Duel (1971)

Steven Spielberg directs Dennis Weaver, Carey Loftin and Jacqueline Scott in this made-for-TV action thriller where a businessman is dangerously stalked by a truck.

What was Steven Spielberg’s true debut? His lost amateur film Firelight? This, one of three telemovies, that while made for broadcast in the States, was extended and released in cinemas internationally? Or The Sugarland Express which, while his first pure feature film, somehow seems less Spielbergian? The hook of man versus truck works well enough. Throughout Duel’s runtime the paranoia of being pursued by a bigger, faster bully is palpable. Yet it isn’t as lean as you may remember. This is a film that takes lengthy time outs at pit-stops and diners and phone booths. While some of these rests do ante up the mystery or spring a surprise attack on us, they do sap the film of its essential forward energy. There comes a point where you do start to wonder why Weaver’s sweaty wimp doesn’t at least turn his car around and just head back towards the city limits? For an intended for the small screen thriller the set pieces are spectacular and as a calling card for one of blockbuster cinema’s greatest game changers this makes the right first impression. Yet he wasn’t at his Jaws / Indy / Jurassic Park peak just yet. Here’s a wunderkind finding his feet.


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