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A duel is about to begin between a man, a truck, and an open road. Where a simple battle of wits is now a matter of life and death.
Duel is a 1971 film directed by Steven Spielberg.
David Mann, milquetoast businessman, is driving across the Californian desert in his underpowered car when he passes a slow-moving semi-truck. Much to his surprise, the truck proceeds to pass him and slow down again. This repeats a number of times, and finally David pulls over into a gas station to get away from the truck.
Except that it stops with him. As the movie progresses, the truck continues to stalk David, getting more and more violent in its attacks, until David has no choice but to fight back.
This Made for TV Movie was the first full-length feature directed by Steven Spielberg. It was adapted from a short story by Richard Matheson. Shot in just two weeks, it turned out so well it was given a theatrical release in Europe.
Duel provides examples of:
- Action Survivor: At no time does Mann decide to be a hero. He just wants to survive.
- Attempted Rape: What Mann's wife says almost happened to her at the party the night before.
- Batman Gambit: Mann's plan at the end is to get the truck on high ground where he can easily outrun him, which is dependent on the truck not killing him first as well as his radiator hose working properly.
- Blood From the Mouth: What happens to Mann when he hits his head after taking a sudden turn.
- Chase Scene: Pretty much what this movie's all about in a nutshell.
- Chekhov's Gun: The radiator hose.
- Foreshadowing: "You said there would be no problem getting home on time!"
- For the Evulz
- Made of Explodium: Both followed and averted. At the climax, Mann's car bursts into flames on impact, but the truck survives the fall into the canyon with no explosions or fire.
- Fridge Brilliance: David's car was given a nice splattering of gasoline on the hood when the gas attendant got sloppy with the hose. This is what caught on fire, not the car itself.
- Meaningful Name: David is an ordinary Mann.
- In the short story, the trucker's name is given as "Keller." I.e., Man vs. Killer.
- Mighty Roar: Spielberg added one (taken from an old dinosaur flick) as the truck falls down the cliff. (it appears in Jaws as the shark's carcass sinks into the ocean)
- Nothing Is Scarier: The truck driver's status as being almost completely unseen definitely plays on this trope and contributes to the terrifying confusion as to exactly what the hell is with that truck.
- Oh Crap: Mann's reaction when he sees the truck in the tunnel. Also when his car begins breaking down.
- Pet the Dog: The truck driver gets a few moments of these to show that while he is a Complete Monster, he is not above helping out a few kids in need or giving a friendly honk to another driver.
- Phone Booth
- Railroad Tracks of Doom: Mann is nearly pushed into a moving train at a grade crossing by the truck.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Writer Richard Matheson based the story on an account he had where a truck driver started tailgating him on his way home from a golfing match. (Interestingly, it happened on the day JFK was assassinated.)
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: As if Mann wasn't having a bad enough day already, at one point he has to avoid snakes and spiders released from their cages by the truck as it tries run him over.
- Screw The Car I'm Outta Here
- Serial Killer: A careful examination of the truck reveals that the driver has done this before, several times.
- Spiritual Successor: Roadgames (1981) and (some say) Joy Ride (2001).
- The Faceless: The driver of the truck is never seen in full. The audience only ever sees the arm of the trucker in one scene, his snakeskin boots in another, and a brief shadowy glimpse at the end. Of course, this is to emphasize that the truck itself is the main enemy.
- The Glasses Come Off: Inverted; Mann puts on his glasses as he is getting ready to have his final showdown with the truck.
- Tired of Running: Mann at the end decides to face the truck driver and stop trying to escape him.
- Vehicular Assault
- Why Don't Ya Just Run Him Over: There are several times the truck driver could have killed Mann easily, but left him alone in order to give him a fair chance.