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Duel: Steven Spielberg's First Full-Length Movie

Updated on July 26, 2009

Duel (1971): Steven Spielberg’s First Full-Length Film

Whether you’ve heard of him or not (which you have, trust me), you seen one of his movies. Duel, shot in 1971, was his first full-length movie that launched his career. As you probably know already, Steven Spielberg was also the director of the infamous Jaws movies. Tons of people believe that Duel was a huge influence on Jaws.


The story of Duel was written by Richard Matheson. Matheson based it on his own short story that was originally published in Playboy magazine. Richard Matheson wrote the short story based on a real life experience he had with his friend and fellow writer Jerry Sohl. The two men were being tailgated by a trucker on the way back form a round of golf. This happened on the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Spielberg received the story from his secretary who constantly read the magazine for good stories.

Spielberg was given the directing job after directing a portion of the TV show Night Gallery. Duel debuted on ABC as the movie of the week on November 13, 1971. Eventually, it made its way to Europe and Australia.


The plot was that David Mann, played by Dennis Weaver, is driving to a meeting with a business man across the southern California “Canyon Country.” Mann is driving a shiny new red 1971 Plymouth Valiant when he encounters an old tanker truck with the word FLAMMABLE written across the back of it. The monstrous truck, a Peterbilt 281, is traveling much below the speed limit and expelling thick black exhaust fumes, so Mann waits for opening and passes the truck. Almost instantly, the truck proceeds to fly past Mann, getting in front of him, and slowing down again. David Mann, obviously, can’t believe what has happened. Mann passes the truck again, and once he gets in front of it, the tanker lets out a long and loud blast from his horn. This startles Mann. After a minute or two, the truck passes Mann again. In disbelief, Mann stays behind the truck. A short time passes and the truck drivers hand comes out of the window telling Mann it is okay to pass him now. David jumps on the opportunity, and the acceleration, to pass the tanker. However, right as he is passing the truck, another car traveling in opposite direction almost hits Mann in a head on collision! Mann is stunned and realized that the truck driver was obviously trying to kill him! Mann stops at a gas station to get gas, and the tanker pulls up to the pump right next to him. It is now when Mann examines feet of the deranged driver when he steps out of the other side of the cab. David Mann thinks about his situation. Later on, Mann discovers a dirt road that leads off the highway and then back on a again. Mann speeds off the two lane highway, on the dirt road, and overtakes the truck. Mann is extremely happy and satisfied with his great victory. The evil truck proceeds to accelerate up to extreme speeds and bumps the rear end of Mann’s Valiant while blowing his horn. This causes Mann to run off the road into the parking lot of Chuck’s Cafe, stopping only after plowing into a fence. Mann goes inside after being very well shaken and confused. While eating his sandwich and drinking two glasses of water, Mann spots the evil tanker truck waiting for him outside. He sees four (what seem to be) truck drivers. He looks carefully at all of the men’s boots and jeans trying to match it to the evil truck drivers. The one who we are led to believe is actually him, exits the diner and gets in a small farm truck. He tells another man who he believes is the driver to quit or he’ll call the cops. This man is not the driver and punches Mann. He looks out the window and sees the demon truck start up as if ready to play more of the twisted game. It is exactly like a game to this twisted human being. We see this as fact when you look at the front of the truck and there are 6 license plates from states like Nevada, Montana, Arizona and more (These are obviously former victims, and apparent losers, of the game). Also, the man behind the wheel is a very skilled driver, and very tricky.

As the movie goes on, the man in the truck tries various ways to kill Mann such as pushing him into an oncoming train, plowing through the phone booth Mann was using, driving him off the road numerous times. At one point, Mann stops to help a stalled school bus, but his Valiant is not powerful enough. Mann manages to get his front bumper caught underneath the back bumper of the school bus. Right at that moment, the trucks silhouette appears at the other end of the pitch black tunnel. Mann panics a jumps on the hood of the car while the bus driver throws the little red sedan into reverse and stepping on the gas. Then the truck turns on its menacing-looking headlights, as if they were its eyes locking onto its prey. The Valiant is freed from under the bus and Mann jumps in while the bus driver gets forced out of the passenger side door. Then, the truck comes over to the bus as Mann speeds off. As he looks back, the truck is helping out the bus by getting behind it and letting it go on its merry way… Mr. Helpful Truck...

Mann pulls over at a gas station, and goes to the phone booth. He is calling the police when the truck comes and completely demolishes the phone booth just a mere half-a-second before Mann exits running (This was no stunt man here. Dennis Weaver himself performed this stunt). The truck makes loops around the station destroying everything there is in sight and as soon as Mann gets in his car and speeds off, the truck continues its pursuit. This is the first time that the truck actually terrorizes Mann while other people are watching.

Later, Mann finds the truck. Waiting for him. Ready. He comes to a screeching halt in the middle of the road nearly being hit by another car. David gets out of his, now terribly beat up and filthy, car and stares at the tanker. He gets back in his car and pulls up closer. The trucker revs his high-power engine as if enticing Mann to keep playing. The driver then (I couldn’t believe my eyes at this point I was in shock!) puts his hand out the window and waves Mann by. Shmuck.

I cant’ tell you any more of what happens, you jus desperately need to watch this movie. It is pure genius.

Please watch it as soon as possible. Fairly short movie as well. Just reading about it will not do it justice.

I will have a Duel Special Features hub coming out soon. It will include contents of a lengthy interview with Steven Spielberg about Duel – how he chose the car, the truck, Dennis Weaver, and more!




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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This was not Steven Spielberg's first full length movie. It was called Firelight. Google is one hell of a tool, try using it.

    • parkerk393 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Arlington, Texas

      Of course I reccomend it! Great movie.

    • johnb0127 profile image


      9 years ago from TX

      Wow, this hub makes me want to see the movie! I guess you recommend it?


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