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Friday, March 8, 2019

Duel

The Richard Matheson Blogathon is an event devoted to the career of the science fiction/thriller writer of film, television and fiction. Debbie and I thank you for taking part. Be sure to check our blogs to discover all the entries!

Duel
YouTube viewing

I never learned to drive, so I've never been subject to "road rage." Sure, I've ridden with drivers who have gotten mad at other drivers and vented their frustration at them in some fashion. Sadly, it happens all too often these days because some people are either too ignorant or too impatient to follow the rules of the road.

But being mad enough at another driver to try to do them harm? Man, I hope I never see that first-hand. That takes a special kind of crazy. Why does that kinda stuff happen anyway?


This page, for example, provides some concrete answers, but nowhere does it get at the underlying reality behind it all: the fact that we live in a society that favors vehicle travel over and above everything else. It's how we engineer our streets, it factors into how we design buildings and use the land they occupy, and it influences where our tax money goes, among many other things.

For decades, advertising has ingrained in our heads the notion that vehicles are supposed to make our lives easier. So when someone or something  prevents us from getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, is it any wonder some of us get peeved?


It doesn't take much to set a driver off: a pedestrian walking in the wrong direction, a bicyclist taking the lane, another driver who cuts in front of them abruptly — not that any of this justifies a violent response. But what if there was no obvious rationale?

Duel, Steven Spielberg's debut feature, is scary for exactly this reason. Why does the anonymous truck driver pursue Dennis Weaver so maliciously, so relentlessly? We don't know — and the senselessness adds to the terror and makes for a nail-biter of a film, one that bears more than a passing resemblance to reality.


Duel was written by Richard Matheson, one of the 20th century's finest genre writers of the small and big screens, as well as the printed page.

He had written a variety of short stories and novels in the 50s when Hollywood tapped him to adapt his book The Shrinking Man into the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man. It was a hit, and Matheson's association with movies and TV took off from there.

His episodes of The Twilight Zone are among some of that show's most popular. Here's a listing of some of them.


Other shows he worked on include Star Trek, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Night Stalker and Amazing Stories. His films include The Last Man on Earth, The Comedy of Terrors and Somewhere In Time, in addition to many adaptations of his work by other filmmakers.

Duel was inspired by a similar, less dramatic incident that happened to Matheson on, of all days, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. After failing to pitch it for television, he wrote it as a short story for Playboy.


Spielberg's secretary tipped him off to the story when ABC chose to adapt it for a Movie of the Week in 1971 — and watching it, one can't help but be reminded of another 70s Spielberg movie about a relentless adversary that inspired terror in audiences...

In the 21st century, Matheson's stories continue to inspire Hollywood. I Am Legend, Real Steel and The Box are among the most recent adaptations (and there had been talk of yet another I Am Legend movie). His work holds up well.

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Other Richard Matheson films:
The Incredible Shrinking Man

8 comments:

  1. I remember watching this with my dad when it first aired. Definite edge-of-your-seat stuff.

    I can't say for certain how much it influenced my lifestyle transit user lifestyle, but whenever I leave the house a part of me sees it as a battle against the nameless/faceless motorist of nightmares. Richard Matheson gets into my head. Thank goodness he can also make me laugh.

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  2. I'm less familiar with his lighter side beyond COMEDY OF TERRORS (one day I'll have to watch that one). How would you characterize his sense of humor?

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    1. Matheson's humour is macabre, sardonic, yet with a delightful sense of goofiness. Think of Kolchak doing pratfalls.

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  3. That makes sense, I think.

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  4. Hi Rich, here's my review for the blogathon;
    https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/on-films-and-tv/wee-reviews/somewhere/

    Hope you can join my Michael Caine one for this year.

    from Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews

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  5. Nice post on Duel. It still holds up, even after all of these years, as a taut, suspense-filled thriller. My post for the blogathon is now up at: http://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2019/03/its-terrifying-trilogy-of-terror.html. Thanks for having me join in on the fun.

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  6. This movie was so intense I and still holds up today!

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  7. This sounds like a nail-biter. I've always been meaning to see it, so thanks for the tip re: YouTube. I've bookmarked it to watch later.

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