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The Duellists (1977)

PG | | Drama, War | December 1977 (UK)
A duel between two feuding Napoleonic officers eventually evolves into a decades-long series of duels, after each bout - for various reasons - ends unresolved.

Director:

Writers:

(screenplay), (story "The Duel")
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Nominated for 2 BAFTA Film Awards. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
Colonel
...
...
Gen. Treillard
...
Dr. Jacquin
...
Chevalier
...
...
Lacourbe
Maurice Colbourne ...
Second
Gay Hamilton ...
Maid
Meg Wynn Owen ...
...
Mme. de Lionne
Alan Webb ...
Chevalier
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Storyline

Set during the grand, sweeping Napoleonic age, an officer in the French army insults another officer and sets off a life-long enmity. The two officers, D'Hubert and Feraud, cross swords time and time again in an attempt to achieve justice and preserve their honor. Written by Greg Bole <bole@life.bio.sunysb.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Fencing is a science. Loving is a passion. Duelling is an obsession.

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

|

Release Date:

December 1977 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Duellists  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Budget:

$900,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Harvey Keitel was only available for this film because he had been released from Apocalypse Now (1979) which, like this film, was based on a Joseph Conrad novel. See more »

Goofs

At the start all the soldiers wear side plaits in their hair. When Laura writes "Goodbye" on D'Hubert's sword, he walks in with no plaits. He then fights a duel with plaits and visits the general with plaits. In the next scene we hear "military fashions have changed" and everyone is without plaits. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Narrator: The duellist demands satisfaction. Honour, for him, is an appetite. This story is about an eccentric kind of hunger. It is a true story and begins in the year that Napoleon Bonaparte became ruler of France.
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Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: STRASBOURG 1800 See more »

Connections

Referenced in Cinéman (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

Bist du bei mir
(uncredited)
Music by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel
(from "Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach" No. 25. BWV 508)
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Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

The Casting Of A Perfect Shadow
16 April 2003 | by (Lemgo / Germany) – See all my reviews

The Duellists is remarkable in lots of ways. For one, it's a masterpiece debut. It's also one of the very rare films putting a director on the map who keeps delivering what the debut already displayed in abundance. What's more, it is even rarer in so far that this movie hasn't aged a single day, which can't be explained away with the fact that it's a period piece. It stands the test of time as flawlessly as two other legendary debuts, Orson Welles's Citisen Kane and John Huston's Maltese Falcon. The flipside displays a mystery. The Duellists is an almost totally unknown film. To this day it hasn't earned what it had cost to make it in 1977: 900.000$. That, without doubt, makes it the most underrated masterpiece by one of THE directors of his generation.

The basis was simple and commanding: The adaptation of the classic Joseph Conrad story 'The Duel'. The result is a lesson in perfect cinematic storytelling. And it's also a lesson in the forgotten art of low budget moviemaking. Not a single frame suggests that 'more' would've been better. The required economy of every single aspect of production always finds its perfect answer in the execution of the story. What you can't see or hear doesn't need to be there. It's as simple as that. Suffice to say, Ridley Scott being the director he is, The Duellists is visually superb and at the same time devoid of a single frame just being there to look good. His visual style is completely dependent on the substance of the story as well as the acting. That becomes blindingly obvious in his weaker films, where he resorts to 'beautifying' an empty shell. No other great director is as much a slave of the story's quality, before he can become its master. But once a strong moment, a powerful dialogue, a strong character hits his senses, he 'translates' their life into his unique visual language. In that he is almost without comparison. What we sometimes later perceive as only beautiful is always as essential to the story as a note in a symphony is essential to the next one to make 'sense'. The almost hauntingly arcadian, rural opening shot of the movie is a perfect example. The little girl with her geese leads us through innocence and peace across the screen... and bumps with us into the towering Husar blocking the path. No words. Just eyes making the girl lead her geese away from the path, away from what the Husar is guarding against unwanted onlookers. We're already hooked into the story on more than one level, and the cut to the duellists on the open field tells us where paradise ends. That's Ridley Scott in his purest form. The beauty of his style is in fact visual drama, and the power of his language is as visible now as it was in 1977. In 'Gladiator', watch the transition from Maximus's cornfild dream to the tortured earth of the battlefield in Germania and you'll see what I mean. That's why Scott is also an actor's director. He always makes sense to them and the characters with every move of the camera and sets them in the best possible light for what's required. He likes good actors, which isn't as normal as one might think. There isn't a hollow second to be found in each and every performance on The Duellists. That the casting is flawless down to the last extra helped, of course. All this explains much of the ageless quality of the movie. No hollow set pieces to 'jazz it up a bit'. Only authentic locations and no built sets. Costumes, makeup, props... everything totally convincing and fitting to the period. It's virtually impossible to determine the movie's age without knowing the actors. Scott turned an ageless story into an ageless movie. An excellent script and extremely good acting all round helped him do it.

For me The Duellists is the first of 3 consecutive masterpieces (the other two are, of course ALIEN and Blade Runner), unrivalled since John Huston's first 3 films.

10 out of 10 Ulrich Fehlauer


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