Man Versus Motorway

DUEL, directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott. Distributed by Cinema International for Universal Pictures.

In many ways Duel is like a 20th Century version of Alfred Hitchcock. More modern than the master but just as exciting. As the master of suspense/thrillers Hitchcock has always focussed his attention on one thing in particular. The weakest point of his subject’s survival pattern. Often it’s an object that becomes an obsession which finally destroys the person.

Hitchcock is ageing and his movies are not as gripping as they were. His style has changed little since he ran up the first British talkie a few years back. His old-fashioned approach to settings is most typified by his frequent use of quite obviously painted back-drops instead of a location.

So it is good that Universal’s television output – which hams British screens with rubbish much of the time – has given Steven Spielberg a chance to get into making feature movies.

Spielberg is 25 (or he was in September) and Duel was never meant to be shown in cinemas. It was made as a television movie. Spielberg starts work on his first scheduled feature (starring Goldie Hawn) from his own story in January.

Like most directors from television (Arthur Penn, Don Siegel et al) Spielberg uses the locations he chooses for all they’re worth, and once again like most telly-directors, he makes Duel as a sparing and taut piece of moviemaking.

Duel is the story of a salesman who finds his freeway lane blocked by a juggernaut petrol tanker, he overtakes it and, from there on out, it’s a battle between the man (Dennis Weaver) and the tanker. When he stops off at a petrol station he starts again to find the tanker – which also stopped for fuel – coming up behind him at an amazing speed. As soon as it overtakes him it slows to a crawl.

The battle is between the salesman and the tanker, for we never see its driver clearly. It takes place on a wide fast road, and the service stations and cafeterias along it. In short it’s man versus the motorcar with a vengeance.

It is probably the best thriller I’ve seen since Psycho, but then I don’t usually go to thrillers. For the first half-hour I was thinking Duel’s television techniques couldn’t hold my attention. Then gradually I got so involved I couldn’t leave the cinema even to go to the lavatory.

As this is touring with Asylum, my advice is go’n’see’em. They’ll have you on the edge of your seat, it’s the best double-bill for years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *