The Great Villain Blogathon 2015 : The Truck and his Driver in Spielberg’s Duel

Duel

The Great Villain Blogathon is already here! Hosted by  Ruth of Silver ScreeningsKaren of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy, this is the chance for me and my fellow bloggers to express our fear, our hatred or our “admiration” for those movie characters that we love so much to hate, but whom, sometimes, add such a richness to the film. Of course, I’m talking about the villains, the mean characters. In the world of the 7th Art, everybody can be a villain: a boy, a girl, old or young, a ghost, a monster, a robot, etc. For the occasion, I decided to write about a very original villain: the truck (and the truck driver) in Spielberg’s Duel (1971). With this TV movie, shot in only 13 days, Spielberg started brilliantly his career. Four years before Jaws, Spielberg already knew how to terrify us and how to create a delightful suspense. He knew how to make something normally ordinary (a truck) suddenly a man’s biggest fear.

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For those who haven’t seen it, the story of Duel is quite simple: David Mann (Dennis Weaver), an electronics salesman, is on his way back home. He drives a red car. On the road, he meets a big Peterbilt 281 tanker truck who is driving very slowly. David is in a hurry, so he tried to exceed it. The truck starts to chase him and eventually tries to kill David.

After Jaws, Duel is my second favourite Spielberg’s film. I think it’s very clever and so entertaining. After all, Steven Spielberg’s nickname is “The King of Entertainment”. And, let’s admit it, it’s nice to watch an “intelligent” film, but we also like it when it’s entertaining as well. Luckily, Duel has both characteristics and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much. I have to thank my parents because it’s them who made me discover this masterpiece. They talked to me about it and, as it sounded interesting, I decided to rent it at my video store and watch it. The first time I saw it, I was so stressed and really wonder what would happen to the car’s driver. Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, this is one of the movies where the emotions are at their best the first time you watch it.

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Our biggest question when we watch this film is: who is the villain? The truck or the truck driver? Well, in my opinion, it’s both. It’s the truck driver because, of course, he drives the truck, but it’s also the truck because this vehicle really is the monster of the film. Also, one of the most terrifying things about Duel is the fact that we never see the face of the truck driver. All we know is that he wears blue jeans and cowboy boots. These elements add a great suspense to the film. Sometimes, we also have the impression that nobody is driving this truck and that this one is rolling on the road and attacking David all by himself. And when we think about it, without his truck, the truck driver wouldn’t be as threatening. For example, if he was driving a golf cart, this wouldn’t be the same thing… So, this big, ugly and dirty truck is nothing but a terrible weapon.

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In my introduction, I talked about the concept of “characters that we love to hate”. Well, this truck (and his driver) applies perfectly to that. I remember, the first time I watched Duel, there were some scenes, especially when the truck was suddenly appearing, where I was thinking “Oh no…Go away stupid truck!” I really wanted it to be destroyed, to vanish, especially because he attacked David Mann without any good reasons. As a spectator, you have to put yourself in David’s place and imagine what it will be to be chased by a truck who wants to kill you. That would probably be the biggest stress of your life. Well, the closest experience I’ve been through is when, a long time ago, I dreamt that a big yellow tractor was trying to catch me with his mechanical shovel. I was maybe four-years-old when I had that dream. Yes, I have a very good memory.

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Some scenes in Duel are so powerful and really prove us that the truck is a real road monster. I can think of this scene when David arrives next to a railway and has to stop his car to let the train pass. Then, the truck arrives behind him and tries to push him and his car on the railway. It’s the real panic. I can also think of this moment when David tries to help a bus driver to move his bus. The two men are concentrated on their task and they don’t see the truck arriving slowly in the tunnel. But us, spectators, see it. “Uh oh!” The truck stops in the tunnel and turns on his headlights like if it was two big eyes. You can imagine David’s surprise when he discovers that the truck is here, waiting for him to go so he can continue is pursuit.

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What’s also terrible in this story, is the fact that nobody trusts David. “What, a truck tries to kill you? That’s quite a story!” As a matter of fact, the only witnesses are us and the woman at the gas station. In this scene, David goes into a telephone booth to call the police, but the truck arrives and he rushes straight at him. Fortunately, David succeeds to escape before being run over by the “monster”. Also, David can ONLY run away from the truck, he can’t attack him back because it is simply gigantic. If you remember the restaurant scene, David suspects one of the clients to be the truck driver (because the truck is parked in front of the place), but he can’t really be sure who it  because the clients are all wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots, and also because David never saw the face of the driver.

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There are many things to say about Duel, but I’m going to stop there because, if I told you everything about it, the suspense will vanish.

Well, one more time, it was a pleasure to participate to this blogathon. I want to thank the hosts for taking care of it and thank you for reading my article. Of course, don’t forget to read the other entries! You can click on the following link for this:

Great Villain Blogathon

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15 thoughts on “The Great Villain Blogathon 2015 : The Truck and his Driver in Spielberg’s Duel

  1. I always considered that the truck was, in some pretentious 70s-movie-way, a massive symbol. Work pressure and marital strife and fear of war and chaos. David is a fairly unassertive guy – pushed to the brink by something bigger and stronger than him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hooray for the Wonderful World of Cinema! I first saw it in its original TV Movie when I saw it in its original release at home when I was a kid, but even now it’s still scary now as it was back them, even without commercials! 😀 Thanks for the memories and Dennis Weaver’s great performance. too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really good choice, the nameless villain who terrorizes you and you never know exactly why, are the scariest. And like you say, it’s worse when nobody believes you. It’s a simple movie on the surface but has lasting impact. You always worry about making somebody angry on the road after watching this. Thanks so much for taking part in the blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Probably one of the few Spielberg films I haven’t seen so thanks for not spoiling the ending 🙂 Love the idea that this is both smart and entertaining (so you don’t feel too guilty watching it!) and David sounds likes an incredibly compelling character.

    Liked by 1 person

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