50th Anniversary of Duel: How a Movie Truck Led to a Killer Shark (2023)

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Fifty years ago - on Saturday night, November 13, 1971 to be precise - the thriller "Duel" first aired on ABC as Movie of the Week. It was the feature-length debut of a then-promising director named Steven Spielberg. And one of the main roles belonged to a truck driver.

Actually, it was the truck itself that served as the antagonist. Specifically, a 1955 Peterbilt 281 "Needlenose" tanker truck with a butterfly hood flanked by two headlights resting just above the bumper. The trucker, meanwhile, has never been identified.

The plot was simple but intriguing. Cross-country salesman David Mann (played by Dennis Weaver) in his Plymouth Valiant accidentally finds himself engaged in a life-threatening game of cat-and-mouse involving the menacing truck and its faceless driver.

Spielberg once described the plot as a "primal road rage story". You'll watch a lightweight take on a heavyweight champion. Like David and Goliath, you bet on the giant first and it turns out David is starting to turn the tables.”

Sounds a lot like a movie he would release four years later, trading a desolate stretch of highway for the open sea. But more on that later.

In celebration of Duel's 50th anniversary, here are five things you should know.

It was based on a true story

50th Anniversary of Duel: How a Movie Truck Led to a Killer Shark (1)

Richard Matheson, who wrote the short story on which the film is based, said the idea for Duel came to him on November 22, 1963 - the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

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"A friend and I were playing golf ... and when we got down to lunch we heard about the assassination and were so devastated by the news that of course we forgot about the golf game and went home," Matheson recalled in a YouTube interview.

“As we were going through that narrow pass on our way home, this huge truck started to run over us. We walked faster and faster. He walked faster and faster. We yelled out the windows with as much fury at the assassination as at his attempt to kill us.

"Eventually my friend pulled into a dirt siding and his car spun around and this truck flew by. We were really shaken by it.

"But with the mind of a true writer, within moments I thought, 'Ah, a man is being followed by a truck.'"

Spielberg read the story in Playboy

50th Anniversary of Duel: How a Movie Truck Led to a Killer Shark (2)

Spielberg said his secretary read Matheson's story in Playboy and thought it might be worth turning into a screenplay.

"I think that's your thing," she told her boss as she handed him the magazine.

"It was one of the few times I picked up Playboy without looking at the pictures," Spielberg recalled during an interviewInterview with Empire.

truck audition

According to Mental Floss and other sources, Spielberg considered seven types of articulated lorries. He chose the Peterbilt 281 because he "felt that the split windshield, rounded lights, and extended hood represented the menacing features of the truck's 'face'."

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This "face" was treated just like Weaver's, especially in the makeup room.

priscilla page,Writing for Hagerty, had this clip: "Every day Dennis Weaver would sit in his vanity chair, and so would the truck: about seven or eight people 'with big brushes and mops' would spray it and make it 'look really horrid and awful.' It was the same kind of makeup as in Frankenstein, The Wolfman, or The Phantom of the Opera. It had to have personality and look like a serial killer, "a veteran of those street crimes.'"

The truck of 1955 (Spoiler alert if 50 years isn't long enough) did not survive the end of the film, but its backup, a 1960 Peterbilt, was never used.

When the film was extended by 16 minutes for its theatrical release, two more trucks were purchased, this time Peterbilt 351s. One was destroyed; the other was never used for "duel" although it was featured in at least one TV show.

50th Anniversary of Duel: How a Movie Truck Led to a Killer Shark (3)

Truck collector Brad Wike owns one of the existing Duel trucks after buying it from a friend. "Couldn't really afford it, but bought it anyway," Wike told The Aficionauto.

He said he'd always been fascinated by trucks after watching "Duel" on ABC that night 50 years ago.

"I remember this movie from when I was a kid," Wike said. “I saw this film; it was like saturday on tv or something. I remember thinking that was a Peterbilt. It was really the highlight of the show for me, even though it was just plain ugly."

The truck remains one of the most popular items among visitors to his truck shows.

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The truck drivertathave a name

It wasn't mentioned in the film, but Matheson referenced the trucker's name in his short story. The passage reads:

As he approached the truck, he tensed, expecting the driver to block his path. However, the truck did not leave the west lane. Mann's car moved on its mammoth side. He glanced at the cab and saw the name Keller printed on the door. For a shocking moment he thought it was a killer read and started to slow down.

As for the actor who played the truck driver? His name was Carey Loftin, a veteran Hollywood stunt driver who also drove trucks in the films Smokey and the Bandit and the film Over the Top, in which Sylvester Stallone plays a truck driver-turned-arm wrestler.

Despite his skill behind the wheel, Loftin was probably better at grabbing motorcycle grips. He is in the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame,Inducted posthumously in 2001.

"Duel" led to "Jaws"

50th Anniversary of Duel: How a Movie Truck Led to a Killer Shark (4)
50th Anniversary of Duel: How a Movie Truck Led to a Killer Shark (5)

Spielberg's first blockbuster film came in 1975 with Jaws, which won three Academy Awards and was nominated for Best Picture. The parallels to "Duel" are easy to see. The Peterbilt truck was basically the precursor to the shark in Jaws.

in oneblog entryWriting for The Daily Jaws, Dean Newman writes, "Both are tight thrillers that still offer some of the best thrills Steven Spielberg has ever directed as a director.

"Though he was concerned about the similar themes, the two are intertwined, with 'Duel' acting as a proto-'Jaws', a sublime dress rehearsal for Quint, Hooper and Brady's fight against a great white shark.

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"Initially, Spielberg was concerned that the beast-versus-human similarities of 'Duel' and 'Jaws' would label him as 'that shark-and-truck director.' He needn't have worried.

"In hindsight, it's easy to see how Spielberg initially saw 'Jaws' as a throwback to the ground he had already covered in the well-received 'Duel'."

Spielberg himself said that Duel enabled him to do Jaws.

"I knew that when I applied for the job directing 'Jaws,'" Spielberg said in his interview with Empire. "I said to [producers] David Brown and Dick Zanuck, 'Please watch 'Duel' because 'Duel' is basically 'Jaws' on land." I really think it qualified me to direct 'Jaws'."

Spielberg added that he was drawn to the subject matter of both films because of his own childhood experiences with the school bully.

"I look back on 'Duel' and part of 'Jaws' and say that some of my earlier films were either about my fear of going to school because there were big kids who were after me and ruining my life, or" he said.

In the end, of course, David beats Goliath in both films. And in a final nod to "Duel," Spielberg used the same creaking, gasping sound effect in both films to signal the monster's defeat.

"It's not just a similar sound, it's thatsamesound,” Spielberg revealed to Empire. "I asked the sound effects editor from 'Jaws' to go to the library and find the deathrattle truck from 'Duel' and flood it with the shark, and he did."

Undoubtedly, Spielberg's fondness for his first major film remains.

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"I love that these tires still have air in them after all these years," he told Empire. "The truck, the car and me."

Watch: Truck appearances in "Duel"


What happened to the truck from the movie Duel? ›

Well, it didn't. That truck was destroyed. While filming, the truck's Cat engine (at that time there was only one truck) began having problems, and they were afraid it might not make it to the end so a second truck was built as a backup.

What was the truck in Duel? ›

And one of the starring roles belonged to a truck driver. Actually, it was the truck itself serving as the antagonist. Specifically, a 1955 Peterbilt 281 “Needlenose” tanker truck with a butterfly hood flanked by two headlights resting just above the bumper.

Who was driving the truck in Duel? ›

Duel (TV Movie 1971) - Carey Loftin as The Truck Driver - IMDb.

Who was the killer in Duel? ›

The Truck Driver is the main antagonist of the 1971 short story Duel by the late Richard Matheson, and the 1971 television film of the same name, which is Steven Spielberg's first directed film. He is the nameless and unseen driver of a large rusty 1955 Peterbilt 281 gasoline tanker truck.

How old is the Duel truck? ›

Only one example of the film's uncredited main character, a 1955 Peterbilt 281, remains in existence. The Aficionauto recently took a tour and a test drive of one of the most famous trucks in movie history.

What color was the Duel truck? ›

I had also thought of it as a Biblical parable.” And the car itself—a bright red 1971 Plymouth Valiant that pops against the colors of the desert—is an underdog, certainly much less powerful than the truck it's up against. Duel's truck is one of film's great monsters.

What was the truck in Lethal Weapon? ›

Throughout all four Lethal Weapon movies, Mel Gibson's character, Martin Riggs, drives GMC dualie pickup trucks—most memorably when he uses his GMC to pull down a house in Lethal Weapon 2 .

What did truck drivers do in ww2? ›

From August through November 1944, 23,000 American truck drivers and cargo loaders—70 percent of whom were Black—moved more than 400,000 tons of ammunition, gasoline, medical supplies and rations to battlefronts in France, Belgium and Germany.

How many cars were used in the movie Duel? ›

The car driven by Mann is a red Plymouth Valiant, although three cars were used in the actual production of the movie.

Who fathered the baby in The Last Duel? ›

At Jacques' trial six months later, a now-pregnant Marguerite remains resolute that she is telling the truth, while the court implies that Jacques is the father of her child.

What engine did the duel truck have? ›

He drives a Plymouth Valiant with a low-power Slant Six; about the least masculine car money could buy from an American manufacturer back in the day. (A 318-powered Valiant was used in a few of the scenes, but as we will see, the movie car is definitely a Slant Six.)

Does Marguerite get pregnant in The Last Duel? ›

Soon after the attack, Marguerite got pregnant with a child, probably Jacques' child. In all probability, it was still rape, and Jacques was guilty of it. Even if Marguerite orchestrated the whole setup, she had her reasons. In a feudal society, there were few options to seek justice, especially for women.

Which president had a duel? ›

On this day in 1806, future President Andrew Jackson nearly died in a duel when he killed his opponent, a fellow plantation owner.

What was the actual truth in The Last Duel? ›

In fact, the actual last duel in France took place as recently as 1967, when two politicians challenged each other to a sword fight after exchanging insults in parliament. However, it was slightly less dramatic than the 1386 duel - both participants escaped relatively uninjured.

Who was telling the truth in The Last Duel? ›

“From an absolute philosophical point of view, nobody but Jacques Le Gris and Marguerite and those who were in the room know the truth,” Jager says. “But the overwhelming likelihood is that she was telling the truth.

What was the first truck game? ›

Truck Simulator is a vehicle simulation game series created by SCS Software.
Truck Simulator
Genre(s)Vehicle simulation
Developer(s)SCS Software
Platform(s)Windows, macOS, Linux
First releaseEuro Truck Simulator 6 August 2008
1 more row

What is the biggest trailer truck in the world? ›

The Beast of Belarus is not just one of the biggest trucks in the world, it is the absolute biggest production truck ever made and the statistics are staggering. It has the largest payload at 450 tons and is powered by two, 65-litre diesel engines.

What is a needle nose truck? ›

The Peterbilt 281 emerged from Peterbilt's assembly plant in Oakland, California in 1954. It earned the nickname "Needlenose" from its narrow nose and butterfly hood, popular with truckers for ease of engine access and superior visibility. Like its companion series 351, it had only two small round headlights.

Which truck was a husky? ›

Husky VMMD
Mass18,408 to 19,841 lb (8,350 to 9,000 kg) curb weight, 20,282 to 25,022 lb (9,200 to 11,350 kg) gross weight
Length24 ft (7.34 m)
Height10 ft (3.14 m)
Crew1 2 (G2 variant)
13 more rows

What is the Green Goblin truck? ›

The Green Goblin Truck is a black-colored White Western Star 4800 truck with a large grinning Green Goblin mask adorning the front. The eyes of the mask sometimes glow. It hauls a black trailer that says "HAPPY TOYZ Here comes another load of joy!". The rear of the trailer features a creepy image of a clown as well.

What kind of truck is the creeper? ›

The truck in Jeepers Creepers is based on a real car. But the movie uses a modified version of a 1941 Chevy COE (Cab Over Engine) that came with a flatbed frame. It has a cow catcher that the Creeper uses to move bodies to his “House of Pain,” whether they are dead or still alive.

What is the doghouse on a truck? ›

One area that can be a huge obstruction is inside the cab of the apparatus on top of the engine. This area is commonly referred to as the doghouse as it covers the diesel engine.

What was Lincoln's truck called? ›

Lincoln Mark LT

Who was the female armored car driver in Lethal Weapon 3? ›

Her name being Delores, she is coincidentally played by none other than the actress Delores Hall.

Why did Truckers drive for 110 years? ›

Last month, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, a 26-year-old truck driver with no criminal record, received a 110-year sentence for accidentally killing four people because his brakes failed as he approached stalled traffic on a Colorado highway.

What did truckers used to take to stay awake? ›

One of the most common medications truckers take is amphetamines. These types of drugs usually cause someone to become stimulated, excited, or even euphoric. While some amphetamines can be prescribed legally (such as Adderall and Ritalin) it doesn't necessarily mean those who take those drugs are using them legally.

What was the best truck in ww2? ›

It has been called the most important truck of World War II, and the 6×6 became known as the "workhorse of the army". According to Hyde (2013): "Each of the three axles had its own differential, so power could be applied to all six wheels on rough terrain and steep hills.

What was Joker's car? ›

The Smiley Car was the Joker's personal automotive vehicle and primary mode of transportation. It is an Infiniti G35C with a Vaydor body kit that makes it look similar to a Lamborghini Aventador Coupe.

What is the red car in Duel? ›

David Mann's car was a 1970 red Plymouth Valiant with California license plate 149 PCE. According to Steven Spielberg, when he was making "Duel" and directing other television shows, he viewed the medium with a sense of snobbery.

What is the Ghost Buster car? ›

Ghostbusters (1984)

The vehicle used for Ecto-1 was a 1959 Cadillac professional chassis, built by the Miller-Meteor company. The ambulance/hearse combination was the end loader variety. Dr. Ray Stantz found the vehicle in 1984, shortly after he mortgaged his mother's house to buy the Firehouse.

What happened to Sir Jean de carrouges son? ›

A year after entering Count Pierre's service, tragedy struck Carrouges as both his wife and son died of unknown but natural causes.

What happened to the real Marguerite de Carrouges? ›

After The Last Duel's real-life story, Marguerite went on to have two more children and settled in Normandy and Paris, enjoying the celebrity status that she and her husband received after the duel. She likely outlived her husband by several years.

How many children did Marguerite de thibouville have? ›

We know that the historical Marguerite de Thibouville was the heiress of a venerable noble family of Normandy, was probably young when she became Carrouges' second wife, and was, after the fact, enriched by her husband's fame and fortune in his role as celebrated hero of the “last duel.” She had at least three children ...

Where is Chuck's Cafe Duel? ›

'Chuck's Cafe', the truckstop at which a frazzled Mann tries to pick out the seemingly psychotic driver, looks much the same but has been transformed into an upmarket French restaurant. Not quite what you expect to find out in the desert wilderness. It's Le Chene, 12625 Sierra Highway, Agua Dulce.

What car did Dennis Weaver drive in Duel? ›

Dennis Weaver's 1971 Plymouth Valiant faces off with a maniacal Semi in Steven Speilberg's "DUEL" (1971).

What does Adam driver do in the last duel? ›

In The Last Duel, Driver plays Jacques Le Gris, a French nobleman accused of raping Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer), the wife of Le Gris's one-time friend Jean de Carrouges.

What engine did the Duel truck have? ›

He drives a Plymouth Valiant with a low-power Slant Six; about the least masculine car money could buy from an American manufacturer back in the day. (A 318-powered Valiant was used in a few of the scenes, but as we will see, the movie car is definitely a Slant Six.)

Was the truck driver in duel in chucks cafe? ›

Pace of editing, noise and music increases as the demon truck is now openly out to get driver Dave (Dennis Weaver) in Steven Spielberg's TV movie Duel, 1971.

Where was Duel at Diablo shot? ›

Production. Parts of the film were shot in Paria, Kanab Canyon, Tom's Canyon, Glen Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, White Cliffs, and Kaibab National Forest in Utah.

What happened in dual movie? ›

At the end of the movie, the car stops with the double sitting inside it, crying. She is likely crying because she is now stuck with Sarah's life, with a mother and boyfriend that she doesn't love. So, while she may have emerged victorious, in the end, the double discovers Sarah's life isn't really worth living.

How old is dennis weaver? ›

How much did the last duel make? ›

Despite its star-studded cast and big-name director, Ridley Scott's period drama The Last Duel did not perform well at the box office, making just $30 million worldwide.

How old was Spielberg when he made Duel? ›

When he directed the television movie in the summer of 1971, the 24-year-old Spielberg was already a TV veteran.


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