The made for TV movie, Duel, debuted on television screens across the United States on this date in 1971. The film stars Dennis Weaver and was directed by Steven Spielberg.
A businessman travels alone on the freeway when he starts to be aggressively pursued by a large truck and its driver. The pursuit becomes more and more terrifying for David Mann, played by Dennis Weaver, as the driver gets more reckless with his large vehicle. David must ultimately decide to make a stand or possibly lose his life.
- Duel is a simple film with a simple story. But, the amount of tension that Steven Spielberg creates with that level of simplicity is masterful. The strength of Duel isn’t the plot—it’s the execution of Spielberg’s direction.
- Dennis Weaver gives a wonderful performance and along with Spielberg really sells the threat of the stalking truck. Weaver spends most of the film alone in a car and the isolation of his performance makes it even more impressive. The actor only has a machine to react to, but his reactions turn the truck into a character.
- At times Duel can be repetitive, largely because of its simple plot.
- Dennis Weaver is really the only actor in the film and it would have been nice to learn more about his character. There isn’t much depth to David Mann and a little more backstory about him would have added to the fear we have for his life and situation.
Steven Spielberg made Duel when he was in his early 20s, but you never get the sense that you are watching the work of a young director. Duel was made for television and what Spielberg was missing in resources he made up for in thrills and suspense. Duel isn’t just a must watch to see how the legendary director got his start…it is a legitimately well-crafted film that still holds up today. With Duel you see the early stages of the craft that would be fully on display a few years later with Jaws.