularly the truck, as an example.
Steven Spielberg’s first tv film, was certainly a success. So did the film win a Primetime Emmy award in 1972 for Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing and got nominated two times. Because of the success on television the film got a theatrically release with some added footage to get the expected 90 minutes. The success of Duel opened doors for Spielberg, who was then only 25-years-old, to feature film projects. The rest is history.
The main character of the film is salesman David Mann, played by Dennis Weaver. Mann, mostly driving in his bright red car shows on a brilliant way how terrified he is by the terror truck. It’s easy to see the truck is the big villain, since you never see the truck driver himself. Just his shoes and an arm. This is also what makes the film very mysterious and gives it more suspense. And of course the truck’s horn. Every time David thinks he got rid of the truck, he pops up again and blows his horn! That horn is not funny, near the end it totally freaked me out! Of course the viewers are always watching the screen very closely to see where the truck is, because we all know the truck and its driver won’t back down. The truck also has some interesting details, in the form of number plates.
Besides the horror chase in the full light of day on a remote desert highway, not much is happening. However, that doesn’t mean the film gets boring on a certain moment. The tension of the film is well staged and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Every time David and the mysterious truck driver meet again, the chase / duel is getting more intense. When David enters the diner we see how the first encounters has affect him. We hear some interesting thoughts and again there’s a mysterious vibe. Is the truck driver in the diner as well and can it be? At some point you start wondering why David just don’t turn around and heads home. At first he just want to get to his appointment but then he needs to find out who is after him and also: why? The film ends on its peak with a big bang, so there’s definitely not some kind of anti climax.
These days, the scariest events in horror films are happening in the dark, at night. Duel is set in the full light of day, but that doesn’t mean the film is less thrilling. Partly because of the mysterious truck driver you never get to see and partly because of the scary looking truck – like Spielberg says: “it has a face”. But the film is also thrilling and gripping because of the performance of Dennis Weaver. We really get to see how Weaver’s character panics while being terrorised by the vicious truck. Two of the best scenes were while David was in the phone booth, and while he was waiting near the railway. It’s a shame we don’t get to see these kind of films anymore. Films where the focus is on just one event, but that one event has such a brilliant build up which keeps you interested the entire film!