Off for one more road trip before the summer ends? Drive with caution, avoid car troubles just down the road from that mysterious old house, and remember Duel! Steven Spielberg established himself with this ’71 thriller, the proto-road rage movie.

Title: Duel

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Written by Richard Matheson from his short story.

Cast

Dennis Weaver as David Mann
Eddie Firestone as Café Owner
Gene Dynarksi as Man in Café
Lucille Benson as Snakerama Lady
Jacqueline Scott as Mrs Mann
Carey Loftin as Truck Driver

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb

Available at at Amazon.

Premise:

After a minor altercation on the highway, a businessman finds himself pursued by a deranged truck driver.

High Points:

Spielberg demonstrates his ability to frame a shot and, as in Jaws and Close Encounters, he makes the everyday an effective backdrop for the unusual and suspenseful. Duel makes the most of a flimsy premise and a low budget.

Low Points:

Why doesn’t Mann head home sooner?

Okay, we have some insight into the psychology behind this, but really, it feels like he makes some of his early decisions to make the plot happen.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6. This may be the original vehicular horror film, and it’s one of the best.

Effects: 5/6. The film has only one real effect, but it works, and there’s some decent stunt driving.

Story: 4/6. The story here is a vehicle for suspense. The conclusion will leave you with a few questions the filmmakers have no intention of answering.

Acting: 5/6 Most of the acting and dialogue are fairly natural. Weaver’s dialogue seems a bit stiff in places, but for the most part, he conveys the sense of a man facing an inexplicable and unstoppable danger to his life.

Production: 5/6. I’m impressed with the results, given the rushed shooting schedule– Spielberg wrapped this one up in two weeks.

Emotional Response: 5/6. This film takes a very simple premise and develops it into a low-key but effective thriller of a sort not seen much anymore. Some fans of contemporary cinema will find this slow-moving in places, but I found the film holds up nearly four decades later.

Overall: 5/6. Spielberg would go on to make some lasting cinematic masterpieces. The best was in his future, but watching this film suggests why he would become one of Hollywood’s most successful directors.

In total, Duel receives 33/42.

Notes

1. Spielberg had his first professional job in 1969. The imdb lists Spielberg as a director as early as 1959—but that’s because they include a few films he made as a kid.

2. Originally made for television, Duel was later released theatrically.