I cannot remember how this one came up on my radar but I do know that once I saw the name Ridley Scott attached to it, I was in. It turns out it was Ridley’s first film. It stars Keith Carradine (David Carradine’s of Kung Fu fame half brother) & Harvey Keitel.
On its face you may think to yourself “why would I want to see a movie about a couple of knobs from 200 years ago dueling it out?”. But I urge you to get over that resistance. The film is laid out in a way where you see the conflict develop and worsen over time. It builds a real sense of dread that is pretty awesome.
The screenplay is actually based on a short story by Joseph Conrad called The Duel. That story draws its motivation from accounts of a real life feuding pair of officers in Napoleon’s army. This wouldn’t be the only movie from the 70’s which was based on a Conrad work. Apocalypse Now (my favorite film) was based on his book Heart of Darkness.
Ridley Scott, as you probably know, went on to direct some of the most impactful and profitable films of all time. They include Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner, Blackhawk Down & Thelma & Louise as well as many others. Apparently, he didn’t get all the Napoleonic era out of his system when making The Duellists because just last year he released Napoleon (2023), a movie which received lukewarm reviews and a disappointing box office draw.
The Duellists really grabs ahold of you and never lets go. I found it to be highly entertaining storytelling with which most anyone can identify. Have you ever had someone who would just come after you with all they have for seemingly no reason? ..that they decided they just don’t like you and they are going to take out all their problems on you? That dynamic can be found here. Years and years pass by but the grudge never does.
The cinematography is gorgeous and it feels like an expensive movie but was actually a very low-budget indie production. I really like when I watch an old movie I didn’t know about and it turns out to be good. It’s like that movie was just sitting there my entire life waiting for me to discover it. I give this movie 91 out 100 possible potatoes and certify it as a classic French fried potato.
This video interview of the star of The Duellists was conducted many years later and will give you an even better insight into the storyline and some behind the scenes information. It is a real gem. I suggest watching it after you watch the movie.