on February 2, 2013
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.
on May 16, 2004
Driven by a compulsion to fight a duel at the slightest insult, Harvey Keitel plays Lt. Feurandin the French army during the time of Napleon who lives by the sword. When Keith Carradine's D'Hubert is sent out to convey a message from their French commander to cease fighting duels after badly injuring the mayor of a town, Keitel's character finds the message and delivery insulting enough to--yes--challenge Carradine to a duel then and there. Carradine ends the duel by knocking Keitel's character out with a block from the butt of his sword.
From there they both spiral into the madness and obsession of Feruand and D'Hubert's need to win at all costs. Fighting over the years, they lose loved ones and, in a sense, lose themselves as the passion for the fight becomes everything. By the end neither man understands why they are truly fighting or what they are fighting for.
Ridley Scott's first feature film was his fourth attempt at making a full length film. Based on a short story by Conrad that eventually became part of a much larger narrative canvas, "The Duelists" catches Scott in perfect form the first time out. While Scott expanded his scope in higher profile films ("Alien", "Blade Runner", "Thelma and Louise" and "Gladiator"), his visual and narrative style blossomed in his very first "epic" (made for a paltry $1 million)film.
The powerful performances by the international cast manages to overcome the minor differences in accents (Keitel's Brooklyn accent vs. Carradine's California twang vs. Tom Conti's British accent, etc.). Visually and thematically powerful, "The Duelists" remains one of Scott's best films.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks marvelous despite some minor blemishes. Paramount has Packed this film with extras including a commentary from Scott: "Dueling Directors" featuring director Kevin Reynolds interviewing Scott; Scott's first short film "Boy on a Bike" (featuring his brother and future director Tony Scott); isolated score and commentary by Howard Shore as well as the theatrical trailer. The sound although not quite up to the standard of current films (it was made, afterall, in 1977), has a splendid range and there's minimal distoriton.
This sharply directed and written film deserves as much attention as Scott's other more mainstream features. Although no Scott film is without merit (even "Someone to Watch Over Me" and the Hammer-like "Hannibal"), "The Duelists" deserves its spot as one of Scott's five or six best films.
on March 23, 2004
The Duellists finally arrives on DVD. At long last Ridley Scott's first film is available to the public and it was well worth the wait. The skimpy $900k budget looks more like $60 million in the hands of Scott. Using only real locations and splurging on costumes, this Napoleonic epic looks as good as any other, if not better. This is an intimate story and not one of those sweeping, libertine war melodramas. The story and acting are good, but what really stands out about this picture is the jaw droping cinematography. Scott employed a special photochemical process to enhance the contrast of the film. This is most noticed in the velvety depths of the shadows, and darker tones. The end result is a film that, often, looks like a moving Rembrandt. The above average DVD transfer serves to preserve this. I may be crazy, but it seems to me that Scott may be trying to provide us with contrapuntal films to those of Kubrick. I think that, thematically and stylistically, the Duellists is simply a boiled down version of Barry Lyndon. I think that it could also be said that Alien was probably the reactionary product of 2001. Anyway, the DVD extras provide some interesting vantage into the making and history of this great film.
on January 21, 2004
After directing some thousand commercials (even he's not sure of the number) over fifteen years, Ridley Scott finally got the money together to make a feature film. And for only $900,000 he turned out what must be one of the breathtakingly beautiful period films of all time. It looks like it cost $10 mil, easily! The visual are at the same level as Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon"; it's easy to forget you're watching a movie made in the 1970s and fall headlong into this oil portrait of the early 1800s. Scott shows what a visual genius and stylist he is in this first movie, and would prove it with his later classics "Alien," "Blade Runner," and "Gladiator."
The simple plot follows the conflict between two soldiers, played by Keither Carradine and Keitel. The origins of the fight are obscure, and soon neither man remembers the reason for it. But over the years they clash, whittling each other away with sabers and pistols for some concept of "honor" on which they cannot agree.
The duels are pretty spectacular, especially the saber fights. Scott tosses all the old fashioned Hollywood swashbuckler styles out and shows bloody, weighty, and furiously realistic combat. Those sabres really could take your arm right off, and they're heavy.
Keitel, of course, is great in the role, but Carradine is a real surprise, carrying the main role with great pride and seriousness. Plenty of great British character actors are on hand as well, such as Robert Stephens (love that guy's voice!). And Stacy Keach does the narration (an odd move to have American voice, but it works.)
You should see the "Duellists" for the visuals alone -- they're like romantic oil paintings come to life, but it's also a thrilling story with great performances. No wonder Scott was instantly recognized as a new talent and given the director's chair on "Alien"!
on November 5, 2003
Ridley Scott's film starring Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel explores the concepts of honor and belligerence in the context of 19th century France and the Napoleanic Wars.
Carradine and Keitel play the roles of two French officers in Napoleon's army who find themselves engaged in a perpetual series of duels lasting over 20 years. Their duels seems to reflect an ongoing thematic clash between belligerence and honor and how each seems to feed the other. Both characters mirror each other in how they develop throughout the story until the end. Keitel plays the role of the belligerent officer who seeks to establish his honor and importance by agression; no pretext is too small or absurd for a duel to the death. Caradine is his antagonist as one who will defend his honor to the last; even when the pretext of insult is so groundless as to be even too comical to fight over. Scott also seems to present an analogy between Keitel's belligerent nature and that of Napoleon's imperialistic ambitions. At the end of the movie, Keitel is interestingly the one who, in a wretched state of poverty, remains a loyal supporter of Napoleon to the last while Caradine has moved on to associate himself with the returned aristocracy and cozy entourage of King Louis XVIII. The last scene shows Keitel with his Napoleanic hat staring over a valley and green fields in an almost imaginary trance. This seems to parallel an image of Napoleon as he would have looked over the seas in either St Helen or Elba still inisting to be called emperor and imagining of his future conquests to come which, of course, would never come again.
As usual, Ridley Scott immerses the audience in a plush, almost dreamlike, imagery of the European landscape with all the pageantry of the Napoleonic era. All of his scenes are rich in color and mood. The movie almost becomes a little too slow in its transitions but this is minor. A good movie that has all of the right elements and appeals to all genders.
on October 12, 2003
Director Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Alien) made his directorial debut with this overlooked gem - THE DUELLISTS, based on a story by Joseph Conrad. Released in 1977, the movie didn't make much of an impact in the US, although it was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes and won Scott the coveted Best First Work at that festival.
The movie chronicles the long-lasting feud between two French officers, the hot-headed Feraud (played by Harvey Keitel) and the more even-keeled D'Hubbert (played by Keith Carradine), during the Napoleonic wars. The feud has murky beginnings, but it lasts for decades due to the lead characters' desires to avoid losing their "honor." As they cross paths during various parts of their lives, they duel.
The duel scenes are well-filmed and add a great deal of excitement to the plot. The main story is also interesting, as the men's duels forge an unlikely relationship between them. The lead actors do a passable job in their roles, although they seem out of place amongst the largely British supporting players; Keitel actually seems more at place in the film, despite his eastern accent. Finally, the cinematography is stunning, and it's one of the most beautiful looking films of its period; the look of the film is a bit like "Barry Lyndon," although the tone is warmer. Overall, this film is an intriguing part of the Ridley Scott canon; it stands among his best works and one of the most overlooked films of the 70s.
DVD extras: director's commentary with Ridley Scott, and director Keith Reynolds also interviews Scott.
on September 5, 2003
Ridley Scott has a fine eye. Many of his films are not my favorites because of their high-concept stories, but visually, few directors can touch Scott's sense of space, time, and composition. This little-seen gem is comparable only to Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece "Barry Lyndon" in its attempt to create the ambient light and sense of place of the late 1700's -early 1800's.
Based on a story by Joseph Conrad, chosen because the rights had lapsed, the film concerns two French hussar officers, one of whom, played with republican fervor by Harvey Keitel, is quick to anger and to duel. His nemesis is the aristocratic officer played by Robert Carradine, who doesn't understand why Keitel hates him so much. The film follows their careers in the Napoleonic wars over the course of fifteen years, from the early triumphs of l'Emporer in Lubeck, to the disaster of Russia, and the return of the Bourbon's. Despite their long-standing animosity, Carradine even saves Keitel from the guillotine, for which he his repayed with disdain and aggression.
This story is episodic, and there are many loose ends, but who cares? This is one of the most astonishing films ever made in its meticulousness, it's bravery (not cow-towing to hi-key filmic conventions), it's invention (a budget of only $900,000 dollars?!) and in the totally successful vision the filmmakers put up on the screen. Films costing 10 times as much or more are not so riviting as this film.
Scott did have to compromise; he wished for Michael York and Oliver Reed, but the financiers wanted American actors. Even though Carradine is occasionally weak, Keitel is intense throughout.
The Duellist is one of my favorite films. The DVD transfer is immaculate and the special features give us interviews with Ridley Scott, and the film's composers notes on his musical choices.
on August 26, 2003
If you haven't seen this little gem, one of Ridley Scott's first films, you are in for a treat. The movie had a narrow, art house release in the late seventies, so the odds are you haven't seen it. The movie is set in the Napoleonic wars, and the military costumes are absolutely magnificent. In a commentary with Kevin Reynolds, Scott states that the uniforms cost 19,000 pounds--that is about $30,000.00 in 1977 dollars!
The story revolves around a series of duels between two French army officers, D'hubert (Carradine) and Feraud (Keitel). Feraud is the heavy of the piece, having started the duels for no reason whatsoever. But D'hubert's own warped sense of honor won't allow him to refuse the challenges.
Neither of the leads was Scott's first choice; the two actors he wanted were refused by the studio funding the project. If he wanted the money, he had to choose from a list of four actors the studio gave him. And he wanted the money. So literally every other actor in the film is better, and fits in the film better, than the two leads. Doesn't matter. This is a stunningly beautiful film. Every scene is so gorgeous it is like a painting. It is all about the scenery and the costumes. Every military history buff should own a copy of this DVD just for the costumes alone.
The DVD itself is gorgeous, with vivid colors, and it is crammed with extras including a director's commentary with Ridley Scott. Get it.
on July 8, 2003
This first film by Ridley Scott blew me away when I first saw it. With some of the finest cinematography, by Frank Tidy, I had ever seen and meticulous period detail, this story of two officers in Napolean's army that engage in a series of duels over the 16 years of Napolean's reign in between his various wars, was a gem of economic story-telling, and provided an interesting slant on duty and honor.
Keith Carradine as Armond D'Hubert and Harvey Keitel as Gabriel Feraud may seem odd choices for the leads, and some may be unable to look past their accents, but the two actors bring the correct personalities and attitudes to their characters. Carradine's D'Hubert has reluctantly been drawn into these deadly contests in the name of honor by the unremitting, mulish obstinancy of Keitel's Feraud. Carradine's lanky correctness is countered by Keitel's ferocious intensity. D'Hubert is a thoughtful, dutiful man; Feraud is a mean little cuss and obstinancy personified.
There are some memorable scenes in the film: an early morning duel with golden light bathing the stone walls of a manor; a wounded Carradine in a bathtub, terrifed to sneeze; a ferocious fight in a barn shot in diffused natural lighting; the ice and snow of Napolean's retreat from Russia, with the mute eloquence of the frozen dead; the final duel in the gardens of a ruined castle. Wonderful stuff.
Carradine's character shows us the fear and frustration of facing the blind and unreasoning enmity of Keitel's character. As his mistress says to Keitel "you feed your spite on him". The various duels are great, thanks to the choreography of Bill Hobbs who shows dueling as FIGHTING(as he did in the Musketeers movies). It all culminates in an ending that is most satisfying.
With terrific costumes and hairstyles that change over the period covered, and aided by cameo performances from Tom Conti, Robert Stephenson, Albert Finney, and Diana Quick and Christina Raines, this overlooked gem is well worth your while.
on December 20, 2002
As stunning and as entertaining as Blade Runner would be in 1982, this film, from 1977, is gaining popularity as Ridley Scott's finest directorial work.
The film is visually stunning, featuring beautiful set decoration, costumes, and most important, photography. The screenplay is eloquent and sharp, similar to the work of Robert Bolt (best know for his screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia). The film is split into six parts that reflect major turning points in Napoleon's conquest of Europe [...]. The music score is first-rate, the editing is smooth as silk, and the acting -even with Harvey Kietel's slight Brooklyn accent- is top-notch. Kietel's intensity and on-screen presence is so good I hardly noticed the accent problem.
The film is a "period" piece that avoids clichés and pretentiousness. In fact, this film and Barry Lyndon (1975) will probably go down as the best European period films of the 1970's. It could also be argued that this film could not be made if it wasn't for the critical success of Kubrick's film. Box office success was another matter for both movies, as "The Duelists" was barely released in the US after a smashing reception at the Cannes Film Festival. I myself did not see this movie until the LaserDisc version was released by Paramount in the early 1990's.
In short, this film is a study in codes, manners, conflicts, and what we might consider madness. The film does not make the mistake of trying to explain the cause of the duels between the 2 protagonists. Instead, the film focuses on their manners, their feelings of obligation to settling the conflict, and the coincidences and chances that bring them together and drift them apart over a span of 20 years.
Finally, this movie has another relationship with a great film of the 1970's, Apocalypse Now, as this is also a successful screen adaptation of a Josef Conrad story. Not an easy feat.