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Film: Duel
Hold on, I'll call you back. This guy behind me is being a douche.

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 featuring added scenes filmed after it's first airing on television.


Duel provides examples of:

  • 1-D Space: There is only "Forward" and "Backward", and "Backward" is forgotten about. Mann continues to drive forward, rather than turning around and going home or peeling off and going somewhere else entirely just for safety's sake, even though the truck is up there ahead of him. Even after he has waited for over an hour and probably has no chance of completing the errand on time that the originally left to go do, he still keeps pressing forward.
    • Actually, he turns around and heads home after waiting an hour by the railroad track. The railroad track switches sides. But he fell asleep during the hour, and the truck doubled back and waited for him.
  • Action Survivor: At no time does Mann decide to be a hero. He just wants to survive.
  • Ambiguous Ending: David wins the duel, but he is left by a cliff in the middle of nowhere with no visible means to return home.
  • Artistic License - Chemistry: Does it take a long time for gasoline to dry even when the car has been traveling at high speed?
  • Attempted Rape: What Mann's wife says almost happened to her at the party the night before.
  • Batman Gambit: After the truck driver waves him in front of his truck, Mann's plan at the end is to get the truck on a steep grade where he could easily outrun him on upside. Unfortunately, the strain of it finally burst his radiator hose. He wins the race up the mountain - barely - but it badly damages his car. He knows the duel will soon be over, one way or another.
  • Big Badass Rig: Spielberg "cast" the nastiest, grungiest looking semi he could find on a TV-movie budget. Then he had it made to look even dirtier and oilier.
  • Blood from the Mouth: What happens to Mann when he hits his head after taking a sudden turn.
  • Car Fu: Pretty much what this movie's all about in a nutshell.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The radiator hose.
  • Cool Car: For a killing machine.
  • Daylight Horror: The film is entirely shot in daylight, but is terrifying at times.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Three guesses who this tropes applies to.
  • 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!"
  • The Glasses Come Off: Inverted; Mann puts on his glasses as he is getting ready to have his final showdown with the truck.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: The truck's headlights in the tunnel.
  • Hope Spot: When he sees what he thinks is a police car.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The truck is doing this.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Instead of watching hopefully as Mann tries to push the bus to save them, they are making faces at him.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Upon finding a phone booth at an isolated gas station, David notes that it's a "weird place for a phone booth".
  • Made of Explodium: Both followed and averted. At the climax, David's car bursts into flames on impact, but the truck survives the fall into the canyon with no explosions or fire.
  • 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). The Dolby soundtrack on the dvd (the default setting) lacks this.
  • 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: Subverted. The truck driver gets a few moments of these to show that he is not above helping out a school bus full of kids in need or giving a friendly honk to passing trains. This is part of a simple but extremely effective Xanatos Gambit by the truck driver, to isolate Mann from any possible source of help. It works, but Mann wins the duel by sacrificing his car.
  • Phone Booth: Mann tries to call the police in one, and nearly gets killed for his pains.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Mann could have asked the man at the diner which truck was his before he started blaming him. Instead fisticuffs ensued.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Mann is nearly pushed into a moving train at a grade crossing by the truck, as it continues to toy with him.
  • 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.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: The exterminator car's company is "Greblieps" - Speilberg.
  • Serial Killer: A careful examination of the truck reveals that the driver has done this before, several times.
  • Society Marches On: Several times you will hear Mann say "fill the tank with ethyl". He means gas. Ethyl is a fuel additive, equivalent to "premium" in the 1970's.
  • Specs of Awesome: Dan, at the end.
  • Spiritual Successor: Roadgames (1981) and (some say) Joy Ride (2001). Also thought to have inspired the "possessed car" genre of The Seventies and The Eighties, including works like Christine and The Car.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The antagonist truck just won't give up.
  • Surprise Vehicle: At one point the truck suddenly appears behind Mann, despite the fact that he was keeping an eye out for it.
  • Tired of Running: At the end, with a badly damaged car, Mann is forced into facing the truck and completing the duel.
  • Vehicular Assault: The truck is treated as the villain instead of its driver, with several shots devoted to making it seem alive.
  • Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: There are several times the truck driver could have killed Mann easily (especially when he was on foot), but swerved clear in order to give him a fair chance and/or to toy some more with him. The one time the truck driver nearly killed him outside his car was when he tried to call the police at the gas station.


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