Duel (1971)

duel poster 1971 movie steven spielberg
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Great start for Spielberg, grittier than later films

Could have been even bigger

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Duel

Studio:  Universal Television

Genre(s):  Horror

Release Date(s):  November 13, 1971

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


“Road Hog!!!” (in Mr. Magoo voice)

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is out on a long business call taking the dusty California highways.  When he encounters a large truck, David finds himself suddenly in a game of life and death.  The truck driver is unrelenting as David at first tries to evade him…but the truck is going nowhere and David must make a stand.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Duel is based on a Richard Matheson short story published in Playboy in April 1971.  The movie was Steven Spielberg’s first feature length film and aired on ABC on November 13, 1971.  The movie received critical acclaim and was released overseas in the theaters in 1972 with additional footage.  Parts of Duel were also re-used for the Incredible Hulk—Season 1 episode “Never Give a Trucker an Even Break” and led Spielberg to ensure future projects could never be utilized without his permission.


“Mother Trucker!!!!”

Despite being a fan of Spielberg (at least his old stuff), I never actually saw Duel.  It occasionally would be on television, and I had seen parts of it over the years.  I finally decided to sit down and watch it, and it shows a grittiness that Spielberg has lost over the years.

The story is quite basic but the story has been emulated multiple times over the years.  When Duel was released, road rage wasn’t really a term (it started to pop-up in the mid to late ’80s), but Duel represents the ultimate version of road rage.  I was glad that the terror wasn’t imagined and other people saw that Weaver was being pursued (because it easily could have been a case of no one believing him).  The story keeps it mysterious and basic by never revealing a motive nor the fellow driver.


A nice Sunday drive…

Weaver does a great job here (Gregory Peck was considered when it was bound for theaters).  He starts out as a guy who won’t even defend his wife at a party and ends up a man who will go head-to-head with a truck in an effort to kill the driver and save himself.  Though there are other actors, the only real actors in the movie are Weaver and the Truck from Hell.

The movie also looks fantastic for having such a low budget.  It is gritty and pretty much a grindhouse film (though if the movie had been theatrical and a grindhouse it would have had more gore and language).  Spielberg has cleaned up his films but this movie is basic and hardcore.

Duel is a good film.  It is simplistic and fun because I could see it ending a number of different ways…and keeping the audience guessing is a good thing.  The basic starkness of the film probably wouldn’t fly as a mainstream movie today, and Duel has a bit of an art feel to it as a result.  Duel is worth seeking out for fans of Spielberg or fans of horror.  Spielberg followed up Duel with another TV horror film in Something Evil in 1972.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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