Compromise Formations: Current Directions in Psychoanalytic Criticism

By Vera J. Camden | Go to book overview

Duel: Paranoid Style

Andrew Gordon

Steven Spielberg's Duel was made as a "Movie of the Week" for ABC television in 1971, but the acclaim it garnered after its release in Europe in 1973 permits it to be considered Spielberg's first theatrical film. Duel is a taut thriller in the Hitchcock tradition, considered one of the best movies ever made for television. One critic even ranks it with Clouzot's The Wages of Fear as "one of the most suspenseful films ever made" (Aldiss 173). Duel is a carefully calculated film. All the elements work together to involve the audience and allow us to identify with the hero, an ordinary man forced beyond his limits when he is terrorized by a huge truck in a highway duel to the death. Spielberg builds suspense gradually, momentarily slackens it, tricks us when we are off guard, and then screws the tension to an almost unbearable level in the climax. He plays with the audience, just as the truck toys with the hero.

The merits of the film are in the script by Richard Matheson (based on his story), meticulous storyboarding, crisp editing and pacing, fluid and dynamic camerawork, a tense and eerie musical score by Billy Goldenberg (reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's music for Hitchcock's Psycho) (Larson 243), 1 and a gripping performance by Dennis Weaver as the protagonist David Mann. It is the film of a young man (twenty-four) who delights in showing what he can do with a camera to tell a story: for a car-chase movie, it has a rich variety of camera setups, angles, and lenses, as well as a sensuous menace in the lingering tracking shots along the sides of the huge moving truck or slow tilts down a truck driver's boots. It is an almost purely visual film. Spielberg wanted to make "a feature

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