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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.
- 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.
- Berserk Button: The only time that the trucker becomes a No-Nonsense Nemesis is when Mann tries to call the police.
- 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.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The movie takes place over the span of a day.
- Drama-Preserving Handicap: If not for the damaged radiator hose, a Plymouth Valiant would have easily left the truck in the dust. It's shown several times that Mann's car is fast, but its initial damage, compounded with all the abuse it takes, means it can't keep the speed up for long. The climax only happens because the handicap finally cripples his car.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Maybe. The only thing Mann might have done to warrant the truck's anger was overtaking it at the start of the film. Apparently that's enough to drive it to murder.
- 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.
- Foreshadowing: "You said there would be no problem getting home on time!"
- For the Evulz: Much of what the truck does. At several points it could clearly kill Mann if it wanted to but chooses to keep twisting the knife.
- The Glasses Come Off: Inverted; Mann puts on his glasses as he is getting ready to have his final showdown with the truck.
- Hope Spot:
- Several times it seems that Mann has given the truck the slip only for it to catch up to him.
- Inverted when he stops to hide by the train tracks. The horn was the train's. It just happened to be the same tone as the truck's.
- When he decides to stop running, it seems that Mann chanced across a police cruiser, but it's just a pest control company car.
- Kids Are Cruel: The school children that Mann tries to help do nothing but jeer at him.
- 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.
- Obviously Evil: A rusted old truck spewing out toxic fumes. Not exactly the vehicle that a good person would drive.
- Oh Crap: Mann's reaction when he sees the truck in the tunnel. Also when his car begins breaking down.
- Pet the Dog: Subverted. The truck driver gets a few moments like this but it's all to establish himself as a Villain with Good Publicity. He helped a school bus, who's going to believe that he's a Serial Killer?
- Phone Booth: Mann tries to call for help for one, prompting the truck driver to ram into it.
- Poor Communication Kills: At the cafe, Mann could have easily asked the waitresses which trucker owned the rust bucket. A Deleted Scene reveals he made his incorrect assumption based on the two truckers sharing the same taste in boots.
- Railroad Tracks of Doom: Mann is nearly pushed into a moving train at a grade crossing by the truck.
- Ramming Always Works: The trucker's one and only strategy. There's even a dubiously legal steel bar added to the truck's grill, seemingly for no other reason than to make this more effective.
- 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).
- Super-Persistent Predator: The truck driver. No matter what Mann does to try and put some distance between the two, the truck will find its way back to him and continue the hunt.
- Tired of Running: Mann at the end decides to face the truck driver and stop trying to escape him.
- Vehicular Assault: The trucker's main weapon is his vehicle. The film is even shot in such a way to emphasize that the truck itself is the villain.
- Villain with Good Publicity: The truck. Helps out the school kids and honks at the train. All to isolate Mann and make him look like a loon that no one should listen to.
- 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.