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Soundtrack review: The duel (Billy Goldenberg – 1971, 2015)

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Soundtrack review: The duel (Billy Goldenberg – 1971, 2015)


“The duel” is a 1971 TV movie directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s his first full feature and it’s the story of a terrified motorist stalked on a remote and lonely road by the driver of a mysterious tanker truck. It’s one of the first road movies like this one and it inspired a whole string of similar films. The story itself was written by one of my favorite science fiction writers, Richard Matheson. I will only mention “Somehwere in time”, “What dreams may come” and “I am legend” among his credits. He also wrote a bunch of “The twilight zone” episodes and I will definitely watch this movie. I’m surprised that I’ve missed it until now. The score was composed by Billy Goldenberg who had to write it during filming. He was on set and Spielberg actually had him ride with the stuntman in the truck, a terrifying experience for the composer. But good for the music… Intrada released this in the same time as Leonard Rosenman’s “The car” in a very interesting crazy vehicle double feature

Billy Goldenberg makes a statement in the first cues. “Passing the truck” and “Truck and car encounter” are insanely uncomfortable. The strings are abused and made to sound like wild bees buzzing in my ears to the point where I can’t stand them anymore. I love these cues because they make me feel something; I get in the atmosphere of the movie right away. I feel the fear of the motorist and the danger lurking behind him.

I get even deeper inside the main character’s psyche with “Mann’s thoughts”. It’s a lonely, reflective cue which uses a lot of synthesizer effects and is the most melodic piece of the score so far. The atmosphere set by the music is very clear and the score has a very well established identity. In its more quiet moments “The duel” is all about loneliness and empty spaces. The music is more suspenseful than frightening but it works like this because from what I gather the story is about the chase. The general mood also makes me appreciate more pieces like “Truck stops” which are just what they would mean in the world of the story: breaks from the dark and lonely life on the road. The music is livelier and full of surprises.

The “Truck waiting” cues are constructed in such a way that I feel like I am on that road. The sound effects are mostly metallic and the chiming sounds give the sensation of wind blowing through that deserted landscape, as if to bring the smell of the pray. The production of this score is flawless; I couldn’t tell that it was written almost 50 years ago. It sounds fresh and polished and I can hear every instrument or insert very clearly. The extras on this release include four radio source music tracks composed by Billy Goldenberg. I imagine they play in the truck.

Interesting as it is, I would have preferred more melody in “The duel”. The composer does a great job of making things uncomfortable and ominous and the experience is interesting but there’s not a lot to take from this score musically, at least for me. But I guess the movie asked for this and the score works very well in context. As a standalone listen it’s ok for one time but I doubt I’ll return to it.

Cue rating: 76 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 5 / 48

Album excellence: 11%


Passing The Truck

Truck And Car Encounter

Hide And Seek


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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  1. Mark Eakes 5th April 2016

    Like you, Matheson is also my favorite writer, even though he has now passed. I love this movie and Goldenberg’s score. For years I’ve wanted a recording of it. And I didn’t know Intrada, the record label of my oldest friend, Doug Fake, had released the score. I’ll have to look it up and get a copy.

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 5th April 2016

      Intrada had a magnificent 2015, they released all sorts of treasures. Doug is doing a great job.

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