Monday, 2 March 2015

Film Review - Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971)

Fig 1. Duel Poster.

Duel is a deceptively simple film, it covers the development of a rivalry between a man and a mystery truck driver.  A lot of dynamic and intense camera shots boost the effect of the story significantly. It is so effective at making you feel the action that you could swear you were in the passenger seat. The very clear sound difference between outside the car and inside also boosts the drama.

Ian Freer had this to say in his review of the film ''The compositions are amazingly dynamic and diverse, but so is the tone. From the black humour of Mann mistaking a train horn for a blast from the truck to his paranoia at a roadside diner trying to guess the identity of his tormentor; from the full-on spectacle of the truck chasing Mann around a snake farm, to the strangely beautiful finale, Duel is a far more protean experience than it had any right to be.'' (Freer, s.d.). The diversity across most aspects in the film definitely help to keep it fresh, after all it is an hour and a half of a single car chase. Diverse camera angles, sounds and an inner monologue by the protagonist make it seem like it isn't just one chase scene. Those small qualities in the filming and editing made it a dramatic film, it never feels drawn out and suspense picks its moments perfectly to really pull the viewer in. The inner monologue is laced with paranoia and anxiety and the viewer shares in his experience.

Janet Maslin states in their review ''The vehicles are the real stars of ''Duel,'' and whenever the chase is interrupted by the relatively primitive people on hand (at a truck stop and, in one particularly odd sequence, at a gas station run by a woman who keeps pet snakes, spiders and lizards), the film loses its momentum and becomes somewhat clumsy. The ending is abrupt, too, but the main impression left by ''Duel'' is one of talent and energy. Mr. Spielberg seemed, with this film, to be headed for bigger and better things. Sure enough, he was.'' (Maslin, 1983). The vengeful truck truly has a sinister face. It is clear that the choice of truck was important to the director as it is especially effective at feeling dangerous (See Fig 3). Whenever the camera shows the truck looming over the relatively tiny car, it feels threatening, like it could simply roll straight over the car without a second look. The truck in this film is certainly a triumph, as soon after the viewer is introduced to it, it ceases being a simple prop and begins being a character of its own. While the viewer is never shown the driver, you can get a real sense of his character simply through how the truck acts and gestures.

Fig 2. Duel Truck.

Chris Justice states in his review of the film ''Both vehicles are important characters. Mann's car clearly has a point of view, which is immediately understood in the establishing shots when the camera is placed on its hood. We see the road from the vehicle's "eyes" and not Mann's. This suggests there are "rules of the road" existing outside human thought. As Mann exits the city and enters the desert, his car's point of view will be defined further by those rules. Like the face of a boxer at the end of a grueling match, the truck equally pummels Mann's vehicle. But his antagonist's truck is full of even more character.'' (Justice, 2005). The use of camera to express the view of the vehicles as they would a human character is incredibly effective at making them seem more alive (See Fig 3). Through many different small techniques, the car and especially the truck are personified to a point where they seem more like a brute chasing down a mouse. This is effective in the film because these traits are also linked to the two main human characters in the film. Overall the film is a triumph technically as well as in expressing character.

Fig 3. Car View.


Spielberg, S (1971) Figure 1. Duel Poster. (Accessed on 16/02/15)

Spielberg, S (1971) Figure 2. Duel Truck. (Accessed on 02/03/15)

Spielberg, S (1971) Figure 3. Car View. (Accessed on 02/03/15)


Freer, I (s.d.) (Accessed on 01/03/15)

Justice, C (2005) (Accessed on 01/03/15)

Maslin, J (1983) (Accessed on 01/03/15)

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Jack :)
    Just be careful that you are consistent with your font sizes...