DUEL-United States-Made for TV-1971

Dennis Weaver as David Mann

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Screenplay by Richard Matheson and based on his short story.

Is Steven Spielberg’s 1971 made-for-TV thriller “Duel” the prototype for his 1976 summer blockbuster “Jaws“? It would be easy to argue that that would indeed be the case. Both are adapted from another medium; “Duel” from Richard Matheson’s short story and “Jaws” from Peter Benchley‘s best-selling novel. Both feature a roller coaster ride of a plot and a silent predator that strikes without warning. In “Duel”, the hapless protagonist is David Mann (Dennis Weaver from “McCloud“) and he is terrorized by a mysterious 18 wheeler hell-bent on his demise. “Jaws” features a great white shark roughly the size of an 18-wheeler that terrorizes the community of Amity, hell-bent on devouring every last swimmer who steps foot in its ocean. Finally, both films feature men who must take desperate action to live another day.

It’s been over 40 years since “Duel” first had TV viewers clutching their armchairs and holding off on their bathroom breaks. Since then Steven Spielberg has directed a long list of some the world’s greatest movies. Some, like “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” are great simply because they provide a departure for us from our everyday worries and woes. Films like “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” show that while Spielberg may have the heart of a kid, he is still able to make films about subjects that are all too adult in theme.

“Duel” falls in the former category of Spielberg’s filmography. It’s a thriller of a film that doesn’t require a lot of thought on the part of the audience. It’s fast-paced fun and full blown terror colliding at 90 miles per hour down a dusty desert highway. Better yet, it’s the type of movie that makes us remember what movies are all about in the first place and that is escape.


There are seventeen notches on the headlights of the truck.
The phone number Dennis Weaver dials to call his wife at the gas station is not the standard “555” movie prefix but, at the time, a valid number.
It was Dennis Weaver’s role in Touch of Evil that convinced Steven Spielberg that he would be perfect for the role of David Mann.
According to Richard Matheson, he was inspired to write the original short story “Duel” after an encounter with a tailgating truck driver on November 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

5 thoughts on “DUEL

  1. Ah, Dennis Weaver, Loved him on Dillon too. He was a great character actor. This film was great, It was particularly scary for those of us that lived in a rural small logging town with the log trucks and chip trucks on all our very small roads.

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