Duel (1971 film)

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Duel poster.jpg
Promotional poster (re-release version)
Genre Thriller
Distributed by Universal Studios
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by George Eckstein
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Dennis Weaver
Music by Billy Goldenberg
Cinematography Jack A. Marta
Editing by Frank Morriss
Budget $450,000
Country United States
Language English
Original channel ABC
Release date November 13, 1971
Running time 74 minutes (TV broadcast)
90 minutes (Theatrical cut)

Duel is a 1971 television (and later full-length theatrical) thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard Matheson, based on Matheson's short story of the same name. It stars Dennis Weaver as a terrified motorist stalked on a remote and lonely road by the mostly unseen driver of a mysterious tanker truck.


David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a middle-aged Los Angeles electronics salesman driving his red 1971 Plymouth Valiant sedan on a business trip. On a two-lane highway in the California desert, he encounters a grimy and rusty 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker truck, traveling slower than the speed limit and expelling thick plumes of sooty diesel exhaust. Mann passes the unsightly truck, which promptly roars past him and then slows down again. Mann is unmoved, passing the truck a second time, and is startled when it suddenly issues a long air horn blast.

Mann arrives at a gas station, and the truck follows. While there, Mann phones his wife (Jacqueline Scott), who is upset with him for not confronting one of their friends at a recent party who was making a pass at her. The gas station attendant refills Mann's car and mentions that Mann needs a new radiator hose, but he refuses the repair.

The Peterbilt 281 tanker truck

Once both Mann and the trucker are back on the road, the truck begins blocking Mann’s path each time he attempts to pass it. At one point, the truck driver (Carey Loftin, whose face is never shown) waves Mann past, indicating it is safe to overtake. When Mann does, he almost strikes an oncoming vehicle. Mann realizes the truck driver was trying to trick him into a fatal collision. He passes the truck again, using an unpaved turnout next to the highway. The truck soon begins to tailgate Mann at high speeds—over 90 miles per hour (140 km/h)—forcing him to maintain his speed to avoid being rear-ended. The chase continues down a mountain road with the truck bumping him several times until the Plymouth goes off the road, colliding with a board fence across the road from a diner. The truck keeps going.

Mann enters the diner (Chuck's Café) to compose himself. After returning from the restroom, he is shocked to see the truck parked outside. Mann studies the diner patrons carefully and begins an inner monologue in which he contemplates the driver's motives and second-guesses his decision to sit helplessly in the diner. Most of the patrons sitting at the counter give Mann the impression of malice. When one leaves, appearing to approach the tanker, he instead drives away in a pickup truck. Mann eyes the patrons again to try to identify his pursuer, and when he thinks he has, Mann confronts him. The man he approaches (Eugene Dynarski) is angered by Mann's accusations and engages him in a short fist fight. After the café owner breaks up the fight, the falsely-accused man drives away in a livestock truck. The tanker truck leaves a few seconds later, suggesting that Mann's tormenter was never inside the diner in the first place.

Mann leaves the café and stops to help a stranded school bus, but his front bumper becomes caught underneath the rear of the bus. The truck appears at the end of a tunnel. Mann panics, manages to free the Plymouth, and flees, but then is puzzled to see the truck helping the bus get moving. At a railroad crossing, the truck quietly approaches Mann's car from behind and starts pushing the Valiant towards a passing freight train. The train passes by just in time; Mann crosses the tracks and pulls off the road. The truck passes him by and disappears. Mann eventually catches up to the truck as it has stopped, as though it were waiting for him.

David Mann (Weaver) being chased by the truck.

Mann then stops at Sally's Snakerama Gas Station to call the police and refuel his Plymouth. The truck has stopped just a little further up the road. When Mann steps into a phone booth that is shielded from the truck driver's view, the truck roars up and plows into the telephone booth; Mann jumps clear just in time. The truck proceeds to chase Mann, who is on foot, destroying Sally's Snakerama and releasing several rattlesnakes that had been caged on the premises. Terrified, Mann jumps into his car and speeds away. Mann then hides behind an embankment off the road and sees the truck pass by, apparently without noticing him.

After a long wait, Mann heads off again but is dumbfounded to see that the truck is waiting for him just around the bend. Mann stops his car, then attempts to speed past the stopped truck, but the truck moves across the road blocking his way. He tries to approach the stopped truck on foot, but the truck just drives slowly away keeping just ahead of Mann, stopping when he does. He attempts to get help from an older couple in a car that drive up from the direction he came from. They think he is crazy and refuse to listen, until they see the truck themselves; they flee when the truck backs up towards them at increasing speed. The truck turns to back up directly towards Mann's car, Mann goes for his car but decides to flee further away from the road on foot. The truck stops before hitting Mann's car and then moves forward again to wait where it originally stopped, Mann then returns to his car and slowly approaches the truck. The truck driver's arm is then shown to wave him past after a hesitation Mann speeds around the truck and a high-speed chase begins. Mann races up steep grades, putting some distance between himself and the truck. During the chase, he sees a black-and-white car (a 1971 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan) parked on the side of the road with writing on its doors. Thinking it is a police car, Mann skids to a stop next to the car only to realize the writing says "Grebleips Pest Control" ("Grebleips" is "Spielberg" spelled backwards). The truck follows him off the road and comes close to smashing the other car as Mann speeds off again. The chase continues up a mountain, but Mann's Valiant begins to overheat when its weak radiator hose fails. The truck quickly begins gaining on him. Mann barely makes the summit and coasts down the other side in neutral as the truck bears down on him.

Descending at speeds too great to control, the Plymouth spins out and hits a rock wall. The truck speeds toward the damaged car as Mann accelerates, drives up a dirt road, and turns to face his opponent on a large hill overlooking a canyon. He places his briefcase on the accelerator and steers his vehicle directly toward the oncoming truck, jumping from the car at the last moment. The tanker hits the car, which bursts into flames, partially obscuring the truck driver's view. Too late, the truck's driver realizes he is headed for the edge of a cliff and brakes hard. With a blast of the air horn, the truck plunges over the edge of the cliff into the canyon below, destroying the truck and car. A dark viscous liquid is shown dripping from the steering wheel. Above the smoking wreckage, Mann sits exhausted at the cliff's edge tossing stones into the abyss as the sun sets.



The script is adapted by Richard Matheson from his own short story, originally published in Playboy magazine. It was inspired by a real-life experience in which Matheson was tailgated by a trucker while on his way home from a golfing match with friend Jerry Sohl on November 22, 1963, the same day as the John F. Kennedy assassination. The short story was given to Spielberg by his secretary, who reportedly read the magazine for the stories.[1]

Duel was Spielberg's second feature-length directing effort, after his 1971 The Name of the Game NBC-TV series episode "L.A. 2017". It was two years after a well-received turn directing a segment of the pilot-movie for the anthology television series Night Gallery and several other TV episodes. Duel was initially shown on American television as an ABC Movie of the Week installment. It was eventually released to cinemas in Europe and Australia, and had a limited cinema release to some venues in the United States. The film's success enabled Spielberg to establish himself as a film director.[1]

Much of the movie was filmed in and around the communities of Canyon Country, Agua Dulce, and Acton, California. In particular, sequences were filmed on Sierra Highway, Agua Dulce Canyon Road, Soledad Canyon Road, and Angeles Forest Highway. Many of the landmarks from Duel still exist today, including the tunnel, the railroad crossing, and Chuck’s Café, where David Mann abruptly stops for a break. The building, which since 1980 has housed a French restaurant called Le Chene, is currently still on Sierra Highway.[2] The "Snakerama" gas station seen in the film was used again as a homage to Duel by Spielberg in his comedy film, 1941 (1979), with Lucille Benson again appearing as the proprietor.

Production of the television film was overseen by ABC's director of movies of the weekend, Lillian Gallo.[3] The original made-for-television version was 74 minutes long and was completed in 13 days (three longer than the scheduled 10 days), leaving 10 days for editing prior to broadcast as the ABC Movie of the Week. Following Duel‍ '​s successful TV airing, Universal released Duel overseas in 1972, especially in Europe. Since the TV movie was not long enough for theatrical release, Universal had Spielberg spend two days filming several new scenes, turning Duel into a 90-minute film. The new scenes were set at the railroad crossing, school bus, and the telephone booth where David Mann phoned his wife. A longer opening sequence was added with the car backing out of a garage and driving through the city. Expletives were also added, to make the film sound less like a television production.[citation needed]

Spielberg lobbied to have Dennis Weaver in the starring role because he admired Weaver's work in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.[citation needed] Amusingly, Weaver repeats one of his lines from the Welles classic, telling the truck driver in the cafe that he has "another think coming."

In the Archive of American Television website, Spielberg is quoted in an interview given by Weaver as proudly saying: "You know, I watch that movie at least twice a year to remember what I did".[4]


Though the car was carefully chosen – a red Plymouth Valiant – three cars were used in the filming.[citation needed] The original release featured a 1970 model with a 318 V-8 engine[citation needed] and "Plymouth" spelled out in block letters across the hood, as well as trunk lid treatment characteristic of the 1970 model; a 1971 model with a 225 Slant Six was also used.[citation needed] When the film was released in theatres and scenes were added, a 1972 model with a 225 Slant Six was added, with the "Plymouth" name on the hood as one emblem. All three cars were dressed with wheel covers available only to Valiant models, only in 1971.[citation needed]

The Valiant's red color was also intentional; Spielberg did not care what kind of car was used in the film but wanted it to be a red car to enable the vehicle to stand out in the wide shots of the desert highway.[1]

The surviving truck, a 1960 281 at a 2010 truck show, displayed with a Plymouth Valiant.

Spielberg had what he called an "audition" for the truck, wherein he viewed a series of trucks to choose the one for the film. He selected the older 1955 Peterbilt 281 over the then-current flat-nosed "cab-over" style of trucks because the long hood of the Peterbilt, coupled to its split windshield and round headlights, gave it more of a "face", adding to its menacing personality.[1] Additionally, Spielberg said the multiple license plates on the front bumper of the Peterbilt subtly suggested that the truck driver is a serial killer, having "run down other drivers in other states".[1] For each shot, several people were tasked to make it uglier, adding some "truck make-up". The shots of the truck are done in such a way as to make it seem "alive" in terms of its attack on Mann.

The truck had twin rear axles, a Cummins NTC 350 Twin Turbo charged engine with 5 speed main transmission and a 3 speed auxiliary transmission making it capable of hauling loads over 30 tons and top speeds reaching 75 - 80 mph easily. During the original filming, the crew only had one truck, so the final scene of the truck falling off the cliff had to be completed in one take. For the film's theatrical release, though, additional trucks were purchased in order to film the additional scenes that were not in the original made-for-television version (the school bus scene and the railroad crossing scene). Only one of those trucks has survived.[5]

Stock footage of both vehicles was later used in an episode of the television series The Incredible Hulk, titled "Never Give a Trucker an Even Break". Spielberg was not happy about this, but the usage was legal as the show was produced by Universal, and the Duel contract said nothing about reusing the footage in other Universal productions.[6]

The truck was purchased several times. It is currently owned by a truck collector and is on display at Brad's Trucks in North Carolina.[7]


The film's original score was composed by Billy Goldenberg, who had previously written the music for Spielberg's segment of the Night Gallery pilot and his Columbo episode "Murder by the Book," and co-scored Spielberg's The Name of the Game episode "L.A. 2017" with Robert Prince. Spielberg and Duel producer George Eckstein told him that because of the short production schedule, he would have to write the music during filming, and Goldenberg visited the production on location at Soledad Canyon to help get an idea of what would be required. Spielberg then had Goldenberg ride in the tanker truck being driven by stunt driver Carey Loftin on several occasions; the experience terrified the composer, although he did eventually get used to it. Goldenberg then composed the score in about a week, for strings, harp, keyboards and heavy use of percussion instruments, with Moog synthesiser effects but eschewing brass and woodwinds. He then worked with the music editors to "pick from all the pieces (they) had and cut it together (with the sound effects and dialogue)." Much of his score was ultimately not used in the finished film.[8] [9]

Soundtrack album[edit]

In 2015 Intrada Records released a limited edition album featuring the complete score, plus four radio source music tracks composed by Goldenberg (tracks 15-18).

  1. Universal Emblem (0:28)
  2. Passing The Truck (2:12)
  3. Truck And Car Encounter (1:33)
  4. Studying Drivers (2:24)
  5. Mann’s Thoughts (3:37)
  6. Lone Driver Eating (2:01)
  7. Truck Leaving (1:17)
  8. Truck Stops (3:06)
  9. Hide And Seek (1:27)
  10. Truck Waiting #1 (2:38)
  11. Truck Waiting #5 (1:52)
  12. Truck Racing Car (4:47)
  13. Final Duel (4:50)
  14. The Duel (End Title) (2:30)
  15. Instrumental No. 1 (3:40)
  16. Instrumental No. 4 (2:15)
  17. Instrumental No. 2 (3:33)
  18. Instrumental No. 3 (2:33)
  19. The Duel (Alternate End Title) (1:02)


Critical response[edit]

The film received many positive reviews and is often considered among the greatest TV movies.[citation needed] On Rotten Tomatoes the film currently has a "Fresh" score of 86% based on 37 reviews with an average rating of 7.7 out of 10.).[10]



Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival

  • Grand Prize: 1973[11]


  • Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing: 1972[12]

Golden Globe

  • Best Movie Made for TV: 1972[13]


  • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming – For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for Television: 1972[14]

Saturn Award

  • Best DVD Classic Film Release: 2005[15]

References in other works[edit]

In film[edit]

  • The dinosaur roar sound effect that is heard as the truck goes over the cliff is also heard in Jaws (1975), also directed by Spielberg, as the shark's carcass sinks into the ocean. Spielberg has said that this is because he feels there is a "kinship" between Duel and Jaws, as they are both "about these leviathans targeting everyman." He has also said that inserting the sound effect into Jaws was "my way of thanking Duel for giving me a career."[1]
  • The 1978 anime film Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo parodies Duel by depicting a chase scene whereby lead characters Arsène Lupin III, Daisuke Jigen and Goemon Ishikawa XIII, driving in a red Austin Cooper, are pursued by a giant Kenworth W900 sent by the film's villain, Mamo, to eliminate them.[16]
  • The truck from Duel is seen in the film Torque (2004) and causes a biker to wipe out shortly after a red 4-door Valiant had driven past the bikers.
  • In Fire Down Below, the scene where Taggart is chased and nearly run off the road before luring the truck to ram his truck off of a cliff is directly inspired by Duel.
  • Spanish Barcelona-based Filmmaker Enric Folch, crowdfunded the Documentary film The Devil On Wheels.[17] Devil on Wheels centers the development of the film Duel[18] and pays a big tribute.[19]

In print[edit]

  • The Mr. Monk book Mr. Monk on the Road features a similar sub-plot in which Adrian Monk, driving a rented RV, is pursued by a truck like that from Duel, which meets a similar end, although the truck driver's motive is known.
  • In the third part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Stardust Crusaders, the Wheel of Fortune chapters have various references to the movie, as the protagonists must deal with an assassin controlling a car (which resembles a Plymouth).

In television[edit]

  • Stock footage from Duel appears throughout The Incredible Hulk first season episode "Never Give a Trucker an Even Break" (originally airdate on CBS: April 28, 1978).[20] Spielberg was reportedly "not too happy about it," according to Matheson.[21]
  • In the Red Dwarf series 8 episode "Only the Good...", Arnold Rimmer claims that a scar on the right side of his neck resulted from a friend's attacking him with the video case from the film Duel.
  • The opening scene of the Transformers: Prime episode "Nemesis Prime" pays homage to Duel.
  • The one hour special Tiny Toons' Night Ghoulery features a parody segment of the film named "Fuel" with Calamity Coyote.
  • The Bob's Burgers season 4 episode "Christmas in the Car" contains numerous Duel references when Bob is terrorized by a candy-cane shaped truck.
  • In the television murder mystery series Murder, She Wrote episode "The Cemetery Vote", Jessica is traveling along a country road as a passenger in a station wagon when they are chased and rammed by a large powerful truck covered in mud with the driver invisible behind a mud-caked windshield; A direct reference to Duel.

In music[edit]

In Computer Games[edit]

  • In Hard Truck: 18 Wheels of Steel, the "Rusty" truck was based on the truck from Spielberg's Duel.
  • In Euro Truck Simulator 2, the Peterbilt 351 was based from Spielberg's Duel truck with slight differences.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Duel: Special Edition DVD (2005)
  2. ^ "Le Chene French Cuisine". lechene.com. Retrieved January 9, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Lillian Gallo, Pioneering TV Producer, Dies at 84". The Hollywood Reporter. June 18, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ "On starring in the TV movie Duel". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Fan site for trucks used in film". Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  6. ^ Jackson, Kathi (2007). Steven Spielberg: A Biography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 18. 
  7. ^ "The Surviving Duel Truck". Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  8. ^ Jon Burlingame, pp. 297-298, TV's Biggest Hits: The Story Of Television Themes From "Dragnet" To "Friends", Schirmer Books, 1996, ISBN 0-02-870324-3
  9. ^ http://www.intrada.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=6594
  10. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1006345-duel/ Duel at Rotten Tomatoes
  11. ^ "IMDB 1973". Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Emmy 1972". Television Academy. Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  13. ^ Golden Globe 1972
  14. ^ "Emmy 1972". Television Academy. Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  15. ^ Saturn Awards 2005
  16. ^ Toole, Mike (2012). The Mystery of Mamo (Why Mamo Matters). Discotek Media.
  17. ^ “The Devil On Wheels” Doc to Celebrate Steven Spielberg’s ‘Duel’
  18. ^ Duel Doc Devil on Wheels Drives to Kickstarter
  19. ^ Documentary The Devil on Wheels Pays Tribute to Spielberg’s Duel
  20. ^ ""The Incredible Hulk" Never Give a Trucker an Even Break (TV Episode 1978) - Trivia - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  21. ^ Bradley, Matthew. Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works; 2010, page 70.


  • "Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career" by Steven Awalt, Rowman & Littlefield (2014).
  • The Complete Spielberg by Ian Freer, Virgin Books (2001).
  • Steven Spielberg by James Clarke, Pocket Essentials (2004).
  • Steven Spielberg The Collectors Edition by Empire Magazine (2004).
  • The Steven Spielberg Story by Tony Crawley, William Morrow (1983).
  • Duel by Richard Matheson, Tor Books Terror Stories Series (2003).

External links[edit]