Duel (1971 Film) - Production

Production

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 on his way home from a golfing match with friend Jerry Sohl, on the same day as the Kennedy assassination. The short story was given to Spielberg by his secretary, who reportedly read the magazine for the stories.

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.

The film is one of only two Spielberg directed theatrical films where John Williams did not create the score.

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, a place where David Mann abruptly stops for a break. The building, since 1980 housing a French restaurant called Le Chene, is currently still on Sierra Highway. The "Snakerama" gas station seen in the film was used again as a homage to Duel by Spielberg in his 1979 comedy film, 1941, 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. 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 caused Spielberg to spend two days filming several new scenes, turning Duel into a 90-minute film. The new scenes were the railroad crossing, school bus, and David Mann's telephone conversation with his wife. A longer opening sequence was added with the car backing out of a garage and driving through the city. Expletives were added to make the film sound less like a television production.

Spielberg lobbied to have Dennis Weaver in the starring role because he admired Weaver's work in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.

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".

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