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Superintendent Stafford of the United Provinces Police, has his men arrest an entire tribe on vague allegations of poaching and theft in British India. Their leader, Sultan, father of a young boy, Munnu, whose wife, Tara, is expecting their second child, is also arrested and held in a cell with criminals in Fort Najibabad. Sultan, Tara, and many others manage to break out, but Tara and the newborn both pass away. Sultan, with the help of his men, decides to revolt against the oppressive British - who create a mobile unit, led by Freddy Young, to counter this revolt as well as announce a reward of Rs.500.00 - but Sultan manages to elude them. Then amidst clashes between Freddy and Stafford, and the entry of Jane Stafford, it is made known that Sultan's tribe will be transported by train to a compound in Delhi. This news reaches Sultan and he prepares to attack the train and free his people - little knowing the trap he and his men will soon be walking in to. Written by
Trevor Howard and Harry Andrews fight over Yul Brynner
I saw this as a boy on its first release. It was supported by Eric Sykes' much shorter, mainly silent comedy, THE PLANK, still recalled today while DUEL soon vanished into obscurity. I enjoyed it at the time, but then all the scenery and action in colour on the big screen seemed marvellous in those days of black and white TV.
This is similar to several films of a decade earlier, notably Terence Young's ZARAK (1956) which had stony-faced Victor Mature playing the titular rebel, though Yul Brynner and his gang of mostly 'browned-up' British character actors generally do a more efficient job than their counterparts in the former production. DUEL is also set in a later period, the 1920s, reflecting a time in which the futility of British rule was becoming more apparent, but there is little that is overtly political here. Instead we get the collision of attitudes between hard-line authoritarian Harry Andrews and the liberal Trevor Howard, a familiar theme in everything from prison dramas to westerns. Both actors give their usual authoritative performances, all the more impressive given some of the uninspired writing. I always like Charlotte Rampling, but her appearance seems too modern for the time. There are lots of fights, ambushes and shoot-ups and it works on the level of a run-of-the-mill western, but who on earth came up with the idea of the cheesy pop song for the closing credits?
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