Before the original Alien clinched stardom for director Ridley Scott, back when Blade Runner was just a twinkle in Scott's imaginative eye, there was his first film, The Duellists, a Napoleonic-era yarn based on a slip of a real incident that was later embellished into a short story by Joseph Conrad.
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The mannered film, which explores the fine line between honor and obsession, was released in 1977, and followed in the footsteps of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, which had made the case for lushly visual, modern period dramas only a couple of years earlier.
The plot? A feud develops between two French army officers -- Feraud (Harvey Keitel) and D'Hubert (Keith Carradine) -- and their enmity plays out in a series of duels fought over a period of several years, as history sets the scene.
There's a failed romance along the way, and a lopsided dynamic between the two protagonists: the grim, obsessive Feraud and D'Hubert, who just wants to be done with it.
The duel scenes -- and all the pomp, or lack of it, defining each meeting -- are fascinating, as is the formal relationship between the sworn enemies. Different times, indeed.
Most of all, like Barry Lyndon, Scott's debut is richly visual, echoing the overwrought yet primeval naturalism of the romantic painters. It's beautiful to look at, even if Carradine isn't quite up to his role.
We won't spoil the denouement: Just watch it. The Duellists is guaranteed to stick in your mind for a long while afterward.
The Duellists is available for download from Amazon and iTunes, or on DVD from Netflix.
Susan Froyd, in another life, toiled for a few years in some of Denver's most beloved and belated repertory cinemas. She has also seen a lot of movies over a lot of years. In this weekly series, she'll recommend forgotten films, classics, cult favorites and other dusty reels of celluloid from the past. You might like it.
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