1971
Spielberg directs his first TV movie
: Duel.

His secretary advises Spielberg to read a short story by Richard Matheson published in Playboy magazine – he is instantly hooked and convinces producer George Eckstein that he can make an exciting film out of it. He gets signed as director for $5,000.

In his early masterpiece, he sends a shabby-looking Peterbilt 281 tanker truck chasing the car of average guy David Mann, played by Dennis Weaver. Spielberg never lets us see the truck driver which adds to the film’s relentless suspense.

According to Spielberg, Duel is “an indictment of machines. And I determined very early on that everything about the film would be the complete disruption of our whole technological society.”

Long before the invention of the Steadicam, Spielberg shoots a crucial scene in Chuck’s Café that lasts 2 minutes 45 seconds without any cut (video clip), demonstrating his skills as one of the outstanding masters of “long takes”.

Spielberg completes Duel in only 17 days of principal photography. He achieves it by his thorough preparations (location scouting by helicopter, storyboards for critical sequences and a large map depicting all the shooting locations along the road) and by working with an experienced team including veterans such as cinematographer Jack A. Marta and stunt coordinator Carey Loftin. Editor Frank Morriss and composer Billy Goldenberg contribute to Duel’s nail-biting thrill.

The roaring sound effect that can be heard as the truck plummets over
the cliff is based on a sound clip taken from Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Spielberg will re-use the sound for the sinking shark in the finale of Jaws (1975).

Steven Awalt’s excellent book tells the whole story of
Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career.

image

Poster art © new-analog.net/duel

Duel is praised by audience and critics, among them influential British film critic Dilys Powell. The 74-minute television version is later extended to a 90-minute feature film and distributed to European (and US) theaters. Duel wins several awards including the Grand Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival.

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