Duellists (1977)
Ridley Scott


 

The Duelists may not be as exciting as some of the more swashbuckling adventure films available in the video store, but it is next to peerless in the area of historic accuracy, and remains one of the best swordfighting movies of the past 25 years. It is also one of the most beautiful-looking movies of all time. An exquisitely realized adaptation of Joseph Conrad's story The Duel, this film is noteworthy as the directing debut of Ridley Scott.

Set during the reign of Napoleon, The Duelists concerns a young French officer, D'Hubert (Keith Carradine) who runs afoul of another officer, Feraud (Harvey Keitel). Feraud accuses D'Hubert of dishonoring him, and challenges him to a duel, resulting in a volatile feud which last for decades between the two men.

Keitel is riveting as the spiteful Feraud, a paranoid psychotic who burns with bloodlust in his incessant demand for "satisfaction." Carradine is likewise excellent as D'Hubert, a rational man who would prefer to avoid dueling altogether but for the demands of honor. In fact, personal honor is the central theme in The Duelists, and a concept which D'Hubert comes to learn is subjective in its meaning, if meaningful at all.

As is often the case, Scott's use of lighting, composition, and art direction looks more painted than filmed, and this is more true in this film than many of his others. But never has The Duelists looked better than in this special edition, and the DVD format does justice to his work far better than previous laserdisc and VHS versions.

The special features of this release are also superb. Much as he did with the DVDs for Alien, Legend, and Gladiator, Scott provides an informative blow-by-blow commentary throughout the film. What is amazing is Scott's revelation that this remarkable film was actually made for a pittance, and he offers many tips on how to make a low-budget film look bigger and more expensive than it actually is. The score by composer Howard Blake is featured on an isolated music track, with Blake himself providing a commentary track, as well.

Other supplements include a short feature titled "Dueling Directors," in which Scott discusses the film with fellow filmmaker Kevin Reynolds (who made The Count of Monte Cristo). Storyboards and the original film trailer round out the special features. However, Scott fans will also appreciate the inclusion of his first film, Boy on a Bicycle, (made when he was still a teenager).

Sadly, The Duelists never got a decent theatrical release, but hopefully this excellent new DVD will finally give the film the notice it deserves. For similar to Scott's previous DVDs for Alien, Gladiator, and Legend, this disc is far more than just a movie or video; it is like taking a master class in film directing. A first-rate package of a first-rate film, The Duelists: Special Collectors Edition is required viewing for anyone interested in swordfighting.

—Paul Andrew MacLean


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