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The Duellists

Based on a dark yarn by Joseph Conrad, The Duellists (1977) is about two Napoleonic soldiers who, well, duel. Again and again. It begins when Lt. Ferraud (Harvey Keitel) wounds a man after a duel. The man turns out to be the son of a Major, so Ferraud is put under house arrest; the soldier who delivers the message of his impending imprisonment is Lt. D'Hubert (Keith Carradine). As he's dallying with a woman when the message arrives, Ferraud interprets D'Hubert's message as a personal insult and insists upon a duel. When Ferraud loses, he's further angered and his enmity continues through the next 15 years, dueling with swords or pistols whenever their paths happen to cross. Ridley Scott's first film, The Duellists showcases his almost magical eye for composition. Essentially a (painfully obvious) allegory for the pointlessness of war, one can see numerous homages to Paths of Glory in the treatment of Scott's theme. Keitel and Carradine are terribly miscast, but miscast in a distinctly Ridley Scott manner — they look great, and they're both good actors. But when they speak, they're so blatantly, unapologetically American that everything falls apart. Additionally, while the film's visuals are sumptuous, many of the more gorgeously constructed scenes belie Scott's previous career as a commercial director. That eye for the perfect image actually works against Scott at times. Paramount Home Video's DVD release of The Duellists offers a very good transfer of the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include commentary tracks by director Scott and composer Howard Blake, the featurette "Dueling Directors — Ridley Scott and Kevin Reynolds" (29 min.), Scott's first short film, "Boy and Bicycle" (27 min.), storyboards, photo and poster galleries, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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