Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ridley Scott|
|Produced by||David Puttnam|
|Screenplay by||Gerald Vaughan-Hughes|
|Based on||The Duel
by Joseph Conrad
|Music by||Howard Blake|
|Editing by||Pamela Power|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Release date(s)||December 1977|
|Running time||100 minutes|
The Duellists is a 1977 historical drama film that was Ridley Scott's first feature film as a director. It won the Best Debut Film award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. The basis of the screenplay is the Joseph Conrad short story The Duel (titled Point of Honor in the United States) published in A Set of Six.
In Strasbourg in 1800, fervent Bonapartist and obsessive duellist Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) of the French 7th Hussars nearly kills the nephew of the city's mayor in a sword duel. Under pressure from the mayor, Brigadier-General Treillard (Robert Stephens) sends a member of his staff, Lieutenant Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) of the 3rd Hussars, to put Feraud under house arrest. As the arrest takes place in the house of Mme. DeLeon (Jenny Runacre), a prominent local lady, Feraud takes it as a personal insult from d'Hubert, and matters are made worse when Feraud asks d'Hubert if he would "let them spit on Napoleon" and d'Hubert doesn't immediately reply. Upon reaching his quarters, Feraud challenges d'Hubert to a duel. However, the duel is inconclusive when Feraud slips and knocks himself unconscious. As a result of his part in the duel, d'Hubert is dismissed from the General's staff and returned to active duty with his unit.
The war intervenes in the men's quarrel and they do not meet again until six months later, in Augsburg in 1801. Feraud immediately challenges d'Hubert to another duel and seriously wounds him. Recovering, d'Hubert takes lessons from a fencing master and in the next duel (held in a cellar with heavy sabres) the two men fight each other to a standstill. Soon afterwards, d'Hubert is relieved to learn that he has been promoted to captain, as military protocol forbids officers of different ranks from fighting one another.
The action then moves forwards to 1806, when d'Hubert is serving in Lübeck. He is shocked to hear that the 7th Hussars have arrived in the city and that Feraud is now also a captain. Aware that in two weeks time he is himself to be promoted to major, d'Hubert attempts to slip away, but is spotted by Feraud's perpetual second and Feraud challenges him to another duel. This duel is fought on horseback and d'Hubert wins, after giving Feraud a cut on the forehead which bleeds heavily into his eyes and prevents him from continuing.
Soon afterwards, Feraud's regiment is posted to Spain and the two do not meet again until 1812. During the Retreat from Moscow, d'Hubert and Feraud meet by chance, but fight off a group of Cossacks instead of fighting each other. Two years later, after Napoleon's exile to Elba, d'Hubert, now a brigadier-general and recovering from a leg wound, is staying at the home of his sister Leonie (Meg Wynn Owen) in Tours. She introduces him to Adele (Cristina Raines), niece of her neighbour (Alan Webb), and they fall in love and are married. As rumors of Napoleon's imminent return from exile abound, a Bonapartist agent (Edward Fox) attempts to recruit d'Hubert to command a brigade when the Emperor returns from Elba, but d'Hubert refuses. When he hears this, Feraud, now also a brigadier-general and a leading Bonapartist, declares d'Hubert is a traitor to the Emperor. He claims that he always suspected d'Hubert's loyalty, which is why he called him out in the first place.
After Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo, d'Hubert joins the army of Louis XVIII. Feraud is arrested and is expected to be executed for his part in the Hundred Days, but d'Hubert approaches Minister of Police Joseph Fouché (Albert Finney) and persuades him to release Féraud (without revealing d'Hubert's part in his reprieve). Feraud is paroled to live under police supervision in a certain province, but learns of d'Hubert's promotion and sends two former officers to seek d'Hubert out and challenge him to a duel with pistols. The two men meet in a ruin on a wooded hill; however, after Feraud fires both his pistols without wounding d'Hubert, d'Hubert refuses to shoot him even though he is at point blank range. By tradition, d'Hubert now owns Feraud's life and informs him that Feraud must now submit to d'Hubert's decision to declare Feraud “dead”, and that in any future dealings he shall conduct himself “as a dead man”. The duel finally come to an end, with d'Hubert returning to his life and happy marriage and Feraud returning to his provincial exile.
In credits order.
- Keith Carradine as Armand d'Hubert
- Harvey Keitel as Gabriel Feraud
- Albert Finney as Joseph Fouché, Minister of Police
- Edward Fox as Bonapartist agent
- Cristina Raines as Adele, later d'Hubert's wife
- Robert Stephens as Brigadier-General Treillard
- Tom Conti as Dr Jacquin, an army surgeon and friend of d'Hubert
- John McEnery as Feraud's second in the final duel
- Diana Quick as Laura, d'Hubert's mistress
- Alun Armstrong as Lieutenant Lacourbe, a friend of d'Hubert
- Maurice Colbourne as Feraud's second
- Gay Hamilton as Feraud's mistress
- Meg Wynn Owen as Leonie, d'Hubert's sister
- Jenny Runacre as Madame de Lionne, a lady in Strasbourg
- Alan Webb as Adele's uncle
- Arthur Dignam as d'Hubert's second in the final duel
- Matthew Guinness as the Mayor of Strasbourg's nephew
- Dave Hill
- William Hobbs
- W. Morgan Sheppard as the fencing master
- Liz Smith as the fortune teller
- Hugh Fraser
- Michael Irving
- Tony Matthews
- Peter Postlethwaite as Treillard's valet (non-speaking; it was Postlethwaite's first feature film appearance)
- Stacy Keach as the Narrator (voice only)
Historical basis 
The Conrad short story evidently has its genesis in the real duels that two French Hussar officers fought in the Napoleonic era. Their names were Dupont and Fournier-Sarlovèze, whom Conrad disguised slightly, changing Dupont into d'Hubert and Fournier into Féraud.
In The Encyclopedia of the Sword, Nick Evangelista wrote:
As a young officer in Napoleon's Army, Dupont was ordered to deliver a disagreeable message to a fellow officer, Fournier, a rabid duellist. Fournier, taking out his subsequent rage on the messenger, challenged Dupont to a duel. This sparked a succession of encounters, waged with sword and pistol, that spanned decades. The contest was eventually resolved when Dupont was able to overcome Fournier in a pistol duel, forcing him to promise never to bother him again.
They fought their first duel in 1794 from which Fournier demanded a rematch. This rematch resulted in at least another 30 duels over the next 19 years in which the two officers fought mounted, on foot, with swords, rapiers and sabres.
Critical reception 
The film has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. In both films, duels play an essential role. In his commentary for the DVD release of his film Scott comments that he was trying to emulate the lush cinematography of Kubrick's film, which approached the naturalistic paintings of the era depicted.
The film is lauded for its historically authentic portrayal of Napoleonic uniforms and military conduct, as well as its generally accurate early-nineteenth-century fencing techniques as recreated by fight choreographer William Hobbs. The military adviser was well-known military historian Richard Holmes.
Home media 
- "Festival de Cannes: The Duellists". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
- The Encyclopedia of the Sword
- The Duellists at the Internet Movie Database
- The Duellists at AllRovi
- The Duellists The full text of the short story by Joseph Conrad on which the film is based.