There was a time when I thought that if you’d seen a film, you’d seen it. Pretty dumb, huh? Who would say that about a book? Film 4 showed The Duellists tonight. I have it on DVD. I’ve seen it a dozen times, the first time in Saudi in about 1980. It is one of my favourite movies.
It is, I think, based upon a story by Joseph Conrad. It concerns two officers in Napoleon’s army: Armand du Barre (Keith Carradine) and Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel). The latter chooses to be offended when the former obeys an order to convey a message to him. The upshot is a series of duels between the two. Keitel brilliantly portrays a psychopath, obsessed with ‘honour’. Carradine’s character is compelled to submit to the other’s notions.
It is a very beautiful film with a haunting soundtrack. The cast includes: Diana Quick, Tom Conti, Albert Finney and Edward Fox. No member of the cast puts a foot wrong.
The first time I saw it, I concluded that Keitel was as great an actor as his generation had produced. Time has not changed my mind. His subsequent performances in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs have confirmed my opinion.
A few years ago I persuaded my sister to watch it with me. She didn’t like it. She thought that the ‘honour’ theme was stupid. The stupidity of the ‘honour’ system was the theme of the movie.
Watch it. Is a great movie.