Battle (Duel) - maniac
Duel, along with an episode in the original pilot for Night Gallery, launched Spielberg’s career. Ostensibly a TV movie, it has the feel and look of a theatrical release, specifically a roaring drive-in classic. The original length was around 70“ minutes, enough to fit the hour and a half Movie Of The Week slot. Later, it was padded out to 90“ with mostly needless scenes. Fan-editor maniac shaves this to 47“. There is next to no dialogue, all subplots and unnecessary characters jettisoned. The result is a hard driving bullet.
Two channel stereo improves over the original mono. Dialogue (Weaver‘s character mumbling to himself) is easily understood. Little in the way of music score, aside from talk radio and radio static. Like Bullitt, the growl of engines is ample soundtrack.
The narrative is cohesive and satisfying for a one-trick show. Neither the wife stuff nor the diner scenes, ever added to the story or made the character sympathetic (I’ll get to that). This edit boils down to a runt red car irritating, then provoking a rusty behemoth.
Enjoyment - Oh, God, yes! I caught the original when it originally aired and it was leaner and superior to the padded, extended version. This, even shorter than the original, is the best of all.
After this first aired, friends and I discussed this film at school. We loved that battered Peterbilt, belching exhaust, sporting license plates like trophies (though most semis had lots of plates back then). The scene where two beasts, the Peterbilt and the freight train, swap horn blasts was a capper.
Weaver’s character, Mann, was a wuss in our eyes. C’mon, he drove a Plymouth Valiant, for Pete’s sake, the same car my grandmother drove. A Valiant was just barely better than a Corvair. Could It go 80 or 100 mph? No! It would have rattled to pieces long before. It was a cheap, crappy, economy car. No muscle, and no air-conditioning.
Even worse, Mann was a godawful driver. Forever rubber-necking instead of using his mirrors, sliding into curves instead of downshifting, accelerating midway through. He could barely control that punk car most of the time, and we all wondered if he was that way with family, friends, his job. Careful viewers will note scratches on his car BEFORE bush swipes and wrecks. Even in the suburbs, Mann was a lousy, probably distracted, driver. Weaver was great in this role, by the way.
Recommendation? Definitely - definitely - check this out.