Tuesday, 2 February 2016

CUTTING EDGES 5: 'Duel' (1971)

Fig.1. 'Duel' (1971) Film Poster
Steven Spielberg's 'Duel' (1971) is a heart pounding thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Masculinity and the suppression of man are subtly reflected upon within the movie but are slightly kicked under the rug by the films tension filled plot, all enhanced by great camera work and sound design.

It's arguable from the get go that Spielberg planned his movie to have this underlining tone of the suppressed man, struck down by the suburban 70's home life. 'David Mann is feeling emasculated in his life, especially after a fight with his wife the evening before' (Honeybone, 2011)
This sense of him feeling 'emasculated' is first shown to the audience when our main character, David Mann speaks on the phone to his wife. Mr Mann, played by Dennis Weaver is framed (during his conversation with his other half) via the use of a washing machine door window, trapped within this metaphorical, mundane and home labour intensive prison. 

Fig.2. Film Still
The shots used within this film add to the heightened sense of danger. 'Spielberg expertly builds suspense in the spirit of Hitchcock through omission: what we don't see or know causes as much suspense as what we do. We never see the truck driver; we only see his body parts, which suggest a fragmented personality' (Justice, 2005) As an audience, not being able to have the luxury of seeing this daring and relentless antagonist is gut wrenching. What is this person hiding? The lack of a distinct character driving the truck seems to give it a life of its own. A self driving truck, hunting down it's prey that dare try and over take it's masculinity, but we all know that is not the case. Although, Spielberg really does make it feel that way, it's presence on the screen is overwhelming, it's robust and rusted front protrudes towards the camera, bullying it to move out of it's way which increases it's sense of character, it becomes a character, there are times where you feel that Mr Mann is overwhelmed by the heat of the highway and this illusion or disillusion in this case is just a figment of his imagination, his anxiety of being pushed off the road has conjured up this evil self-aware truck.

Fig.3. Film Still

The sound design within this film adds even more tension and suspense but sound doesn't play as much of a role as the visuals. '"Duel" might almost have been a silent film, because it expresses so much through action and so little through the words that are here' (Maslin, 1983) This is true, in fact you could watch this film on mute and still feel the great sense of tension that can be felt when the sound is on. As this film is primarily a prolonged car chase the main sound that can be heard is the roaring of engines. David Mann's car, an unnoticeable engine that goes about it's business along the highway in comparison to the brutal, monster-like roar of the truck as it passes the window of Mr Mann's car. Most sounds are seemingly diegetic, but during times of heightened suspense or sudden realisation of dangerous situations, non-diegetic music composed by Billy Goldenberg comes into play. A synthesised track of string instruments and a heavy use of percussion instruments is used in short bursts to hit the viewer with a dramatic and brutal soundtrack.

Overall, Spielberg's 'Duel' is a wonderfully put together film that focuses on the idea of masculinity being something that man hold's dear to himself. But what we can take from this film is that you should always check your rear-view mirror.


Honeybone, N (2011) 'Film Review: Duel (1971)' At: http://horrornews.net/42926/film-review-duel-1971/ Accessed on: 02/02/2016

Justice, C (2005) 'Duel (1971) At: http://classic-horror.com/reviews/duel_1971 Accessed on: 02/02/2016

Maslin, J (1983) 'Duel (1971) Spielberg's Duel, Four Wheel Combat' At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9804EFD81138F936A25757C0A965948260 Accessed on: 02/02/2016


Figure 1. 'Duel' (1971) [Poster] At: http://images.moviepostershop.com/duel-movie-poster-1971-1020376106.jpg Accessed on: 02/02/2016

Figure 2. [Film Still] At: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e5/Dueltruckfront.jpg Accessed on: 02/02/2016

Figure 3. [Film Still] At: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e5/Dueltruckfront.jpg Accessed on: 02/02/2016


  1. Evening Tom - a good review... but dogged by another outbreak of the wrong apostrophe: for example, 'a life of it's own' should read 'a life of its own'. Then you refer to the 'films tension' and that should be 'the film's tension'. Most of your apostrophe use in this review is wrong - but apostrophes confuse everyone, so take a look at this link:


    Another thing to watch: You use 'It's questionable' when you mean 'It's arguable' - if something is questionable, it is suspect or unreliable. For example: 'Tom's use of apostrophes is questionable' - i.e. it provokes questions because it isn't convincing. However, when you say 'It is arguable' you're making a strong case that something is more likely or can be proven. They look to be very similar, but they connote nearly the opposite. Sorry to be a crusty of grammarian, but I do encourage you to invest some time in your familiarity with grammatical stuff, because it's throwing dust in front of your otherwise solid content :)

    1. I actually questioned whether 'films tension' should be 'film's tension' and even asked my friend who is studying English and he said that as it's not a physical thing or human being then it should be 'films tension'. Also, I'm not as you say 'confused' I just seemingly forget to use them or my Mac seems to feel the need to auto correct the most stupid of things. But sometimes after a proof read I don't seem to notice them.

  2. i know; autocorrect is a nannying bore :(

  3. I was going to comment the same, Tom - excellent review, but 'interesting' use of apostrophes! You don't need them to make plurals, as in here, "Most sound's" and here, "during time's".

    1. Thank you, Jackie. I seriously don't know why there are apostrophes on these words. I have just found a way to turn off auto correct on my mac so all should be well in the future.