SPIELBLOG: 1. DUEL

HOLLYWOOD – SpielBlog is a soup to nuts film by film rundown of Steven Spielberg’s film career.

TV movies come with their own constraints. The budget is low; the schedule tight and the ambition narrow. Steven Spielberg got his shot with a Richard Matheson script based on his own experience driving home from a golf game the day JFK was shot. But Duel broke through a ten day shoot and the threat of Gregory Peck – whose casting would have seen Spielberg booted – to become one of the best TV movies ever made.
Duel starts with the car’s POV as we drive through a city towards the freeway. On the radio a comedian (Dick Whittington) prank calls the census. He’s bothered because although he’s the man of the house he doesn’t think he’s the head of house and he doesn’t know what to put. Right from the get go with have this idea of male insecurity, anxiety that the thin veneer that makes up civilisation and enables a weakling to live in apparent safety is a vaporous illusion. ​
The allegorically-named David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is the perfect foil. A familiar TV face, Weaver’s one notable film credit was a ludicrously over the top motel janitor in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. Everything about him is unattractive: his stupid sunglasses with lenses the colour of urine, his sub-Burt Reynolds mustache and his whiny voice-over voice. His wife complains about him not standing up to another man at a party who was ‘practically raping’ her. He suspects the mechanic of trying to con him with talk of a new radiator hose. His appointment is with a man who has to leave for Hawaii. You suspect David is never going to Hawaii.

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The 1955 Peterbilt Truck that will terrify Mann and chase him across the mountains and through the desert is everything that he is not. It’s dirty, where Mann dabs at his neat mustache with a napkin, spewing foul smoke. It’s assertive where Mann is deferential. It seeks conflict. It’s industrial and working class compared to Mann’s office stiff wardrobe and monogrammed briefcase. And whereas Mann is the embodiment of male anxiety, the Peterbilt is basically a large cock on ten wheels, loaded with the number plates of previous victims.

The conflict escalates with a black sense of humour. What is apparently a misunderstanding and then vindictiveness, slowly escalates into a deadly hunt. The relative sizes of the car and the truck, the speeds and the road are expertly conveyed. This is Mad Max level brilliance and yet was filmed in 13 days (three days over schedule) and on location against the wishes of a studio who wanted the whole thing done on a sound stage with back projections.

Along the way Mann meets up with a variety of grotesques who show for the first time Spielberg’s vision of a banally-indifferent-when-not-actually-corrupt America. These are the same people who will want to keep the beaches open because it’s the Fourth of July weekend. Mann’s stop at a roadside eatery is full of menace. Any of these people could be guilty and Mann hasn’t the confidence to just say to the room “Hey, who’s driving that rig out there?” Of course, he picks on the wrong guy – mostly every decision Mann makes is frustratingly obviously wrong. Mann takes plot-convenience naps and seems blissfully unaware until the last second that a massive truck is heading for his phone box. Weaver’s performance is obviously what Spielberg wanted – he was a huge fan of Touch of Evil – but you can’t help but wonder what Richard Dreyfuss would have done with the part.

Just how much the world is in sympathy with the truck and out of sympathy with Mann is hit home again and again. From the clientele of the truck stop to the school bus driver, everyone seems to distrust Mann and be indifferent to the Peterbilt. The funniest example of this is the woman with the rattlesnake ranch right next to the phone box – ‘What a weird place to keep snakes!’ Mann exclaims. (By the way look in the reflection of the phone box and you can see Steven Spielberg standing beside the cameraman and watching the scene. Charitably we could say this is his Hitchcockian cameo for what is essentially a Hitchcockian thriller, something the score is relentless in pointing out.)

Stripped of all help and isolated, Mann must face the truck alone. The final showdown is expertly conveyed. Shot from multiple angles with seven cameras, Spielberg ended up only using the one shot in slow motion for the climactic crash and cliff dive. It is this kind of decisive restraint that marks him out as a director of genuine vision, even so early on. The way we have read ‘Inflammable’ on the back of the truck all this time, but then it doesn’t explode when it goes over the cliff. This is 1971 so endings always have to have a hint of the ambiguous rather than the audience pleasing catharsis.

Duel got good ratings and reviews as TV Movie of the Week and ultimately some re-shoots to make it feature length. Spielberg used it as his calling card, touring it round festivals in Europe. It was a TV movie that looked like it should be on the big screen. And that was exactly where Steven Spielberg was heading.

SpielBlog is also published here and will continue next week.

SIR EDWIN FLUFFER RECALLS INGRID BERGMAN

HOLLYWOOD- Sir Edwin Fluffer once again delves into his personal memoirs – soon to be published as ‘Not THAT Kind of Fluffer!!!’ – to recall the actress they called the ‘Swedish Tractor’: Ingrid Bergman.

Of all the beautiful women I’ve stared at while they weren’t looking, Ingrid Bergman was the most beautiful of all. No-one else has ever lit up the screen quite like her, but to be perfectly honest with you, her table manners were never anything short of appalling. I once saw her eating peas with a knife, and we used to dread it when they served soup in the canteen as the noise was truly disgusting. Gregory Peck would bring in ear plugs. Things came to a head when shooting one of those Alfred Hitchcock films that she was always in, and the studio was forced to feed her from a trough next to the bins. Then seeing her make short work of a couple of turnips gave me an idea…

With Bing Crosby’s help I herded her into my car and we headed off for the woods. As soon as I opened the door Ingrid caught the scent and was off! It was all Bing and I could do to keep up with her, but then she stopped, snuffled around beneath a tree, and uprooted the biggest truffle you ever did see!

It was enormous!

Lou Costello had just opened a new restaurant and we sold it to him for a pretty penny with the promise that he’d take as many as we could find. We were onto a winner and no mistake!

Sadly Bing and I lost all the cash when Ingrid sued us over the film rights to the story, but there were no hard feelings and she ended up with Academy Awards coming out of her ears. We tried to make some of the money back by milking Frank Capra, but that’s another story…

OMEN PREQUEL ‘WILL BE ALL ABOUT SPERM’

HOLLYWOOD – The prequel to The Omen will be all about sperm, according to the log line issued by Fox.

When news came in that an Omen prequel was on the cards, everyone went ape shit. People were throwing things out of windows, the Vatican condemned the movie industry and Canada made the USA illegal. However, after this inexplicable over reaction subsided Fox confirmed that they were moving ahead with the movie regardless of the controversy the decision had created. Today they issued the log line that comes with the movie.

Millions of sperm are released into the vaginal canal of Damien’s mother to be, but only one of the sperm will fight through and survive to fertilize the egg. As each of the other sperm is killed off in an increasingly elaborate manner, the audience will have a foretaste of the demonic capabilities of the Anti-Christ.

Antonio Campos, who most recently directed popular Sundance hit Christine, is set to direct the horror thriller provisionally titled The First Omen: The Semen, produced by David Goyer and Kevin Turen and Phantom Four and which is positioned as a follow up to the forty-year old classic directed by Richard Donner and starring Gregory Peck as the unluckiest foster father in the world.

The First Omen: The Semen will be released in 2019.

WAS PETER SELLERS ALSO A NAZI?

HOLLYWOOD – Following the unveiling of Charlie Chaplin as a Nazi, the Studio Exec has discovered that British comic actor Peter Sellers was also possibly a member of a far right group as can clearly be seen from this photograph taken in 1969.

Peter Sellers was already famous for his portrayal of Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark when he was apparently seduced by the tenets of National Socialism, probably by old Goons colleague Spike Milligan. Stanley Kubrick, who worked with Peter Sellers on the film A Clockwork Orange in which Sellers played a number of parts, said of Sellers:

Peter is a wonderful actor, capable of comedy and drama and anything. And as a human being, he is a very interesting man, and apparently Aryan. Or at least that’s what he keeps saying.

How many secret Nazis are hiding, or have hidden, in Hollywood?

Here is a short list:

Charlie Chaplin

Clint Eastwood

Peter Sellers

Gregory Peck

Ian McKellen

Malcolm McDowell

Bruno Ganz

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE IS ACTUALLY 46

NEW YORK – Following the much celebrated 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, it was revealed today that SNL like many in show business was lying about its age.

Although the official biography states that the popular Saturday evening sketch show from New York was first broadcast on October 11, 1975, the Studio Exec can EXCLUSIVELY reveal that the show had in fact been running six years prior to its official broadcast date. TV critic Harold Palstien spoke to Studio Exec:

Of course everyone remembers the 1975 show with John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd. What they don’t remember is that originally the show was produced with a different cast and Lorne Michaels was desperately trying to garner favor with an older demographic. In 1969 Saturday Night Live debuted with Trevor Howard, Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore. They were all fine comedians in their own way, but they just didn’t gel. Later Peck would make the hilarious Omen, but it was obvious he wasn’t read for the sketch show format and didn’t really understand it. Howard was drinking very hard at the time and it was affecting his performance. And David Niven had decided rashly to improvize and refused to learn any of the material.

The New York Times reviewing the show called it ‘By far the worse thing to happen to my eyes, since I was stabbed in one of them by a sharp pencil in 1954. And that at least had the positive side effect that it didn’t have to submit to the indignity of SNL.’ However, others believed that the vintage show was ‘much better than when Dana Carver or Eddie Murphy were in it’, as Mike Myers wrote

Saturday Night Live continues.