2013 marked the 42nd anniversary of one of the most economically chilling films in history – Duel – Spielberg’s first feature, about a travelling salesman menaced in his car by a behemoth of a tanker truck. And that’s it. For ninety minutes. It’s definitely a film you want to avoid telling others of the synopsis first. Yet it’s utterly, fascinatingly, absorbing.
Part road movie, part psychological horror, there’s an edgy realism to the film, so much so in fact, that on re-watching you forget just what a white-knuckle ride the story will eventually become, and spend the first act wondering how on earth it’ll build to the terrifying climax you remember. Aside from the obvious allegories of Good and Evil, I spied this time around a hugely contemporary thematic leaning I doubt Spielberg had in mind all those years ago; with more cars on the road, more roads being built, construction, traffic jams and almost daily terrible, terrible driving as the norm, it seems now fitting to see Duel as an almost operatic approach to aggression and rage. There’s also the non-too subtle (yet again I suspect unintentional) environmental message – it’s a petrol-tanker truck chasing a guy called “Mann” after all. It was also made for $400,000, shot in 10 days, edited in another 10, and then immediately aired as part of ABC’s Movie Of The Week. What a triumphant start to a career.
Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite:
Words: Ash Verjee