Duel: How they picked the truck driver

The casting session can be the most important part of a movie.

If the director chooses the wrong actor for a part, it can change the whole dynamics of the plot.

So it must have been an interesting casting session back in 1971 when Steven Spielberg was casting for a TV movie called Duel.

The film was adapted by the author from short story by Richard Matheson.

It has since been recognised as a cult classic and one of the greatest made-for-television films ever made.

At the time, Spielberg was a young director honing his craft on various television series.

His secretary showed him the script and Spielberg liked what he saw.

Back to the casting.

The plot for Duel revolved around a travelling salesman, driving across America but menaced along the way by a maniacal truck driver.

Dennis Weaver was quickly chosen to play the role of the travelling salesman, David Mann.

The next to be selected was the truck (not the truck driver, whose face was never seen in the movie).

Spielberg was looking a menacing looking truck. He looked at several 1960s and 70s style trucks.


Spielberg wanted a truck that looked both menacing and a little bit human.

He chose a 1955 Peterbilt 281, which was nicknamed the ‘needle nose’.

He felt that the long nose, dual front windows and large headlights gave it something of a face — an almost human look.

For the car, Spielberg was not overly fussed.

He just wanted it to be red so it would stand out in the mainly desert locations.

But he didn’t want the car to be too big, to emphasise the difference in size between the large menacing truck and the smaller friendly car.

The car Spielberg chose was a 1970 Plymouth Valiant with a 318 cubic inch V8.

Because his face wouldn’t be seen, there was no real need to cast the truck driver, although we do catch a glimpse of his boots at one point.

Veteran stuntman, Carey Loftin was chosen to drive the truck. When Loftin asked Spielberg to explain his motivation for harassing the car’s driver, he replied: “You’re a dirty rotten no good son of a bitch”.

Loftin responded, “Kid, you’ve hired the right man.”

Originally, Duel was meant to be a TV movie, but the studio decided to extend it so it could be a cinema release.

For this they added a couple of scenes, including the school bus scene.

Studio executives wanted the truck to explode when it drove over the cliff.

Spielberg successfully argued against this, as he wanted the audience to have a sense that the menacing truck driver had a slow death, rather than a quick one.

Spielberg went on to make some of the biggest blockbusters of our time, including a lesser known film called 1941.

As a homage to Duel, Spielberg included the Snakarama, with the same proprietor, Lucille Benson.


CHECKOUT: Scariest cars from the movies

CHECKOUT: Bond cars that won’t break the bank

  1. The Best Film Ever!
    A True Hitchcokian Masterpiece
    by the genius of Spielberg.
    A psychological nail biting wonder of cinema….
    I have watched this Many Many Times.and the Tension and Gripping Excitement never lessens….Perfection👍💚

  2. Great film, well thought out and written by Matheson that does not age and is always a joy to see again and again. The clean car in comparison with oily, grubby aspect of the articulated lorry, are two stark contrasts of the ‘good guy and the bad guy’. At the end of the film, the audience is treated to blood dripping from the lorry drive, so is he actually dead? One can ask if a revenge may up and coming in order to set the score straight for the next generation.

    1. Just saw this movie again after it was remastered and it was so much fun to watch. Great cinematography. At the end you’ll see the truck’s door was open as it went over the cliff. So definitely to speculate the truck driver bailed at may have survived. Would love to see a sequel but would be hard to replicate the magic of this film.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *