Trucking Tidbits | Trucks in Film: Duel

The truck used in the movie Duel, is a 1960 Peterbilt 351, which was chosen from an audition of trucks because of its size and menacing appearance. According to Spielberg, the front of the truck resembled a face. He had the crew dirty up the truck to make it look extra gross and its multiple license plates implied the driver was a serial killer who ran people over in multiple states.

The screenplay for “Duel” was written by Richard Matheson, based on his own Hitchcockian “The Birds” but on-wheels short story. Matheson was a prolific writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, and also wrote several episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” and the book “I Am Legend”. He got the idea for the short story after leaving a golf match and being tailgated by a truck driver.

“Duel” was Steven Spielberg’s feature film directorial debut. The movie was made for television but was so well-received that it was later released in theatres in some countries. The movie went back into production to shoot additional scenes so that its runtime qualified for a theatrical run. 

Unlike most productions at the time, which had shots projected behind actors while they drove, Spielberg firmly chose to film all of this for real! The stunt driver for the truck, Carey Loftin, asked Spielberg what his character motivation was, Spielberg told him, “You’re a dirty, rotten, no-good son of a bitch.” to which Loftin replied, “Kid, you hired the right man.” This same man drove one of Columbo’s composers, Billy Goldenberg, around in this truck on several occasions, which terrified and also inspired his score for Duel. I guess that’s… one way to work… These movie stunts look INCREDIBLE and In 1978, some of these shots were recycled to be used in an episode of The INCREDIBLE Hulk. titled “Never Give a Trucker an Even Break”. Spielberg hated this and became more protective of his work in his contracts.

The movie’s truck featured a dinosaur roar from the 1957 film “The Land Unknown” and the same roar was later used in the first ever summer blockbuster, Jaws. Spielberg mentioned he did this to thank Duel for giving him a career. He is known to watch the movie twice a year to remember how he got to where he is now as a filmmaker. Filming Duel only took about 12 days. INCREDIBLE.

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