DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
May Contain Spoilers!
Steven Spielberg began somewhere. He actually began with this 1971 TV Movie, adoption by Richard Matheson from his own story, and following the bazaar events, one day in the desert near San Francisco. David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is on a simple business trip when he finds himself being relentlessly pursued by an old and ominous tanker, who he had a minor altercation with him on the highway.
Events go from bad to worse as the truck moves from intimidation to attempted murder, and Mann is driving for his life, on the lonely desert highways and no help. This is clearly a take on masculinity, as Mann is effectively being bullied by the truck and must fight in order to survive. This is simply Road rage gone mad, decades before the term was even coined!
I first watched Duel as a child late one night and this film is most likely responsible for my fear of desolate places, but that the magic of both Spielberg, this film and he early films as a whole. Jaws didn’t manage keep me out of the water but Duel keeps me out of the desert! The plot is a simple, slow burn and is more an exercise in building tension than anything else, something that he would do with greater success four years later, with Jaws. But he has a knack for understanding not only family dynamics but also the true nature of man, especially his weaknesses and never shies away from them, in fact embracing them over macho heroism.
Mann is an everyman who we learn early on, is having a row with his wife over his failure to defend her honour the night before. As the day progresses, he only survives the trucks attempt on his life by learning to do what needs to be done rather that what he would like to do. It’s a subtle right of passage for us, the everyman to witness. Fight or flight, the most basic of impulses.
Spielberg had to start somewhere and he began in style with Duel, and the rest is history…