Steven Spielberg’s Duel
Duel is a 1971 television (and later full-length theatrical) thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard Matheson, based on Matheson’s short story of the same name. It stars Dennis Weaver as a terrified motorist stalked on a remote and lonely road by the mostly unseen driver of a mysterious tanker truck.
David Mann: Come on you miserable fat-head, get that fat-ass truck outta my way!
David Mann: That truck driver’s crazy, he’s been trying to kill me, I mean it!
Bus Driver: Well, mister, if I was to vote on who’s crazy around here, it’d be you.
David Mann: You can’t beat me on the grade. You can’t beat me on the grade!
During the chase, a parked sedan resembling a squad car is seen, briefly raising Dennis Weaver’s hopes, but it turns out to be a service car for a pest exterminator named Grebleips… ‘Spielberg’ in reverse.
The Plymouth Valiant is an automobile manufactured by the Plymouth division of Chrysler Corporation in the United States from 1960 to 1976. It was created to give the company an entry in the compact car market emerging in the late 1950s. The Valiant was built and marketed worldwide in countries including Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, as well as other countries in South America and Western Europe.
David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a middle-aged Los Angeles electronics salesman driving his red 1971 Plymouth Valiant sedan on a business trip. On a two-lane highway in the California desert, he encounters a grimy and rusty 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker truck, traveling slower than the speed limit and expelling thick plumes of sooty diesel exhaust. Mann passes the unsightly truck, which promptly roars past him and then slows down again. Mann is unmoved, passing the truck a second time, and is startled when it suddenly issues a long air horn blast.
The Valiant’s red color was also intentional; Spielberg did not care what kind of car was used in the film but wanted it to be a red car to enable the vehicle to stand out in the wide shots of the desert highway.
The ‘Snakerama’ gas station seen in the film was used again as a homage to Duel by Spielberg in his comedy film, 1941 (1979), with Lucille Benson again appearing as the proprietor.
Revealing mistakes In the climactic scene when the truck is about to careen off the cliff, the driver’s side door of the truck is clearly open before the truck reaches the edge (more obvious because the scene runs in slow motion), showing that the stunt driver bailed out long before.
Since filming only took about twelve days, it remains Steven Spielberg’s personal benchmark for how quickly he can shoot a film.
While filming the shot where the truck drives off the cliff, a piece of machinery designed to keep the truck traveling in a straight line without a driver failed. Instead of calling a halt, the driver, who had an important engagement the next day and didn’t want to miss it, stayed in the driving seat and only jumped out at the very last second before the truck went over.