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 redneck nut.

Except that the truck stops with him. As the movie progresses, the truck continues to stalk David, getting more and more aggressive in its road rage, 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 its 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?
    • Though it was the car being Made of Explodium rather than the tiny amount of gas that was spilled on it that caused that.
  • 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.
  • Just Toying with Them: The truck could have easily killed Mann several times before the climax should they have wanted to.
  • 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:
    • Not only is it Mann vs. Machine, it's also David vs. Goliath.
    • 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 stopped at this gas station. 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.
  • Rule of Scary: The truck has a large steel girder affixed to the front bumper, perhaps replacing it. In addition to adding force to a ramming attack, it makes the truck look even more intimidating than it already does.