Version classiqueVersion mobile

Steven Spielberg

David Roche

Spielberg’s Early Career

Stuck Behind the Truck: Spielberg’s Early Television Work and the Shadow of Duel

Julian Upton

Texte intégral

  • 1 Morris notes, for example, that the added opening to the extended Duel “is in effect a reverse angl (...)

1Duel was unique among American made-for-television movies (TVMs) of the time in that, after a successful airing in the U.S., it found critical acclaim and respectable box office returns across Europe and Asia as a theatrical feature. Forty-five years on, Duel’s place as a TVM of unusually high quality is assured; it regularly tops internet lists of the “Best Ever TV Movie” variety, and its position is exalted in more sober and academic histories of the genre (Allen 1979; Marill 1987; Edgerton 1991; Gomery 1999). However, the version of Duel long in circulation is the revised and extended theatrical version that first played in Europe; the film as originally broadcast has never been available on video or DVD and has rarely been screened on television since the early 1970s. The differences between the two versions are small but in some ways significant. It can be argued, for example, that what is now celebrated as an unusually accomplished and enduring TVM is not the original TVM itself; rather, it is an “improved” and extended version that draws out the original’s cinematic qualities.1 Perhaps more significantly, the extended Duel’s now totemic position in both the Spielberg canon and the history of the American TVM has long served to subdue the director’s other television work from the same period. Indeed, nothing else that Spielberg directed during his “apprenticeship” as a television director at Universal Studios from 1969 to 1973 has garnered a fraction of the attention of Duel. However, a loose trajectory that charts Spielberg’s confidence and ability as a filmmaker can be traced from the other television shows and features he shot in the four years leading from his first Universal assignment, a segment of Night Gallery (NBC, 1969), to his last TVM, Savage (NBC, 1973). In the shadow of Duel, however, much of this work would recede from view—arguably to the director’s advantage, as he seized the opportunity to step up to feature directing proper and consolidate his growing reputation.

  • 2 The scenes added to Duel for theatrical release in Europe are an extended opening title sequence, c (...)

2Amid the widespread praise that followed Duel’s first television broadcast on November 13, 1971, one dissenting voice, a Variety reviewer, complained that the film was marred by Dennis Weaver’s “intrusive” interior monologue (Awalt 164). That much of this voice-over would be removed for the 90-minute theatrical cut shows how keenly Spielberg was receptive to critical feedback in devising theatrical plans for the film. When Universal granted Spielberg three days on location with Weaver to film extra material for the theatrical version in early 1972, the director opted for at least one shot that looked designed simply to impress critics and cineastes, framing Mann, speaking to his wife on a launderette payphone, through the open door of a washing machine [13:38]. Arguably, Mann’s phone conversation in the launderette is the most flat and superfluous of the scenes added to Duel for theatrical release,2 but it nonetheless had the desired effect on some European critics. In Britain, the Monthly Film Bulletin’s Tony Rayns highlighted this scene, along with “the through-the-windshield views of congested city traffic which provoke David Mann’s unvoiced decision to take a quieter route” and “the manic quiz shows and anecdotes he listens to on his car radio” as examples of scenes that “accumulate into a non-schematic and convincing picture of America’s silent majority, its pleasures, values and fears” (Rayns 231). None of these sequences, however, are in the 74-minute TVM, suggesting that the original’s reliance on a pure, uncomplicated suspense set-piece might not have been considered sufficient for a more discerning audience.

3Few European critics would have the same influence as Dilys Powell, whose assertion that Duel was “spun from the very stuff of cinema” (Sunday Times, October 22, 1972) was something that Spielberg himself believes heralded a turning point in his career (Awalt 182). Powell’s sincere and unpretentious endorsement of the film and its director gave Spielberg considerably more kudos internationally than he could have achieved from the consensus of upbeat reviews in the American TV guides. The film duly moved on to a rapturous reception in mainland Europe, eventually winning the top prize at France’s Festival International du Film Fantastique and Best First Film at Italy’s Taormina Film Festival in 1973. For every Dilys Powell there would be less convincing voices aching to project existential and/or political meaning onto the film—John Baxter points out how “left-wing” critics at a press conference in Rome became angry when Spielberg would not “endorse their reading of Duel as socialist parable” (83)—but if an intellectual and ideological gulf existed between the young Spielberg and some of his European champions, their response to Duel would nonetheless help establish him as a “serious director.” This European reception gave Spielberg the necessary impetus to focus exclusively on the feature career he yearned for and effectively turn his back on television.

4When he began directing television on the Universal lot four years earlier, Spielberg was perhaps further away from achieving artistic credibility than he could have imagined, despite the praise in the industry he was receiving for his eye-catching short film (and studio calling-card), Amblin’. As Baxter observes, “[i]n the fifties, TV had launched Arthur Penn, John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet and Sam Peckinpah, but in the seventies it was more often a graveyard of reputations” (67). To be a television director at Universal was to be derided even further; just as “[f]eature directors looked down on the TV contingent as hacks... directors at other studios looked down on Universal’s features” (67). For Peter Biskind, Universal at the end of the 1960s may have been making millions “churning out television product, but its movies were a joke” (124). And Universal’s near monopolization of TVMs—which had appeared occasionally on U.S. television from 1964 but became a staple in 1969 when the ABC network launched its first “Movie of the Week” season—did nothing to improve the studio’s reputation. Even though TVMs “proved to be so popular that they rivaled the ratings power of even the most expensive theatrical products,” Gomery notes that they would quickly become “what the B film was to Hollywood in earlier eras” (85). He observes that TVM creators had to “[contend] with restrictions on budgets, language and sex, ratings-minded networks, and a format depending on an opening “teaser” and six climactic “act curtains” before commercial breaks” (85). TVMs were shot in an average of eleven days, with preproduction work completed in less than two weeks, no time for rehearsals and the script “[serving] as the director’s Bible—“shoot as written”” (Gomery 85). With Universal now contracted by the U.S. television networks to deliver dozens of TVMs each year, it was into this cultural sweatshop that Spielberg stepped as a twenty-two-year-old in 1969.

  • 3 Timings here refer to the 2006 U.K. Playback DVD release, which presents each of the Night Gallery (...)
  • 4 For a lengthier dissection of Spielberg “mannerist” techniques in Night Gallery, see Warren Bucklan (...)

5Spielberg’s first assignment as a Universal contract director was a section of a feature-length, portmanteau pilot for a new macabre fantasy series created by writer Rod Serling. Night Gallery (NBC, November 8, 1969) featured three unrelated Serling stories, each shot by a different director. Spielberg was entrusted with directing Joan Crawford in the middle segment, “Eyes,” about a blind New York woman who pays for an illegal eye transplant that will afford her just a few hours of sight, only to unravel her bandages at night during a power cut. That both Crawford and Serling were some way past their best work did not concern Spielberg; he later said he would have shot the Universal phone directory “[j]ust to get on a soundstage” (McBride 171). Night Gallery shows a self-conscious visual “artiness” on Spielberg’s part: two characters have a conversation on a spinning playground merry-go-round [9:23–10:07]3 and the high-angle shots, analytical cut-ins, baroque visuals and fast zooms are over-indulged [e.g., 19:17–20:21].4 Worse, Spielberg failed to tick some of the boxes necessary for fast TV shooting, such as wall-to-wall master-shot coverage; consequently, the seven-day shoot fell two days behind schedule, which led to some hostility from the crew and the producer (McBride 176). Coming away from the project somewhat bruised, Spielberg felt compelled to take time out of his Universal contract; he had developed an instant reputation on the lot for pretentiousness. Some critics, however, were impressed with the young director’s handling of Night Gallery; for Tom Allen, it showed that Spielberg “demonstrated already an uncanny, natural affinity for film as a weapon of kinetic titillation” (21–22).

6When he returned to Universal in early 1970, Spielberg was more prepared to respect the production-line approach and began to “rebuild” his reputation, directing single episodes for series such as The Psychiatrist (NBC, 1971), Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC, 1969–76) and, again, Night Gallery (NBC, 1969–73). While this was competent, journeyman work, the first glimpse of a prominent style can be seen in his unusual, feature-length installment of The Name of the Game, which aired on 15 January 1971. In “L.A. 2017,” the protagonist, urbane publisher Glenn Howard (Gene Barry), is projected into a dystopian, future Los Angeles where environmental pollution has driven society underground. Although in hindsight this appears to be the kind of science fiction premise that Spielberg could have elevated into something beyond the ordinary, the constraints of the script and the ostentatiously low budget are clear obstacles; the action is generally confined to interminably talky scenes of exposition. Spielberg shows energy, however, when the camera leaves the studio. As Howard makes an escape from the sterile subterranean society and is pursued across the dusty Californian terrain, the climax unfolds a series of brief, tensely shot scenes. The multi-angle-shot car chase on dusty L.A. back roads [69:35–71:40] pre-empts some of the kinetic energy of Duel, and Howard’s subsequent getaway on foot through the dense smog of the desert [71:41–72:39] is enlivened with hand-held shooting and harsh backlighting, which distorts Howard’s pursuers and blurs the line between threat and his ultimate salvation. “L.A. 2017” also ends on a sharp visual note—a dead bird suspended in a dry roadside bush [74:55]—that is both satirical and arresting, pointing perhaps to a developing confidence on Spielberg’s part.

7The director still had much to prove, of course, and on the television production line the opportunity to shine was at the mercy of producers. A young producer who allowed Spielberg creative flexibility was The Psychiatrist’s Jerrold Freedman. Spielberg’s second episode for The Psychiatrist, “Par for the Course” (March 10, 1971), shows his ability advancing further. Some of the flashy technique of Night Gallery is still in evidence—in the restless camerawork, the rapid cutting, the use of slow motion, and in one conversation shot through the top of a lampshade—but it is tempered with a more assured handling of the close-up, human drama, eliciting a strong performance from Clu Gulager as Frank Halloran, a middle-aged golf pro coming to terms with his imminent death. A scene in which the dying Frank is visited in his hospital bed by two golf buddies carrying a huge, gift-wrapped box is affecting without being overly sentimental. Frank and his friends are initially full of locker-room banter, but this gives way to awkwardness, as no one is able to talk directly about Frank’s condition. When presented with the gift, which turns out to be the neatly dug-out 18th hole of his local course, Frank breaks down, while his friends continue to talk uneasily about golf. The gift of the dug-out hole was not in the script; Spielberg added it, the prop fuelling a shift in Frank’s emotions and infusing the scene with an added poignancy. In 1978 the director stated that he thought “Par for the Course” was his “best work in television,” adding that he was liberated by being “able to cause input in the writing of it”:

It was the first time since my 8mm days when I could have an idea at nine o’clock in the morning and incorporate that idea into the show at two o’clock in the afternoon... Everything didn’t have to be locked down because of so many hours in the day and so much money in the budget.

8It was a rough cut of “Par for the Course,” more so than Amblin’ and “L.A. 2017,” that caught the eyes of other Universal producers and led to more high-profile assignments for Spielberg. McBride notes that it helped convince ABC’s Vice-President of TVMs Barry Diller that the young director could handle Duel (201), while it encouraged writer-producers Richard Levinson and William Link and star Peter Falk to offer Spielberg a feature-length episode of their new series, Columbo (NBC, 1971–2003).

Fig. 1 — Columbo “Murder by the Book”: the murderer’s brightly lit entrance.

Fig. 1 — Columbo “Murder by the Book”: the murderer’s brightly lit entrance.
  • 5 Dawidziak identifies Prescription: Murder as “an inverted or open mystery” where “we get to see the (...)
  • 6 Unlike, say, the purple flourishes in the same-season Columbo episode “Death Lends a Hand,” directe (...)

9Peter Falk’s incarnation of the Columbo character debuted on NBC in 1968 as a one-off TVM. Prescription: Murder was well received, but it took three years for the network to make an official Columbo pilot (1971’s “Ransom for a Dead Man”) and commission the series proper. Spielberg cannot take credit for fashioning or progressing the Columbo series’ distinctive traits; the show’s recognizable formula and Falk’s distinctive characterization were more or less in place in Prescription: Murder.5 However, there are clear signs of maturation in Spielberg’s approach to his episode, “Murder by the Book,” not least in the more subtle use of his arsenal of “experimental” techniques. The episode does feature expressionistic visuals, but they are used more sparingly than in, for example, Spielberg’s Night Gallery installment, and he employs moments of sound distortion that help to “conjure up an ominous, unsettling mood” (McBride 192). In the opening sequence, for example, Spielberg’s camera follows the killer’s car to his quarry, but the soundtrack replaces diegetic sound with the hollow noise of typewriter keys being struck as the victim works on a book [0:00–1:20]; the scene recalls, perhaps unwittingly, the unnerving opening of William Friedkin’s 1968 version of The Birthday Party, where a pair of mysterious interrogators make their way to an unsuspecting victim’s boarding house, accompanied on the soundtrack only by the tearing of paper. A more notable aesthetic touch is Spielberg’s insistence on bright lighting for many of the shots, particularly the murderer’s entrance, which is set up in a high, glass-walled office flooded with hazy Los Angeles daylight and in full view of the cityscape beyond (Fig. [fig1]) [1:50–5:10]. This set the director immediately at odds with veteran photographer Russell Metty, who favored a traditional “dark and murky” approach to the material (Dawidziak 52), but the producers decided to back Spielberg’s vision. Importantly, these stylistic diversions do not derail the narrative.6 What most impressed NBC and the production team, however, was the slickness of the job. “Murder by the Book” looks like the work of a seasoned professional with pragmatic good taste, rather than a 23-year old “kid” who had gotten off to a patchy start on the lot. As a result, although it was initially scheduled to run as episode 2, Spielberg’s episode “was chosen to inaugurate the regular run of the series on September 15 [1971]” (McBride 191), another small but useful boost for the director’s standing at Universal.

10Just weeks after the Columbo episode aired—and just after Spielberg had completed work on Duel, which was shot in 17 days over September and October 1971—Universal loaned the director out to CBS to direct Something Evil (January 21, 1972), one of six new made-for-TV horror features that would air on American television the 1971–72 season. The horror genre was already a popular staple of the newly ubiquitous TVM; the 1970–71 season had featured, among others, How Awful about Allan (ABC, September 22, 1970), The House That Would Not Die (ABC, October 27, 1970) and Crowhaven Farm (ABC, November 24, 1970). Horror on TV was, as in other TVMs, limited “by “viewer sensibility” consideration and other guidelines that eliminate nudity, profanity and other assorted mayhem” (Marill 9). This was in many ways to its advantage, as it could package the sensations of the genre into a family-friendly format, while its theatrical counterpart in the late 1960s and 1970s would venture into more explicit, adult-themed territory. Robert Clouse’s script for Something Evil offers little outside routine thrills, but it is interesting and timely in its nod towards William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist (which was dominating the best-seller lists, two years before the release of William Friedkin’s 1973 adaptation), and in prefiguring the dysfunctional family themes that would preoccupy Spielberg for much of his career. Spielberg was not yet in full command of which projects he could accept or decline, but he was enthusiastic about Something Evil. Although it would remain not just in the shadow of Duel, but even of some of the other horror TVMs of the 1971–1972 season—such as The Night Stalker and When Michael Calls—the film provided a platform for the director to experiment with ideas and visuals that he would return to more successfully in subsequent projects.

  • 7 While Morris notes that, at one point, Goldie Hawn’s character in The Sugarland Express “exploits h (...)
  • 8 Edgerton notes that the networks at this time “virtually geared” their primetime features toward wo (...)

11Something Evil’s premise combines the classic haunted house story with the modish cultural fascination for demonic possession, particularly of children and their subsequent threat to the “ideal” patriarchal family (Wood 28). The Worden family move into a rickety Pennsylvania farmhouse, only to experience, while the patriarch (Darren McGavin) is away working in New York, a series of supernatural episodes that culminate in the revelation that demons are also in residence. Baxter observes that Something Evil’s focus on “parental mortality” and “an Œdipal disquiet at the absent father and sexually desirable mother” is a theme to which Spielberg would frequently return (244). Certainly, parental mortality runs like a thread through Spielberg’s work; the “sexual desirability” of the mother seems a less obvious Spielbergian preoccupation, although it arguably serves, in films such as The Sugarland Express7 (1974) and E.T. (1982), to motivate a narrative leap or potentially restore the disrupted family “order.” Sandy Dennis plays the mother in Something Evil, but her sexual desirability is very much in the shadow of her headstrong maternal anxiety and intellectual curiosity, in keeping with the generally asexual nature of the early-1970s TVM (not to mention her eccentric acting style, which signposts incipient mental breakdown from the outset). Perhaps Something Evil’s family dynamic, and how it “portend[s] one of Spielberg’s major set of themes,” are better described more straightforwardly as one of “strong mothers, ineffectual fathers, and how they relate to and protect their children from larger-than-life forces that enter a family’s life” (Awalt 190–191). Despite its indication of Spielberg’s interest in mending the broken family, however, Something Evil is not particularly distinct thematically from other early horror TVMs which often presented women/mothers in peril. This approach was in keeping with the new TVM as an arguably “feminised” genre8 and also drew from a buoyant horror subgenre that relied on mentally and/or physically tormented women for its thrills.

12Where Something Evil is of more interest to Spielberg scholars is in what Awalt calls its “truly askew, even experimental style” (190–191). Given the film’s near barrel-bottom position in Spielberg’s canon and its continued absence from legitimate circulation, there has been little discussion of how it may or may not have signaled his progression as a filmmaker. Overall, the film’s conventionality seems to have made it difficult for the young director to shine through the material. Duel, on the other hand, was, in its primal simplicity, so bold an idea for feature-length treatment that it might well have resulted in a remarkable TVM even without Spielberg’s innovative touches and energy. Although he fires a lot of visual ammunition at Something Evil—handheld shots, rack focusing, close-ups edited in jump-cut—in its more static and sober moments there is little Spielberg can do to distinguish it. Nevertheless, some of his major stylistic traits have their beginnings here. The film represented Spielberg’s first teaming with cinematographer Bill Butler, who would go on to shoot Jaws. Butler’s backlighting serves not just to distinguish Something Evil from the conventional look of much of American television at the time, but also helps Spielberg “[distil] a sense of uncategorizable menace from his simple materials” (Baxter 80). As Baxter points out, Butler over-lit the sets, “[a]bandoning the blue acetate normally taped over windows to render them more natural” (81). Consequently, “[f]igures moving against their glow were haloed and distorted.” This “God Light” effect—“a radiance pouring through clouds of smoke or dust”—would appear in most of Spielberg’s films (Baxter 80–81). Indeed, the technique has become a signature one, particularly in his fantasy films, and is instrumental in emphasizing their mysterious, otherworldly or spiritual elements, such as the emergence of the alien beings in Close Encounters, the arrival and climactic pursuit of E.T., and the presence of supernatural forces in Poltergeist.

13Parts of Something Evil seem to play as a dry run for Poltergeist (1982), a film directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Spielberg. The “authorship” of Poltergeist has been the subject of some discussion, with many commentators agreeing with Robin Wood’s position that it “clearly belongs to the Spielberg oeuvre rather than to Hooper’s” (180); others have highlighted Hooper’s contribution, Rob Latham considering the film “an uneasy alliance between Spielberg’s confidence in the suburban project and Hooper’s corrosive contempt for bourgeois institutions” (203). The scenes in Something Evil of flying toys and bedroom furniture certainly prefigure those featured in Poltergeist; they also pre-empt the pyrotechnics of The Exorcist (1973). The climactic image of the Worden’s demon-possessed son (Johnny Whitaker), levitating in his bedroom, was likely an unnerving moment for the pre-Exorcist television audience. Tom Allen later praised these “frissons” for having “nothing in common with ABC’s juvenile warlocks and girlie witches in the routine movie-of-the-week entries” (22). That Spielberg could evoke these moments of supernatural hysteria on a minuscule budget and rushed production schedule testifies not just to his competence as a craftsman, but also to his gift for conjuring the “spectacular” that would define his years as Hollywood’s wunderkind.

14Something Evil drew only a lukewarm critical reception, but by then the 25-year-old Spielberg had established himself as a precocious but reliable television director, with Duel further propelling him towards better things at Universal. He now spent time on the lot on pre-production work for features that were, at different stages, set to become his big screen debut, but for various reasons did not: White Lightning (1973, eventually directed by Joseph Sargent) and Slide (which would later emerge at Columbia as California Split, directed by Robert Altman and released in 1974). Soon Spielberg would settle on a property called Carte Blanche, which evolved into The Sugarland Express. Before he was free to shoot this, however, his Universal mentor Sid Sheinberg “forced” him into another TVM called The Savage Report (aka Savage), a routine mystery thriller that Spielberg was reluctant to make (Tuchman 53).

15William Link, Savage’s executive producer and co-writer (or co-rewriter, as the teleplay was based on “an old script” by Mark Rodgers), recalled the struggling project needing a “brilliant director,” and consequently telling Sheinberg: “Get Spielberg” (McBride 208–209). Link’s own admission as one of writers that the Savage script was a “sow’s purse” (McBride 209) marked the project out as a challenging one even for a prodigiously talented director. With Spielberg disinterested in making the film anyway, there is little wonder that Savage is underwhelming. The pre-credits sequence establishing the eponymous Paul Savage (Martin Landau) as a maverick TV reporter is compelling and tensely shot, but it gives way to a talky and lumbering plot. Spielberg’s now characteristic “artful” camera angles and restless tracking shots notwithstanding, his direction of Savage can be classed only as proficient. Most of the film could be the work of Buzz Kulik or Joseph Sargent or Jack Smight, just as Paul Savage himself could be a Quincy or a Petrocelli or a Jim Rockford. The TV studio backdrop is a novelty that clearly interested Spielberg—it provides the film’s most idiosyncratic moment, a would-be murder scene shot in expressionistic silhouette [1:01–1:03]—but it is not enough to elevate the formulaic nature of the enterprise. Watching Savage in the context of the director’s career as we now know it betrays an underlying sense of frustration; there is little chance Spielberg’s talent could have advanced or thrived if he had remained a director of American television movies. Fortunately for Spielberg, with the heralding of Duel freeing him from such commitments, Savage would be his last work for television until he returned to the medium in the mid-1980s to produce projects on his own terms. One of the few comments Spielberg later made about Savage was that it “was the first and last time the studio ordered me to do something” (Tuchman 53).

16We can question the need to pay too much attention to these early, semi-forgotten television pieces by a young director who would so quickly move on to more enduring and celebrated work. After all, dozens of American TV movies from the early 1970s are superior to Something Evil and Savage, and there are arguably a handful of classic Columbo episodes that warrant preservation and appreciation over and above Spielberg’s installment. Even at their most formulaic and manufactured, television series like The Psychiatrist (NBC, 1971) could often serve up a better-than-average hour of drama. But William Link’s recollection that he had to “Get Spielberg” to salvage Savage in 1973 is revealing in showing that there was a deepening professional respect for Spielberg’s talent that must have been fueled to some extent by his television work alongside Duel; at that time, Duel’s European and subsequent Asian/Australasian plaudits as a theatrical feature (and its eventual $8-million worldwide gross) were yet to fully register back in Los Angeles. Link was the co-creator of both Columbo and The Psychiatrist, shows that allowed Spielberg to fulfill a measure of directorial autonomy before a frame of Duel was shot. While Warren Buckland may be correct in asserting that Spielberg’s four years in television “made him miss his opportunity” to establish himself as a New Hollywood director—as by 1974 “the [New Hollywood] innovators had already made their contribution and sealed their reputations” (84)—the director’s work in “Par for the Course,” “Murder by the Book” and Something Evil shows ideas and approaches that would resurface with more confidence and polish during his transformative “New Hollywood” career. The tendency to dismiss 1970s American television work by subsequently notable directors as unrepresentative and impersonal, too stifled by the production-line ethic to reveal useful insights into their creative vision, is highlighted by Tom Allen, who wrote of the TVM in 1979 that “[i]t is difficult to imagine any body of film more maligned by cineastes, and it is impossible to imagine the great bulk of it existing anywhere but on subsidized, time-killing, commercial TV” (21). While Spielberg’s experimentation within this format was mostly formal—for example, expressionistic visuals, multi-angle shots, analytical cut-ins, hand-held camerawork, harsh and ethereal backlighting—that he was able to experiment at all within the rigid confines of the American television is testament to the emergence of a larger talent.


Allen, Tom. “The Semi-Precious Age of TV Movies.” Film Comment 15.4 (July–Aug. 1979): 21–23.

Awalt, Steven. Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Baxter, John. Steven Spielberg. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.

Buckland, Warren. Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York: Continuum, 2006.

Dawidziak, Mark. The Columbo Phile. New York: The Mysterious Press, 1989.

Edgerton, Gary. “High Concept, Small Screen: Reperceiving the Industrial and Stylistic Origins of the American Made-for-TV Movie.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 19.3 (Fall 1991): 114–127.

Gomery, Douglas. “Brian’s Song: Television, Hollywood, and the Evolution of the Movie Made-for-TV.” Why Docudrama? Fact-Fiction on Film and TV. Ed. Alan Rosenthal. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1999, 78–100.

Latham, Rob. “Subterranean Suburbia: Underneath the Smalltown Myth in the Two Versions of Invaders from Mars.” Science Fiction Studies 22.2 (July 1995): 198–208.

Marill, Alvin H. Movies Made for Television: The Telefeature and the Mini-Series 1964–1986. New York: New York Zoetrope, 1987.

McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography (second edition). Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2010.

Morris, Nigel. The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light. London: Wallflower, 2006.

Rayns, Tony. “Duel.” Monthly Film Bulletin 39.466 (November 1972): 231.

Tuchman, Mitch. “Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg.” Film Comment 14.1 (Jan./Feb. 1978): 49–55.

Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York, NY: Columbia UP, 1986.


1 Morris notes, for example, that the added opening to the extended Duel “is in effect a reverse angle of the beginning and end of The Searchers (Ford, 1956). Darkness, shared by the auditorium, represents domesticity from which a frame opens—spreading over the screen and encompassing the spectator—onto the panoramic West” (21).

2 The scenes added to Duel for theatrical release in Europe are an extended opening title sequence, comprising POV shots of Mann driving from his home into the desert to the accompaniment of a discussion show on his car radio; Mann pulling into the first service station/launderette and calling his wife; the stranded school bus; and the scene where the truck pushes Mann’s car onto the rail tracks in front of an oncoming train.

3 Timings here refer to the 2006 U.K. Playback DVD release, which presents each of the Night Gallery pilot segments as standalone episodes.

4 For a lengthier dissection of Spielberg “mannerist” techniques in Night Gallery, see Warren Buckland (59–65).

5 Dawidziak identifies Prescription: Murder as “an inverted or open mystery” where “we get to see the murder committed,” and notes its inclusion of the soon-to-be standard Columbo ingredients such as “references to [Columbo’s] wife, [his] delayed entrance, talk about his many relatives, the cigar, the seminal Columbo lines” (27). The famed Columbo raincoat is also present in Prescription: Murder, although Peter Falk tends to carry it rather than wear it, and it looks less shabby than it would become.

6 Unlike, say, the purple flourishes in the same-season Columbo episode “Death Lends a Hand,” directed by TV veteran Bernard L. Kowalksi.

7 While Morris notes that, at one point, Goldie Hawn’s character in The Sugarland Express “exploits her sexuality” to manipulate her husband (39), he also asserts that “the camera never fetishizes her,” and that if she is objectified, it is “by external focalization that precludes close engagement and helps balance her motivation against that of others” (38).

8 Edgerton notes that the networks at this time “virtually geared” their primetime features toward women aged between 18 and 49 (118) because of “the contention that they make most of the buying decisions in American households, except for a few products such as cars, life insurance, and beer” (127).

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 — Columbo “Murder by the Book”: the murderer’s brightly lit entrance.
Fichier image/jpeg, 385k


Julian Upton is the editor of Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems (Headpress 2012) and has written articles on British and American cinema of the 1960s and 1970s for a variety of publications, including Bright Lights Film Journal and the Journal of British Cinema and Television. He has an MA in Film History from Birkbeck, University of London.

© Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2018

Conditions d’utilisation :

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search