Here is a transcript of Adam J Marsh’s introduction to Steven Spielberg’s Duel from 21st August 2015.
Welcome to tonight’s Fringe Cinema screening of the film Duel. Screening tonight from an original 35mm film print. So we get the extended cinema release version.
Tonight’s introduction could have taken many forms. I toyed with focusing on Killer Trucks and other such machinery and exploring that legacy in cinema. Looking at movies like 1974’s TV Movie Killdozer, James Brolin starring The Car from 1977, Christine from the novel by Stephen King in 1983 and of course King’s directorial effort Maximum Overdrive in 1986.
But as Fright Club is presenting a double bill of Straight To Video classics including Maximum Overdrive and the ghost western Ghost Town. I didn’t want to step on Fright Club host Darrell Buxton’s toes, I thought I would steer clear of those killer trucks. Sensible advice I might add.
I thought as Fringe Cinema is about bringing the rarely seen and cult classics to the big screen, I thought I would talk about the little known director, Steven Spielberg!
Spielberg got his break shooting one of the segments of the pilot episode of 1969’s Night Gallery. It was an anthology show hosted by Rod Serling, building on the reputation of his work on the Twilight Zone, years earlier. The segment Spielberg shot was the EYES segment about a heartless blind woman who blackmails an aspiring surgeon to get her a pair of eyes. The catch is she can only see for 12 hours, the minute the operation occurs and she takes off the bandages, the city experiences a massive blackout plunging everywhere into darkness!
From there he shot an episode of Marcus Welby, MD, a nice medical drama that look like it was the most exciting programme on television in the 1970s!
After navigating the waters of medical dramas, he tackled his first feature length directing gig. It was an episode of the series The Name Of The Game entitled LA 2017. A science fiction show about a man who is sent 46 years into the far future of 2017(!) to learn that the people of Los Angeles are living underground, you know, because of the pollution.
The piece demonstrated Spielberg’s ability to tackle longer pieces and convinced Universal to sign him to a short contract.
After a couple of more television episodes and the first episode of the Columbo television series, Universal re-signed him to direct four television films.
The first being Duel.
The other driving force in Duel was Richard Matheson who adapted his own short story. The film was always intended for television and if you read anything about 1970s Television movies the name Richard Matheson is writ large across the history of TV Movies most notably for his work on Duel, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973) (the two television movies that spawned the television series Kolchak The Night Stalker) Dying Room Only (1973), an adaptation of Dracula starring Jack Palance, a werewolf film Scream Of The Wolf (1974), The Morning After, The Stranger Within, Trilogy of Terror, The Strange Possession Of Mrs Oliver. All written between 1971 – 1977. Plus counting television series like Circle Of Fear and The Night Gallery.
And that’s not counting his novels and his film adaptations and screenplays. Why more is not made of Matheson’s impact on the world of genre is beyond me.
For Duel he was inspired by a real life event that happened to him when he was dangerously tailgated by a large truck on the same day as the Kennedy Assassination. True story or was he just establishing an alibi….
Often considered one of the greatest television movies of all time, The running time was 74 minutes for its television premiere but such was the success that the film was re-released in the USA and international as a cinema release. For this Spielberg went back and add an addition 16 minutes to beef up the running time to 90 mins.
After Duel Spielberg directed two more television movies Something Evil, an Exorcist knock off and Savage starring Martin Landau before getting his first official cinema film gig in The Sugarland Express. Then sadly he faded into obscurity and we are left with this masterpiece about a malevolent killer truck to tantalise us over when he could have achieved if only given the chance…there are rumours that he was killed by a shark, abducted by aliens and, perhaps the most outlandish of all, eaten by a dinosaur.
I hope to see you again at some of the future events we are putting on over the next couple of months, we have everything from Killer Klowns, Werewolves, Tom Hanks, V Cinema, Arthouse horror and we’ll be showing the Citizen Kane of Bad Movies.
But for tonight enjoy Dennis Weaver in Steven Spielberg’s Duel.