the Thinking Chicks Guide to Movies

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Duel (1971)

Reviewed on 2011 January 17

Stephen Spielberg made his directorial debut with this tight little Richard Matheson script, and it got its first light as a movie-of-the-week. Ovation tried airing the thing with lots of insiders analyzing it and zillions of commercials, but that takes all the fun out of it. It’s worth getting a good DVD to just watch the thing in uninterrupted peace from start to finish.

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a henpecked everyman driving a Monsanto-tomato-colored Plymouth Valiant nerdmobile. His wife scolds him over the phone to hurry home, but he doesn’t know if his boss will let him leave on time for the day. The guy just wants to get on with his day, but a fuel truck that whipped out in front of him only to slow to a passive-aggressive crawl gets ahead of him again, refusing to let him pass. David soon realizes the truck driver isn’t just a jerk, he’s a full-blown psychotic that won’t quit until he crushes David like a bug.

I love this movie, from Dennis Weaver’s giving brow-beaten David Mann a little high-pitched giggle when he first passes the truck to the people he meets trying to get away from the lunatic trucker. Even though it’s shot in daylight, the cafe scene is sinister as David tries figuring out what he did to upset his nemesis, and the suspense winds up more tightly as it goes along.

Four, that’s f-o-u-r, chocolate morsels. What a debut!


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