AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Duellists
Director: Ridley Scott (Dir)
Release Date:   Jan 1977
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 13 Jan 1978; Los Angeles opening: 27 Jan 1978
Duration (in mins):   101
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Cast:   Keith Carradine ([Lt. Armand] D'Hubert)  
    Harvey Keitel ([Lt. Gabriel] Feraud)  
    Albert Finney (Fouché)  
    Edward Fox (Colonel)  
    Cristina Raines (Adèle)  
    Robert Stephens (General Treillard)  
    Tom Conti (Dr. Jacquin)  
    John McEnery (Amiable second)  
    Diana Quick (Laura)  
    Alun Armstrong (Lecourbe)  
    Maurice Colbourne (Tall second)  
    Gay Hamilton (Maid)  
    Meg Wynn Owen (Léonie)  
    Jenny Runacre (Mme. de Lionne)  
    Alan Webb (Chevalier)  
    Arthur Dignam (Captain)  
    Matthew Guinness (Mayor's nephew)  
    Dave Hill (Cuirassier)  
    Neville Jason (Hilaire)  
    Timothy Penrose (Singer)  
    Morgan Sheppard (Fencing master)  
    Liz Smith (Fortune teller)  
    Anthony Douse (Surgeon)  
    Hugh Fraser (Officer)  
    Richard Graydon (Officer)  
    Tim Hardy (Officer)  
    William Hobbs (Swordsman)  
    Michael Irving (Officer)  
    Tony Matthews (General Treillard's ADC)  
    Peter Postlethwaite (Orderly)  
    Jason Scott (Léonie's child)  
    Luke Scott (Léonie's child)  
  Narrated by Stacy Keach    

Summary: In 1800 Europe, Lt. Gabriel Feraud, a temperamental officer of the 7th Hussar Regiment, slays the mayor of Strasbourg’s nephew in a duel. Upon being informed of this incident, the regiment commander orders Lt. Armand D’Hubert, a staff officer remotely acquainted with Feraud, to locate the wayward duelist and notify him of his house arrest. D’Hubert tracks down Feraud lounging at the salon of Mme. de Lionne. After a brisk exchange they leave, but, on the way to Feraud’s home, a quarrel ensues. Feraud accuses D’Hubert of victimizing him and demands satisfaction. D’Hubert reluctantly agrees and the two cross rapiers in a nearby courtyard. In the vigorous altercation, D’Hubert slashes Feraud’s hand and the duel is suspended. Later, D’Hubert and Feraud are sent to the front. While stationed in Augsburg, Feraud asks a fellow officer to challenge D’Hubert on his behalf. Although far from enthusiastic, D’Hubert nevertheless agrees to the challenge, understanding that his honor is at stake. On this occasion, however, it is he who is badly injured, falling prey to his opponent’s superior fencing skills. D’Hubert offers his apologies, but Feraud remains unappeased. Later, when D’Hubert recovers, Feraud challenges him again. The young Laura, with whom D’Hubert is romantically entangled, intercedes on her lover’s behalf, but to no avail. Following her failure in preventing the swordfight, she decides to leave D’Hubert and marry a retired gunnery sergeant. The jilted officer remains largely unaffected by Laura’s departure and his most immediate concern is to survive the next duel with Feraud. The longtime adversaries meet again in their bloodiest match. They press each other to the state of exhaustion, and in the end, neither man is declared the winner. Five years later, D’Hubert, now a captain, hopes that his superior rank will dissuade Feraud from challenging him for fear of breaching military protocol. The two accidentally meet in a Lübeck tavern, and D’Hubert discovers that not only is Feraud still demanding satisfaction, but that he has also been promoted to the rank of captain. Rather than avoiding Feraud and awaiting his own imminent promotion to major, D’Hubert decides to face his rival yet again. This time, in honor of the cavalry, the duel takes place on horseback. D’Hubert arrives visibly anxious, yet he manages to overcome his trepidation and win the day, forcing Feraud to yield with a severe laceration to the forehead. The two cross paths again six years later during Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia. At this point, the Napoleonic Army is severely debilitated by the effects of a merciless Russian winter. Nevertheless, the frost bitten Feraud still indicates his desire to take revenge on an equally incapacitated D’Hubert. While scouring a forest for enemy troops, Feraud unexpectedly draws his pistols on D’Hubert. Before he is able to pull the trigger, however, a mounted Cossack appears. Feraud shoots the Cossack, leaving D’Hubert a chance to regroup. D’Hubert offers Feraud a conciliatory swig of Schnapps from his flask, but he refuses. Following the end of the war, D’Hubert returns home with the rank of general. His sister, Leonie, suggests that he settle down with a young woman from the neighboring estate. D’Hubert seems hesitant at first, but upon meeting the fair Adele, he quickly decides that she is the one for him. He is approached by a renegade colonel who asks him to support the dethroned Bonaparte in his bid to regain control of France. D’Hubert refuses and, in response, the colonel mentions that Feraud, who joined Napoleon’s rebellious army, has publicly commented that the cause for their continuing feud was D’Hubert’s lack of allegiance to the emperor. D’Hubert refutes this accusation and asks the colonel to remind Feraud that the origins of their rivalry had less to do with Napoleon than with Mme. de Lionne. The failure of Napoleon’s one hundred day coup leads to the imprisonment of its participants, Feraud included. Sometime later, D’Hubert runs across the colonel, who informs him of Feraud’s arrest. He decides to plead with Minister of Police, Joseph Fouche, for the life of his nemesis. Fouche agrees to D’Hubert’s request, as well as to his condition that the matter of his involvement be kept secret. Feraud, oblivious to the circumstances of his release, once more searches to settle his affairs with D’Hubert. The duellists meet on the edge of D’Hubert’s estate for a final contest. They enter a ruin from different sides, each carrying two single-round pistols. Feraud is the first to engage, but he misses D’Hubert. He attempts another shot but again fails to hit his target. D’Hubert, now with an obvious advantage, decides to spare the life of his adversary. He forces the Hussar to promise to avoid any future contact with him. Feraud stands on the top of a ridge, contemplating the ramifications of this agreement on his delicate sense of honor.  

Production Company: Enigma  
Production Text: Made by Scott Free Enterprises, 6-10 Lexington Street, London W1R 3HS, England
In association with The National Film Finance Consortium of London, England
Brand Name:

Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures (A Gulf + Western Company)
Director: Ridley Scott (Dir)
  Terry Marcel (1st asst dir)
  David Wimbury (2d asst dir)
  Patricia Eberhard (2d asst dir, France)
  Peter Kohn (3rd asst dir)
Producer: David Puttnam (Prod)
  Ivor Powell (Assoc prod)
Writer: Gerald Vaughan-Hughes (Scr)
Photography: Frank Tidy (Dir of photog)
  Ridley Scott (Op)
  Adrian Biddle (Focus)
  Hugh Johnson (Clapper loader)
  Stephen Barron (Clapper loader)
  Ray Hall (Grip)
  Al Watson (Gaffer)
  Gary Mullins (1st spark)
  Terry Thomson (2d spark)
  David Appleby (Stills)
  Rank Film Laboratories (Processed by)
  Panavision (Photographic equip by)
Art Direction: Peter J. Hampton (Prod des)
  Bryan Graves (Art dir)
  Maria Dumas (Art asst)
Film Editor: Pamela Power (Ed)
  Michael Bradsell (Supv ed)
  Peter Hollywood (Asst ed)
  Roy Burge (Asst ed)
  Les Healey (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Ann Mollo (Set dresser)
  John Lanzer (Prop buyer)
  Mike Fowlie (Prop master)
  Ted Stickley (Stand-by prop)
  Arthur Wicks (Dressing props)
  Les Benson (Dressing props)
  John Hogan (Dressing props)
  Pat Hughes (Dressing props)
  Richard Dicker (Drape)
  Brian Higgins (Carpenter)
Costumes: Tom Rand (Cost des)
  Rita Wakely (Ward mistress)
  James Wakely (Ward master)
Music: Howard Blake (Mus comp and cond)
  John Richards (Mus mixer)
Sound: Derrick Leather (Sd mixer)
  Bill Burgess (Sd boom)
  Joe Ryan (Sd cam)
  Terry Rawlings (Dubbing ed)
  Hugh Strain (Dubbing mixer)
Special Effects: John Burgess (Spec eff)
  Mike Dempsey (Titles des by)
Make Up: Susan Barradell (Make-up supv)
  Paul Nix (Hairdressing consultant)
  Elaine Carew (Make-up asst)
  Sheila Thomas (Hairdressing asst)
Production Misc: William Hobbs (Fight dir)
  Kay Fenton (Cont)
  Mary Selway (Casting dir)
  Lily Van Rijs (Casting, France)
  Carolyn Pfeiffer (Prod assoc)
  Richard Graydon (Horsemaster)
  Richard Holmes (Military adv)
  Peter Jaques (Prod mgr, London)
  Clinton Cavers (Loc consultant, Scotland)
  Olga Farel (Loc mgr, France)
  Jean-Francois Villemer (Asst loc mgr, France)
  Paul Cadiou (Prod accountant )
  Nicole Miloux (Asst accountant, France)
  Sean O'Brien (Asst accountant, London)
  Lynda Smith (Secy to prod)
  Guilhaine Cosse (Secy, France)
  Gill Mead (Prod asst)
  Steve Lincoln (Runner)
  Matthew Binns (Runner)
  Noelle Simpson (Prod liaison)
  Con Lewis (Unit driver)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: Great Britain and United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the short story "The Duel" by Joseph Conrad in his A Set of Six (London, 1908).
Authors: Joseph Conrad

Physical Properties: Sd:

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Military
Subjects (Major): Duels
  France. Army
  France--History--19th century
  Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1814
Subjects (Minor): Brothers and sisters
  France--History--19th century
  Military life
  Russia. Army

Note: The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Dan Chyutin, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, with Lucy Fischer as academic advisor.

Ridley Scott’s The Duellists is an adaptation of a short story by Joseph Conrad, first published in 1908 as a small illustrated volume under the title “The Point of Honour,” and then later reprinted as “The Duel” in the 1920 collection A Set of Six . According to Conrad’s preface to A Set of Six , the story was based on an actual feud between two French officers in Napoleon’s army. The film remains faithful to the literary source, apart from two major changes: the duel on the Russian front was not included in Conrad’s narrative, and in the ending of the original story, Armand D’Hubert’s marries Adele. When he later writes a letter to Gabriel Feraud, suggesting that the two become friends, Feraud refuses on the grounds that D’Hubert did not name one of his sons after Napoleon. D’Hubert insists on anonymously providing Feraud with financial assistance for the rest of his life.
       Immediately following the opening credits, an unidentified voiceover narration read by Stacey Keach states: “The Duellist demands satisfaction. Honor for him is an appetite. This story is about an eccentric kind of hunger. It is a true story and begins in the year when Napoleon became the ruler of France.” Subsequently, a title appears indicating the place and time of the first duel. Voiceover narration and introductory titles provide precede each dueling sequence in the film.
       The Duellists is Scott’s first feature film. The English-born filmmaker began his career as a set designer for the BBC, and later formed his own company, RSA, with his brother, Tony Scott, to design and direct television commercials. Scott became dissatisfied with his career path, scaled down his involvement at RSA, and began pursuing feature film projects, according to an article in the May 1978 issue of Millimeter . At this point, Scott teamed up with writer Gerald Vaughan-Hughes to develop a script based on the 1605 Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot. However, this project fell through because British studios were uncomfortable with Scott’s lack of feature film experience as a director. In an attempt to prove his marketability, Scott returned to television, directing a one-hour adaptation of a Henry James story for French television. The success of this endeavor prompted the French producers to come up with an offer of over $250,000 for a second project to be directed by Scott. Determined to make a feature film, he did not want to overburden the budget, so Scott searched for source material in the public domain, and, according to Millimeter , after going through the works of Henry James and Jack London, he finally stumbled upon Conrad’s relatively unknown tale “The Duel.” The task of adapting the story to the screen was placed at the hands of Vaughan-Hughes, who produced a script that exceeded the expectations of a television drama. According to a Literature/Film Quarterly essay, Scott pleaded with the French television executives to turn the script into a feature film, and they finally agreed, but, as reported in Millimeter , in the interim, he attempted to seek a film producer and piqued the interest of Enigma Productions owner, David Putnam. An 8 Feb 1978 Var article noted that Putnam met with Paramount executive David Picker at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival and convinced him to invest $1,500,000 in the project. This was a very low budget for a period film, indicating that the studio had little faith in the film’s box-office potential. According to Millimeter , Paramount required Scott to fund some of the production’s preliminary expenses out of his own pocket, but he was later reimbursed.
       Millimeter also reports that Picker initiated casting discussions, during which the leads—Keitel and Carradine—were selected. Scott succeeded in securing commitments from both American actors. The other non-British actor featured prominently in the film was American Cristina Raines, who, as Scott disclosed in his DVD commentary, was Carradine’s girlfriend at the time. Scott cast the supporting roles primarily with established British stage and screen performers such as Edward Fox and Albert Finney. The filmmaker worked with his actors extensively before shooting, discussing the parts and building mutual trust. According to Millimeter , he did not hold many rehearsals, preferring instead to throw the actors into a scene and have their personalities infuse and enliven the characters. The British actors took to their roles more naturally than the Americans, Scott told Millimeter , but the challenge was to tone down their theatricality so that they would be more in tune with Carradine’s and Keitel’s offhand delivery. Scott described Carradine as being slightly intimidated by the material and more prepared than Keitel to “play the script.” Keitel, in a Jan – Feb 1978 Film Comment interview, explained that he immersed himself in the role, reading books and watching films about the Napoleonic period. He expressed regret that his attempts to create a more dimensional character for Feraud were lost in the final edit. Scott refuted this claim, telling Millimeter that he curbed Keitel’s tendency to “milk things” through editing but did not substantially change his character.
       In spite of the relatively low budget, Scott was determined to have his film be visually arresting, equaling and even surpassing the pictorial richness of such period films as Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon , which was released the year before and produced for significantly more money. A 25 Jan 1977 HR news item indicates that locations for the film included the Northern Scotland countryside and the Dordogne départment of southwest France, especially around the town of Sarlat. Multiple critics, such as Arthur Knight in his 20 Jan 1978 HR review, suggested that in its careful attention to detail, The Duellists revealed Scott’s background as a Royal College art student and a BBC art director.
       According to 30 Oct 1976 LAT and 27 Oct 1976 DV news items, principal photography took place in the fall of 1976. In addition to his directorial duties, Scott also operated the camera in collaboration with director of photography, Frank Tidy. As discussed in Millimeter , the filmmaker was accustomed to operating cameras in his commercial work and felt that for a project like The Duellists , a greater measure of control over lighting and framing was needed. In addition, Scott also storyboarded the entire script—a procedure that afforded him a feeling of security because of its similarity to his working method on commercials.
       According to Millimeter , editing was completed in only ten weeks, because the producers were committed to a premiere date at the Cannes Film Festival. Because of the tight schedule, two editors worked simultaneously. According to Scott, the editors gave him perspective on pace and stopped him from rushing scenes to immediate pay-offs as he would have done in commercials.
       The Duellists premiered at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival and received the Grand Jury Prize. According to a 20 Jan 1978 HR review, the film was a hit in Paris, with long lines of eager spectators forming in front of the Champs-Élysées theatre where it played. In the U.S. domestic market, as Scott explains in his DVD commentary, Paramount only distributed seven prints, and consequently the movie did little business. Reviews of The Duellists on both sides of the Atlantic were mixed. Several periodicals, including HR , criticized Scott’s failure to highlight the human aspects of the film, while others, such as the 30 Jan 1978 review in New York , condemned the casting of American actors to play quintessentially European roles. Although most critics noted the visual mastery evident in Scott’s work, the Dec 1977 MFB review argued that the film’s style, camera angles and picturesque quality were contrived and conveyed “the dampening influence of television.” The Duellists received praise from preeminent writers such as Pauline Kael and Vincent Canby, who, in his 14 Jan 1978 NYT review, called the film “at first compelling and ultimately breathtaking.” Canby defended its picturesque quality, arguing: “it's not a frivolous prettiness, but an evocation of time and place through images that are virtually tactile, and which give real urgency to this curious tale.”

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   28 Nov 1977.   
Daily Variety   27 Oct 1976.   
Daily Variety   3 Dec 1976.   
Daily Variety   9 Jun 1977.   
Film Comment   Jan-Feb 1978   pp. 36-41.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Oct 1976.   
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jan 1977.   
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jan 1978   p. 2, 28.
Literature/Film Quarterly   1980   Vol. III, No. 2, pp. 125-132.
Los Angeles Times   30 Oct 1978.   
Millimeter   May 1978   pp. 142-147.
Monthly Film Bulletin   Dec 1977   p. 258.
New York   30 Jan 1978   pp. 58-59.
New Yorker   23 Jan 1978   pp. 80-81.
Saturday Review   18 Mar 1978.   
Sunday Telegraph   5 Feb 1978   p. 22.
Variety   30 Mar 1977.   
Variety   8 Feb 1978.   

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