Road rage is really bad, people. Mmmkay?
August 22, 2007 10:07 PM   Subscribe

Uh ohhh! McCloud is in trouble! Duel (1971) was Steven Spielberg's very first film, starring Dennis Weaver. If you haven't seen it before and were looking for inspiration to avoid dirt-encrusted, flammable trucks on the road, well here you go.
posted by miss lynnster (59 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Netflix'd this recently. Scarier than I remembered from the "movie of the week" presentation back in the 70's. No commercials helped.

Apparently the whole "school kids broken down bus" sequence was a late add-on and does seem kinda disjointed in the movie.
posted by telstar at 10:24 PM on August 22, 2007


Recommended viewing for everyone. I first saw it when I was about 10 years old.
posted by puke & cry at 10:26 PM on August 22, 2007


After watching it, it's easy to see why Spielberg was given bigger and better opportunities.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:33 PM on August 22, 2007


I saw this movie years ago on late night television and have wanted to see again ever since. It is certainly a cult classic with me. Thanks for posting this!
posted by rfbjames at 10:39 PM on August 22, 2007


One thing that I keep wondering... when did people stop asking for ethyl in their car?
posted by miss lynnster at 10:41 PM on August 22, 2007


Also, I'm awfully glad we have cel phones now.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:43 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Still a good reason to avoid those dusty back roads, miss lynnster. Check the coverage map of your cellphone provider some time.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:51 PM on August 22, 2007


*Gasp!* I remember seeing this on TV in the late 70s. It traumatized me then, and I don't want to revisit it now!

*calls late-night informercial lawyer to sue miss lynnster for my subsequent PTSD*
posted by amyms at 10:57 PM on August 22, 2007


Gratuitous Nostalgia Department: Thanks to this film, I am personally two degrees of separation from Steven Spielberg, since the voice on the radio (the one talking to a guy who plays music on meat, and calls the Census Bueau to confess he is not really the Head of his Household) is the L.A. radio semi-legend I worked for as "Assistant/Sidekick" in 1977 straight out of college, "Sweet" Dick Whittington (NOT to be confused with the lord Mayor of London). Those were actual clips from his show before the movie was made - he never actually performed directly for Spielberg - but he was a little more involved in the Scorsese classic "Raging Bull", where he played the ring announcer at the LaMotta-Fox fight.

And nobody will ever yell "WENNN...DELLL!!" better than he could.
posted by wendell at 11:00 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


when did people stop asking for ethyl in their car?

I'm pretty sure ethyl was still available into the early/mid 80s. I remember my dad requesting ethyl when we'd go to the gas station. I always thought he was saying "Ethel" and I pictured a gray-haired spinster everytime he said it.
posted by amyms at 11:00 PM on August 22, 2007


ok, armchair analysis. [somewhat spoiler alert] Weaver represents the "new wave" of the time, in the red speedster. The old truck (much older looking now than in the 70's) represented the old wave archie-bunker-type working class. Weaver cannot escape, but...eventually, through attrition and distance and a little bit of luck sinks the old working class' fortunes.
posted by telstar at 11:07 PM on August 22, 2007


If I recall, Ethyl was the LEAD-based additive in higher-grade gasoline until that whole "Lead in the Air" thing got it banned. So if you have a gallon can of Ethyl gasoline in your garage, it's not just a collectible, it's illegal!
posted by wendell at 11:15 PM on August 22, 2007


There were four grams of tetra-ethyl lead in every gallon of gasoline at one time. Your parents were crazy because of it.
posted by telstar at 11:17 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I remember catching this on Skinemax late one night. I had no idea what I was watching, but I held my bladder until the end of the movie.
posted by stavrogin at 11:17 PM on August 22, 2007


Okay, first of all, telstar is totally overthinking a plate of Duel...

And, second of all, ALL of us kids were exposed to excessive lead in the 70s... I'm okay, you're okay.
posted by amyms at 11:20 PM on August 22, 2007


This is why you never want to be caught driving a car that can not easily outrun a truck. Such vehicles are death traps just waiting to be crushed or pushed off the road by rogue truckers. How lame is a car that can not outrun a truck? Perhaps they deserve their fate.
posted by caddis at 11:36 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


This movie freaked me out as a kid.

Awesome then, awesome now.
posted by bwg at 11:39 PM on August 22, 2007


I'm way young to have caught this on TV ever but I saw a print of it in film school a couple of years ago in a class on Spielberg. Duel was released in theaters overseas and apparently did really well. Seeing this on the big screen was fucking amazing, the 360 tracking shots of the truck and the 70 mile an hour camera set ups following the car blow that self indulgent piece of crap car chase from Bad Boys II right out of the water.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 11:48 PM on August 22, 2007


Good movie, not bad... but it's no Killdozer
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:49 PM on August 22, 2007


I rented this last year after not having seen it since I was a kid. Seeing it again as an adult, it looks like a feverish nightmare of middle-class emasculation. Speilberg really knew how to read the zeigeist. (And poor McCloud! You never shoulda traded in your horse!)
posted by maryh at 11:54 PM on August 22, 2007


Good movie, not bad... but it's no Killdozer

Whaa? Killdozer is only a movie, Duel is a film.
posted by caddis at 12:08 AM on August 23, 2007


Thanks, Miss Lynnster. I haven't watched it in ages but watched it again tonight.

I think the most brilliant part of it is early on, when Mann cannot figure out why the truck is out to get him. He really didn't do anything to cause offense. And yet.

I think many of us have had incidents on the road where someone is inexplicably angry with us, and that same fear of the unknown is there.
posted by maxwelton at 12:12 AM on August 23, 2007


I've been trying to describe this movie to friends for YEARS, and nobody ever knows what I'm talking about. I was a little kid when I saw this, and to this DAY I check to make sure I'm not being followed by a semi.
posted by katillathehun at 12:26 AM on August 23, 2007


This film rocks - the bit that sticks in my mind the most is the way the truck screams as it goes over the cliff. Still gives me the jibblies when I think about it.
posted by Jofus at 1:00 AM on August 23, 2007


I love love love Duel. Creepy as hell

caddis writes "Whaa? Killdozer is only a movie, Duel is a film."

Oooh, I hate hate hate it when people make that distinction. Sorry. Just a pet peeve of mine.
posted by brundlefly at 2:21 AM on August 23, 2007


Also...

Jofus writes "the bit that sticks in my mind the most is the way the truck screams as it goes over the cliff."

Lion roars, isn't it?
posted by brundlefly at 2:22 AM on August 23, 2007


Thanks for the link -- watched the whole thing again.

90 minutes of panic. What a ride.
posted by bwg at 2:22 AM on August 23, 2007


I think the only way the film could really be improved would be to lose the voice-over. I think Mann's reasoning and emotional state is pretty apparent without it, and no internal dialog would have made the film even creepier.
posted by maxwelton at 3:22 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Killdozer is only a movie, Duel is a film."

Not just a film, a filmic story.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:46 AM on August 23, 2007


Duel roolz!
posted by ejoey at 5:04 AM on August 23, 2007


It was seeing this film that first inspired me to become a truck driver.
posted by Flashman at 5:09 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think Duel kind of gave rise to mini-genre, even. I remember seeing the "world television premiere" of this as a kid. Scared the crap out of me, too.

Deathrace 2000!

Death Car on the Freeway!
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:21 AM on August 23, 2007


Oh man, I have always loved Duel (the first time I saw it on TV was sometime in the early 90s). The best parts are the scenes where Dennis Weaver is just driving, where Spielberg alternately shows him sweating, shows the speedometer needle nervously reaching ever higher, and then shows him checking over his shoulder for the truck. Repeatedly.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:50 AM on August 23, 2007


McCloud, Hell! That's Chester Goode!

Killdozer is a story by Theodore Sturgeon.

You all really need to avoid driving I-81 between Harrisburg and Scranton.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:20 AM on August 23, 2007


I think Mann's reasoning and emotional state is pretty apparent without it, and no internal dialog would have made the film even creepier.

I, as a kid, saw Duel when it aired, so I don't remember much of it except that it was very good. But I'm intrigued by the idea of a thriller with no dialog whatsoever, and a movie with this plot would work well for that.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:20 AM on August 23, 2007


BTW, what was the (NBC?) weekly show called that alternated between McCloud, Columbo (didn't it?), McMillan and Wife, and, um, what else? That was some good television. Mystery of the Week? On Wednesdays, wasn't it?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:23 AM on August 23, 2007


I watched Duel a few months back for the first time since I was a kid and I have to say I found the scare factor was flawed right out of it. I didn't realize until now that it was a made-for-TV movie, but it makes sense. A lot of it reminded me of a soap opera made with just a bit more speeding metal than your average episode of General Hospital. The pointless sour marriage subplot comes to mind.

The way Weaver reacts is unbelievable to the point of annoyance. A crazy man is trying to kill you dead with a giant dirty truck, and yet you're somehow compelled to stop and help a broken down school bus full of kids. Really. And not just any kids, but kids who's PB&J was replaced with a mixture of cocaine and amphetamines, judging by the way Spielberg has them running around.

The ending was a cop out, but I won't go into that to save the Spoiler Patrol from having to kick in my front door and smash my computer with their big mallets.

I guess it could be argued that this was sort of a precursor to Falling Down (another shit film), showing a Typical White Man rising up against, well, something, but "beans beans beans beans" is easier to type out this early in the morning.

I did dig the atmosphere via the sound editing. I love 1970's movies for this reason - the attention to ambient sound. The constant roaring engines are really nice.
posted by item at 6:24 AM on August 23, 2007


Hey, thanks for this! I was this close to posting yet another "help me remember from these vague details" Ask Metafilter question about this film. Now not only do I have the information I seek, but a link to download the film!
posted by majick at 7:23 AM on August 23, 2007


"the bit that sticks in my mind the most is the way the truck screams as it goes over the cliff"

Spielberg reused the same noise in Jaws as the dead shark sinks. Wikipedia describes it as a dinosaur roar, although how we know what a dinosaur roar sounds like I'm not so sure.
posted by jontyjago at 7:39 AM on August 23, 2007


Hmm, I don't get that comparison to a soap opera at all. I've seen a bit of General Hospital and if it's at all indicative of soap operas in general, there's never been one shot and edited with the inventiveness and intensity of Duel. And on any soap opera I've seen, that marriage subplot would have been dealt with by lengthy conversations between Weaver and his wife, Weaver and somebody in the bar, and Weaver and just about anybody he met instead of a few brief bits here and there. (I'd also take issue with your characterization of it as "pointless" since while you might not like the point or feel that it's facile, even as a kid I could feel how it demonstrated that "middle-class emasculation" that maryh mentioned.)

As for the business with the bus, unless I'm misremembering, hasn't the truck driven off in front of him at that point? We know there's more movie to go, but he thinks the truck has moved on. And at that point he hadn't been terrorized in the presence of other people yet and still figures he's safe in a crowd.

Also not sure what you mean about the ending being a cop-out, but after gripping my attention for an hour and change, I felt he earned his victory.

the bit that sticks in my mind the most is the way the truck screams as it goes over the cliff.

I believe on the DVD Spielberg explains that he used a dinosaur roar from a movie he'd liked as a child to act as the death howl of the truck. It is indeed heard again as the shark in Jaws spirals down in that cloud of blood after being killed.

I love Duel. Such a lean, scary, nasty little movie.
posted by Nathaniel W at 7:44 AM on August 23, 2007


Etherial Bligh: it was just the NBC Mystery Movie. I remember the theme vividly, as well as the opening, of a guy in shadow, the entire thing in reds and black, as he shines a flashlight around. Then it ends with the light shining into the camera lens, and the voiceover would go "Tonight:" and whichever one it was showed in the light, and then dissolve to the start of the movie.

Sometimes you still catch, on channel 9 in NYC, them showing a McCloud or a Columbo or a McMillan and Wife, and it'll have the full opening attached. And I turn eight years old again.
posted by mephron at 8:03 AM on August 23, 2007


All I know is, this movie played a Cleveland UHF station literally something like once a month for a year when I was twelve or thereabouts, and I never missed a showing of it. I'm a little too afraid it'll suck to watch it now; man, that'd be heartbreaking.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:41 AM on August 23, 2007


How lame is a car that can not outrun a truck? Perhaps they deserve their fate.

That's what I always thought,
posted by Joeforking at 8:46 AM on August 23, 2007


Loved this movie, it's almost too real for me.

I grew up on the edge of the coal fields in Eastern Kentucky, and in the late 70's right after I had just passed my drivers test (and just a few years after seeing this) the back roads were full of amphetamine-crazed coal truckers driving 70 on two-lane roads where you really shouldn't be driving 40. I had several close calls with those bastards, and I always flashed back to Duel and Dennis Weaver.
posted by Mcable at 9:23 AM on August 23, 2007


"I'm intrigued by the idea of a thriller with no dialog whatsoever...

I'm intrigued also, but I doubt I'd watch it.

I came across Duel for the first time a few months back, when I'd had a chance to revisit Spielberg's "Jaws." I wanted to know how he got there thematically speaking, so I looked for films he'd made before it. Duel is a very telling film from the perspective of Jaws. Duel is where he honed his craft and Jaws is where he got to show off, but stuff he learned in Duel can be seen in Jaws. Essentially they're the same story thematically, but with different details. It's still an unknown entity persuing the protagonists. The latter half of the two films have some interesting correlations in terms of sound and editing. Compare taking down the shark to taking down the truck at the end.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:32 AM on August 23, 2007


Joeforking: "How lame is a car that can not outrun a truck? Perhaps they deserve their fate.

That's what I always thought,
"

Give him break, he was driving a Plymouth Valiant.
posted by octothorpe at 9:57 AM on August 23, 2007


The man is chased by a truck.
posted by user92371 at 10:11 AM on August 23, 2007


I read somewhere that Spielberg purposely made the car be an underpowered Valiant to focus on his weakness. And that it was red so it would always stand out against the landscape while the neutral colored truck blended in, representing all of the elements of the big world that were emasculating him.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:13 AM on August 23, 2007


EB and Mephron, here's the NBC Mystery Movie open.
posted by evilcolonel at 11:21 AM on August 23, 2007


I wouldn't recommend Duel for everybody. I saw it when I was 11 or 12 or so and it really frightened me. There's no profanity, no explicit violence, very little dialog even, but Duel is probably the most thrilling thriller ever put on film. So if you're not looking to be thrilled it's really not for you.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:24 AM on August 23, 2007


I was looking to be thrilled, but I got my pants bored off.
posted by ericost at 2:29 PM on August 23, 2007


The scene where the Valiant screams to a stop after rounding a cliff, then the camera snap zooms out to reveal the viewer's perspective is from under the wheels of the truck, waiting for him further down the road... made me gasp, open my eyes wide, and sent a shiver down my pre-teen spine.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:20 PM on August 23, 2007


I'm intrigued also, but I doubt I'd watch it.

See, but there would be dialog, just not the voice-over stuff. So when he talks to himself in the car, that's cool. But the cafe scene would be hugely improved without his internal dialog. The bathroom visit especially is not good--all of that sentiment could easily have been portrayed by his washing his face, staring at himself, shaking his head, laughing at his reflection and then physically shaking it off, with perhaps a more confident exit to the restaurant. Watching him get virtually kicked in the nuts upon sighting the truck and then watching him eye the customers as he gets more and more frantic leading up to the confrontation with the truck driver--that would be an incredibly tense scene.

You'd still have the early phone call (which I didn't care for, content-wise) and interactions with others on his trip. Dunno, I just think it would be a better movie without the dubs.
posted by maxwelton at 1:06 AM on August 24, 2007


I love this movie. I think Spielberg is generally massively overrated, and has been a technically proficient but predominantly gutless film-maker for most of his career, but Duel is just so good. As Nathanial W says, it's lean, scary and nasty, and it is so effective at making you more and more jumpy and paranoid along with Weaver. And I love movies where the location is a character in its own right.
posted by biscotti at 6:41 AM on August 24, 2007


I think Spielberg is generally massively overrated, and has been a technically proficient but predominantly gutless film-maker for most of his career.

I agree. He's very good technically, but rarely has anything interesting to say. However, if you were a producer, there would be no safer bet than Spielberg.
posted by caddis at 8:05 AM on August 24, 2007


Man goes in the car. Car goes on the highway. Truck's on the highway.

Our truck.
posted by stenseng at 8:51 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


We're gonna need a bigger road.
posted by brundlefly at 3:46 PM on August 24, 2007


"He's very good technically, but rarely has anything interesting to say."

I agree with this. But let's not discount how important being very good technically really is. I mean, I still am strongly in the camp that the indispensable part of art is having something really important and interesting to say. But technique is damn important, too. And, in my observation, the more that people know about the actual technique of filmmaking, the more they respect Spielberg.

That said, it's a real shame that such technical talent isn't coupled with a spirit that, well, had something to say. He mostly doesn't.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:28 PM on August 24, 2007


Thank you for posting this. I'm not a big Spielberg fan, but downloading this got me through a long layover at the airport in Minneapolis the other day. It was pretty good. Thanks.
posted by interrobang at 6:05 PM on August 26, 2007


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