WLC Classic Movie #01 – Duel (1971)

Here begins an occasional look at great movies that succeed thanks to talent and creativity over budget and marketing. And in case you haven’t seen it, the full movie is right here in the post!

Duel was Steven Spielberg’s dress rehearsal for his masterpiece, Jaws. This budget TV movie about a relentless truck unexpectedly gave Spielberg the exact right experience to make his next film (Jaws) the biggest movie ever at that time and Spielberg the hottest property in Hollywood. Spielberg replaced budget with creativity and conjured up a gripping drama from a simple concept and very little cash.

Watch the full movie below…

I’ll tell you what I like about Duel: it’s the camera work around an increasingly terrified Dennis Weaver’s car. From the opening shot of the car reversing out of the garage from the headlamp point of view to the seemingly impossible slow camera creeps around the moving car. Every angle of that car is explored to keep things interesting. Every trixie transition, reflection, shadow, piece of elaborate chrome… it’s all covered in such an original way that you know this isn’t the work of an average director the second you see it.

Its this detail that stood Spielberg in such good stead on the set of Jaws. The shark didn’t work for weeks at a time and Spielberg had most of the movie in the can – so what did he do? He shot innovative, thrilling, dramatic shots of everday objects around the boat. Swooping close ups and improbable zooms on the cleats of the boat are littered throughout and really add tension. Without his apprenticeship on Duel, Spielberg would not have had the confidence to shoot these classic shots.

Oh, and check out the sound of the truck ‘dying’ in Duel and the shark dying in Jaws. Yup, same noise. Love it.


One Response

  1. Awesome film. I saw it years ago and it’s had a lasting impression. Agree with your Jaws comment about this style foreshadowing how he filmed the shark without having to show it.

    Great post.

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