ARROW IN THE HEAD REVIEWS

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Duel (1971)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring:
Dennis Weaver/David
A Big F*cking Truck/A Big F*cking Truck
PLOT-CRUNCH
A pussy-whipped average “Joe” named David (Weaver) hops in his car and drives off for a meeting. On his way there, he cuts in front of a slow moving Tanker Truck. BIG MISTAKE! The peeved truck gets offended, loses its gears and proceeds to try to eradicate him at every turn. NOTE TO SELF: Burn my driver’s license and take the bus!
THE LOWDOWN
"Come on you miserable fat-head, get that fat-ass truck out of my way!" -- David

Spielberg’s guttural “road rage” debut "Duel" was initially a made-for-TV movie that ran for 76 minutes. The director was subsequently ordered by the distributors to re-shoot 16 extra beans for it to be long enough to qualify as a theatrical release in foreign countries. That is what led to the version that I had the immense pleasure to sit through.

Based on a short story by genre-champ Richard Matheson (who also wrote the screenplay), "Duel" was a low-budget masterpiece, sporting a storyline that reveled in its simplicity and forced the filmmaker behind it to be highly creative on every echelon to keep things appealing. And creative is exactly what we got! Starting with its extended, yet gripping, opening POV shot of David’s car driving off, I was hooked, line and bitched-slapped by this movie’s ingenious visual approach to its material. You see, apart from an absorbing “the psycho is in this room-- who is he?” scene, most of the bulk of the narrative took place on the open road. And for it to succeed in keeping my interest hardcore throughout, while having its suspense level flowing incessantly like a slit throat on a Sunday morning kill, was quite the feat! Thank you Spielberg for body-slamming me in the passenger seat and keeping me there for the whole of the ride. You’re a champ!

Moreover, this bad-rig excelled on a character level, stimulating my grey matter in the process. The villain and his motives were cleverly kept in the dark, therefore making the chain of events even more frightening. From where I was sitting, the smoke spitting, loud honking truck was the true baddie, not the wacko driving it! That gave the ordeal an engrossing sense of mystery and primal fear. As for the lead, it wasn’t so much that I sympathized with the lad as an individual (he was too weak for me to relate to), but more so where I felt I WAS HIM, being pummeled left, right, center and below the belt by this monstrous metallic beast. The film’s way of communicating its chain of events allowed me to get smack right in there and I was feeling the heat! Lastly, I was stirred on a psychological level, in that I personally saw the tribulations as a sly metaphor for a castrated man earning his “balls” through a much needed rite of aggressive, testosterone and Diesel-fueled passage. I’m not saying that’s what the movie was really about, but that’s what I got out of it. Good enough for me!

On the slim downside, I wasn’t too fond of David’s voice-over, inner-monologues and felt like his actions and facial expressions were enough to convey what he was going through. The device often talked down to me in pointing out the obvious. It reminded me of that silly narration the theatrical cut of "Blade Runner" sported. It also didn’t help that the dialogue was a tad shoddy in terms of it being dated i.e. corny. You ever call somebody a “fat head” in your everyday life? Neither have I! Motherfucker, yes, cock-knocker, yes, dumb twat, yes…fat head? No. So yup, I laughed at the lines in places.

Overall though, "Duel" was quite the revelation in terms of Steven Spielberg’s considerable talent. The film is, in my useless and childish opinion, one of his better films right up there with "Jaws" and "Hook" (just joking on that last one). "Duel" ran me over for a buck and half and even almost gave me a heart attack once (phone booth a-holes….phone booth…). Unhook your seatbelt kids and pleasurably crash through the windshield while screaming “YIPPEE, I’M FINALLY SEEING A GREAT MOVIE!”
GORE
Apart from light blood and Dennis Weaver’s frightening caterpillar moustache, there was no gore in this Tanker.
ACTING
Dennis Weaver (David) nailed his “insecure” yet “fight for your right to the road” role. I didn’t connect to him much as a person, but could relate to the dire predicament in which he was placed. His realistic performance assisted in sucking me in. The Big F*cking Truck (a Big F*cking Truck) nailed its role via its roaring, smoke-spitting and bumper nudging display. Great acting!
T & A
You see the bumper on that Mack truck? NICE! The 1970 red Plymouth Valiant had a great bod too!
DIRECTING
The slew of genius shots that were slapped in this film to, not only, communicate the truck’s “life of its own” like demeanor, but also the severe events at hand kept me riveted to the screen. What an accomplished directing effort! The next best thing would have been to be there! I miss the young Spielberg! F*ck “The Terminal”! Give me another "Duel", man!
SOUNDTRACK
Although the film’s dated 70’s score was fairly effective when it arose, I enjoyed the picture best when it was silent, with only the sounds of motor vehicle engines singing the “man dance” song!
DVD FEATURES
Distributed by UMVD

IMAGE: We get a Full Screen - 1.33:1 image.

SOUND: We get a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English sound. We also get Dolby Digital 5.1 English and a DTS 5.1 English options. The available subtitles are: English, Spanish, and French.

EXTRAS:

Steven Spielberg on making "Duel" (35 minutes): This compelling feature had Spielberg reminiscing about the making of the film and the struggles/obstacles he had to overcome. He also revealed a couple of interesting tidbits of trivia: did you know that the license plates on the front of the truck represented all the cars the truck had destroyed in other states? What a nut!

"Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen" (9 minutes): This slick bit has 'The Bearded One' talking about his mixed feelings as he earned his dues via TV movies early on in his career.

Richard Matheson - "The Writing of Duel" (9 minutes): This segment had the talented writer blabbing on about where he got the inspiration to write the piece, his writing process and how "Duel" came to finally become a flick. Fun stuff!

We also get a Photo Gallery - Trailer and Cast and Crew and Production Notes.

This was a fulfilling DVD with the only thing missing being an option to view the “Made for TV” cut. It would have been nice to have a choice as to which version we could watch.
BOTTOM LINE
Films like "Joyride", "Breakdown", "The Hitcher", "Highwaymen", "Christine", "Wheels Of Terror", "The Car" and that dude I ran over yesterday owe a lot to "Duel" in terms of premise, tone and set pieces. This film was a tour-de-force of simplicity, one that capitalized on its images, technical prowess and ambiguity to put us, the whiplashed audience member, smack in the middle of the action. Granted, I wasn’t too fond of the “bah” internal monologues, but that didn’t come close to tarnishing what was a tension-laced and tighter than a virgin’s hole click, click boom sit-down. Hit this road Jack because they don’t make them like this no more!
BULL'S EYE
Matheson came up with the concept for "Duel" in 1963 when some truck cut him off on the highway.

The film was shot in 16 days for a budget of approximately $500,000.

The new scenes that were shot by Spielberg for the foreign theatrical release were: David’s phone conversation with his ball-busting wife, the school bus scene and the railroad crossing, nudge-nudge bit.

The "Incredible Hulk" TV show used footage from "Duel" (mostly the chase scenes) for an episode called "Never Give A Trucker An Even Break".
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1:30PM on 07/12/2009
Great review for a great film. This film is Hitchockian in it's suspense. Spielberg even said he felt like Hitch was whispering in his ear during the shoot. Spielberg was on the game from picture numero uno!
Great review for a great film. This film is Hitchockian in it's suspense. Spielberg even said he felt like Hitch was whispering in his ear during the shoot. Spielberg was on the game from picture numero uno!
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1:11AM on 08/20/2005

INTENSE

Jaws on wheels! Great film that started a legendary filmmaker.
Jaws on wheels! Great film that started a legendary filmmaker.
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