Arielrocks5’s review published on Letterboxd :
Welcome to the begining of Arielrocks5's "The Months Of Spielberg" marathon!
(See the full list right here: letterboxd.com/arielrocks5/list/the-months-of-spielberg/)
Today, we have what many would consider his first feature, "Duel". A made for TV film that actually was so impressive at it's time, it even got a small theatrical release.
Basic premise is about a man on his way for something ends up being stalked by a crazy truck driver that starts out as playfully moving in his way on the highway, to then trying to run him over. Now he has to ether outrun him or end up becoming road kill.
And that's it. Just two guys in cars driving for an hour and twenty minutes. And what makes it work so well is that's all it really is. It has it's frame work and uses it in the best possible way.
Because I'll be damned if this didn't have me legitimately biting my nails in suspense thanks to clever editing, direction, and a GIANT SCARY TRUCK THAT WILL NOW HAUNT MY MIND FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! THANKS MR. SPIELBERG, YOU'VE MADE ME NOT WANT TO GET MY DRIVER'S LICENSE NOW!
And it also helps that thanks in part to the simplistic frame work, there's very little need for exposition or dialogue between characters. It's pure visual terror from begining to end, with maybe a couple exceptions like the Diner and Rest stop scenes plus the narration.
Which, like many have pointed out, is a bit of a misstep since it's not entirely constant throughout the run time. It starts about half way into the film, when he's trying to figure out who the driver of the truck is at a diner, but then it stops from then on there, then comes back during the ending.
But really, it doesn't bring the movie as a whole down a lot since the tension is so thick you'd need a chainsaw to even cut a slight inch off of it.
Also, hats off to Dennis Weaver for delivering a relatable and truly fantastic performance. He doesn't say a whole lot during the run time, but I've always said with people that a great actor is one that can get the point of what his character is thinking and wanting to do purely from their facial expressions.
Which is another reason why the narration feels a bit weird in parts, but whatever.
Still can't believe as well that this was a made for TV Movie, since it feels like something you could see playing at a local theater during the early 70s, but I guess that shows you how much care Spielberg puts into his projects regardless of whatever limitations he may have.
Gripping, thrilling, and above all fueled by pure organic fear from an almost nightmarish fantasy, "Duel" is a fantastic directorial debuts from someone who will later go on to become one of the most famous filmmakers of all time.
Tune in later this week or next, as our next film will be: "The Sugarland Express"!
Oh, and you can find this movie easily on YouTube. Just look up "Duel movie" and it will most likely be the first one you see. It's well worth it. :)
Edit: Thanks to Zack, I made a error by spelling "Later" twice. -_-