ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Spielberg's "Duel" Remains An Impressive Debut

Updated on August 2, 2011

A career spanning over 40 years, Steven Spielberg has established himself as one of the most successful directors, both financially and critically. After early successes with “Jaws” and “Close Encounters with the Third Kind,” Spielberg compelled audiences and critics alike with his masterful storytelling and memorable characters. Later on, Spielberg would find more success with box office hits such as “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” and the “Indiana Jones” franchise in the 1980s. 1994 was a banner year for Spielberg, which saw the release of the summer blockbuster “Jurassic Park” and the career-defining Holocaust epic “Schindler’s List,” the recipient of the Best Picture award at the Academy Awards. In the 2000s, Spielberg would create futuristic films (“A.I.”, “Minority Report”) and feel-good character studies (“Catch Me If You Can” and “The Terminal”). However, it is worth looking at Spielberg’s beginnings.

In the late 1960s, Spielberg got his break in television by directing the pilot episode of Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery,” the successor of Serling’s groundbreaking “Twilight Zone” series. In the early 1970s, Spielberg was commissioned by Universal to direct a series of made-for-TV films. The first of which was the adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “Duel,” a suspenseful thriller which would seem like a large task, given the fact that Spielberg was only 25 years old at the time. After 40 years of excellent film making, Spielberg’s feature-length debut is an astounding tale of paranoia and revenge.

Mild-mannered electronics salesman David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is traveling on a desolate California highway and comes behind a slow-moving tanker truck. Upon legitimately passing the truck, the truck decides to to get ahead of Mann and slows him down. Mann eventually passes him again but gets off the interstate to refuel at a gas station. The truck follows into the station with no visibility of the driver.

Upon re-entering the highway, the truck and Mann engage in a back-and-forth cat-and-mouse game of owning the road. On this desolate desert highway, it’s just the two vehicles. The weak compact car versus the menacing semi-trailer. The rusty tanker truck expelling black exhaust fumes is the bully of the open road, constantly intimidating an innocent man minding his own business.

Mann stops at a nearby diner and tries to compose himself. After seeing the truck parked outside, he anxiously tries to figure out who the driver is in the diner while trying to comprehend why he is being targeted. Later on, Mann stops to help a stranded school bus but puzzled that the truck came back and ends up pushing the bus out of a ditch. At a railroad crossing, the truck comes behind Mann’s car and starts pushing it towards the tracks while a freight train is passing by. Upon stopping at a toll booth, Mann tries to contact the police before the truck slams into the booth, with Mann narrowly jumping out of the way.

As much as the truck remains an unstoppable force, its presence reminds me of such subdued villainous figures such as Jason Vorhees (the “Friday the 13th” franchise) and Anton Chigurh (“No Country for Old Men”). In a fit of desperation, Mann decides to take on the truck in a battle of wits. What once was a simple man, the protagonist must overcome an unanticipated evil in an unprovoked stand-off. The fact that the audience does not see the face of the truck driver makes the antagonist much more intimidating. Added to the suspenseful atmospheric feel was the music composed by Bill Goldenberg, which rivals any Hitchcock scene. Dennis Weaver is a one-man show, allowing the audience to put themselves in his shoes, taking on this face-less plague and wonder how they would react. First aired on November 13, 1971 on the ABC network, “Duel” was a much-watched television event that established Spielberg as a bonafide director.

By the early 1970s, the filmmakers of the New Hollywood era were making names of themselves in the cinema. However, Spielberg broke ground with a “movie of the week” debut. Nonetheless, his contemporaries took notice. In the book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” author Peter Biskind devotes a chapter to Spielberg’s emergence in the 1970s.

“Duel” got a lot of notice, and was released as a feature in Europe and Japan. Spielberg became a darling of the French critics. Recalls [Don] Simpson, “The media were saying all these things about this kid who made “Duel,” and then Marty [Scorsese] and Brian [De Palma] would say, ‘Well, what he did wasn’t so extraordinary.’ There was a little bit of envy.”

As a child of the 1980s, my adolescence was spent watching the films of Spielberg. However, it wasn’t until now that I got a chance to watch his impressive debut. Even at a young age, Spielberg was able to create a full-length feature filled with realistic fore-boding distress. It’s no wonder his career flourished after “Duel” as it was a defining moment for one of cinema’s most talented storytellers.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 

      7 years ago from Virginia

      This brought back Dad loved this movie. I agree that not seeing the driver made it much more suspenseful, great hub!!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      Yay: One could turn around and say, you've been on hubpages for two years and never published a single hub or created an avatar, use ye name "yay" that tells people nothing about you so...what are you hiding? This is my real name. This is a hub on Duel. I shared my thoughts with Brad on my memory of the film. The most vivid memory for me is seeing the large spiders that spill out of the cages from the back of the vehicle. Very large colourful spiders. The other two movies I mention also had spiders. The one I knew when I had to look away. The other I don't.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      So let me get this straight, you avoid watching movies with spiders in it? Good God...

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      I wish someone had told me that there would be a scene with poisoness spiders in it and when it was coming to avoid looking at the screen. No one did and I am extremely arachnophobic. I haven't been able to watch the movie a second time because of this. I've avoided seeing Dr. No for the same reason. I have seen Badlands, but I knew what scene this would be so I spent the entire scene looking at the ceiling.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)