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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"I don't know...All I did is pass this stupid rig a couple times and he goes flying off the deep end. He has to be crazy...."
DVD ReviewRoad rage is a concept that is deeply imbedded in today's lexicon, though that wasn't always the case. Perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon hit the small screen back in 1971, well before the term was coined. Duel not only scared the bejesus out of anyone using the highways, but also served as a springboard for young Steven Spielberg to become one of the hottest names in Hollywood.
David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a businessman of some unspecified type who is on the road, late for a meeting. Passing an enormous old tanker-trailer, Mann soon finds himself not only cut off by the truck, but lured into danger and pursued across deserted country by the apparently homicidal driver (a barely-glimpsed Cary Loftin). Even when he stops to let the truck go on its way, the nemesis lies in wait, like a massive diesel-fueled predator ready to pounce on Mann.
Spielberg, in this television movie that was his first effort beyond episodic TV, immediately shows himself to be a major talent. Duel is a masterpiece of suspense, spinning a substantial and nail-biting yarn out of a fairly thin storyline. While the inventive script by Richard Matheson, from his own short story, certainly gets substantial credit for this, it's Spielberg's use of the camera in inventive ways that keeps the visuals lively. The editing never lets things flag; even when Mann stops to catch his breath at a roadside café, as he realizes that the trucker may be in there with him, the editing conveys Mann's jumpiness. The identification of the viewer with Mann begins with the lengthy POV sequence as Mann takes to the road, putting us right behind the wheel with him. The trucker, on the other hand, is barely glimpsed: we see his cowboy boots, and his left arm as he waves Mann forward, but otherwise he's practically invisible behind the grimy windshield of the tractor, a faceless nonentity combined with the destructive power of a force of nature.
Star Dennis Weaver, who was in the highly popular detective series, McCloud, at the time, really makes Mann an Everyman, alternately proud whenever he believes he has escaped his pursuer and despairing and begging his failing car to go faster as he painfully inches it into the mountains. He also is a little bit of a jerk, since he plainly antagonizes the truck and its driver in an early bit, jumping in his seat and laughing as he burns past them. His exponentially increasing desperation is beautifully conveyed. The finale is surprisingly subdued, avoiding the standard clichéed pyrotechnics that one would certainly expect in such a story, helping to keep the whole within the realm of possibility.
On this viewing, I noticed that the red car Weaver drives is a Plymouth Valiant. An interesting choice, since Mann is depicted as anything but valiant in this picture: impatient and petty, hen-pecked and irritable, terrified and despondent, crazed and desperate, but almost never valiant until he decides to face the truck down once and for all. As Matheson notes, this is hardly a duel of equals, but a battle of intimidation. Also interesting are some sardonic echoes, such as the truck pushing a school bus as a Good Samaritan, followed minutes later by pushing Weaver into the path of an onrushing freight train.
Pretty much everyone who saw this movie-of-the-week in 1971 still remembers it vividly. It still holds up well today (though like many suspense classics, it could never plausibly be remade in this age of cellular phones). This disc uses the slightly longer 89-minute European theatrical cut version, rather than the more spare 74-minute version that originally aired, but it never feels padded or bloated. This disc is a welcome addition to any DVD library.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Even though this is the theatrical cut, the original full frame of the television version is provided (and that's just as well, since Spielberg is visibly directing in the back seat in the wider version). The color is bright and vivid, with good black levels. The picture is somewhat grainy, but that's due to the low-budget location shooting rather than any fault of the transfer. Nicely detailed and free of artifacting or edge enhancement, this looks absolutely terrific.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The original 2.0 mono is provided as well as DD and DTS 5.1 remixes. Normally I'm not a fan of remixes of original mono tracks, but the sound engineers have done an outstanding job on both the DD and DTS tracks. The rumble and roar of the truck, ominous in the original, is downright terrifying in its immediacy here. Billy Goldenberg's unusual score still sounds rather tinny and thin, and there's a little bit of hiss audible if you listen closely for it, but these audio tracks as exemplary otherwise.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:00m:14s
A faded theatrical trailer points to just exactly how wonderful the feature itself looks, and a gallery of 15 stills and seven European posters is supplemented by short bios, filmographies, and production notes. About the only thing missing besides a commentary are the memorable TV spots that got so many viewers in front of their sets for that epochal broadcast.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsSpielberg makes a huge impression with his first film, and the disc is first-rate in every respect and proves worth the wait. Very highly recommended as one of the best releases so far this year.
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