Few films are more beautiful to look at than Ridley Scott's debut feature from 1977, "The Duellists." Although the bluray release by Shout Factory is only a marginal improvement on the 2002 DVD release, it might be argued that any enhancement of such a sumptuous visual treat should be welcomed.
The film rolls like a sequence of classical paintings with Scott's uncanny eye for lighting and colour applied to perfectly composed interiors and ravishing locations in the Dordogne. Uniforms, weapons, fencing techniques and hairstyles are meticulously faithful to the Napoleonic period. The illusion of historical richness is furthered by Howard Blake's evocative score and the thoughtfully elegeant script, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novella, "The Duel."
The story is of a long-running duel between two French cavalry officers pursued for its own sake in which ideas of honour, obsession and obligation are examined. Writer Gerald Vaughan-Hughes provides a cinematic dimension by interposing a premarital relationship for one of the protagonists, Armand D'Hubert (Keith Carradine), to accentuate the destructive nature of his contest with adversary, Gabriel Ferraud (Harvey Keitel). Keitel brings a passionate intensity to his role of a resentful man driven "to feed his spite" on a fellow officer of privileged background whom he sees as a pampered "general's poodle." As the hero, Carradine offers the counter-balance of reason with a character of easy charm but one which also raises interesting questions about life's priorities.
Good performances are also given by Albert Finney, Robert Stephens, Diana Quick, Meg Wynn Owen, Edward Fox and Tom Conti.
Special features: the bluray edition includes an exclusive new interview with Keith Carradine.