The Duellists (1977) - Open discussion

This was Ridley Scott’s directorial debut in feature films, and it is a masterpiece. For those (unfortunate ones) not familiar with it, The Duellists tells the story of two calvary officers in Napoleon’s army who fight a series of duels against one another over the course of 15 years. Based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, it is an exploration of the lengths to which men will go to satisfy an obsession with honor.

Keith Carradine plays Armand D’Hubert, a dashing young Hussar with a good head on his shoulders and bright prospects. Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) is also a fearless and formidable soldier, but of the more hot-headed ilk. When Lt. D’Hubert is sent on an errand to arrest Lt. Feraud (for having fought a duel, naturally), Feraud’s response is – what else? – to provoke D’Hubert into dueling him. The film follows D’Hubert’s career as his rises through the ranks. Again, he displays a sympathetic character who conducts himself throughout with level-headed competency, yet his occasional encounters with Ferault inevitably lead him to throw all other concerns aside and engage in yet another duel. Even as he begins to understand what price he is paying for the pursuit of honor, he cannot bring himself to refuse. When informed by his “second” that the upcoming duel will take the form of a one-on-one cavalry charge, he mutters in helpless tone “I am going to be killed responsibly, on horseback, as a compliment to the cavalry.”

Although saddled by the studio with the casting of two relative unknowns in the leading roles (yeah, yeah, I know, but they were relatively unknown in 1977), Ridley Scott coaxes great performances from both. After a while, even the absurdity of Carradine’s breadbasket American and Keitel’s New York accent, surrounded by impeccably British actors portraying men and women of early 19th century France, disappears. The supporting cast, it should be noted, includes some stellar names, most of whom are really little more than cameos: Robert Stephens, Albert Finney, Edward Fox, and Tom Conti to name a few. While production values were extremely low, Scott filmed his little masterpiece in rural France, taking great advantage of existing structures and stunning scenery to create gorgeous screen pictures. The script is commendable not only for its compelling story, well-drawn characters, and tight structure, but also for the fine, literary lilt to its dialogue.

Never having seen this film up for discussion on this board, I thought I’d amend this oversight. En garde!

I’ve never seen it - but you have inspired me to go out and do so. :slight_smile:

Well, what can I say - it’s a great film which I’d like to see again. I have to admit I didn’t remember or notice all those great actors in it. The obsession with honour is very much of its time as far as Western culture is concerned; the same obsession still bedevils much of the rest of the world today of course.

That’s the problem with good films, they don’t make for very long threads.

Beautiful, beautiful film.
Check out the stunning ending (no spoiler) as a surviving character gazes out over the flooded valley and the sun breaks out of the clouds…magnificent, and pure luck, according to Scott’s commentary. IIRC he took over the camera from the existing camerman and managed to grab the shot.
Also worth noting that this film always gets a mention whenever people are discussing realistic sword techniques in movies.

Meh. I saw it back when I was a huge Harvey Keitel nut. I thought it was OK, and I agree that the scenery was excellent, but I don’t think the movie was all that.

Harv is a great actor, but he’s a type. When he plays too much against type it shows, and I believe he was horribly miscast as Feraud. Keith Carradine was OK, but his acting felt a little flat too. That said, Ridley Scott did the best he could with what he had, and I enjoyed the movie. A masterpiece, though? Nahhh.

Yeah, I think if I ever pick up The Duellists, I’ll probably try to grab Captain Blood at the same time.

Albert Finney’s cameo as the ex-Bonapartist, admitting/bragging that if he hadn’t been put in charge of making the list of names to be persecuted, he’d be on it

I actually like this aspect. I imagine Carradine’s character as respectable midde class, Keitel’s character as working class. Before the Revolution, neither of them would have dreamed of a military career. But by following Bonaparte, they both have the opportunity to become generals. And yet they find that the elevated station comes with a lot of strings.

Worth noting is that the characters are based on two real French officers named Fournier and Dupont, who fought numerous duels between 1794 and 1813, as they rose from Captain to General in rank. They had a written contract between them:

Wow. A lot of repressed homoerotic subtext entierly missing from the Ridley Scott version.

After repeated viewings, one aspect jumped out at me. D’Hubert’s lover, Laura, seems proud and happy of his scorecard as a ferocious and respected “fire-eater”. Until the moment when she sees Feraud with her own eyes. She admits to knowing him, though when she confronts him later, Feraud clearly has no idea who she is. So what is her connection to Feraud? Is he simply a lout who uses women and forgets them? Or is he the man she mentions who once beat a woman (of her acquaintance) to death?

I’ve seen this movie and was surprised by its power. I was however, ultimately sickened by how their “quest for honor” ruled and ruined their lives. I just couldn’t help thinking it was all a bullshit testosterone blowout. :rolleyes:

That said, any movie that can provoke such a reaction is a pretty good movie, in my book. You don’t have to like the characters to enjoy a well-made movie.

Interestingly, we saw the Netflix DVD just last week. You are correct, it was outstanding. Don’t know how I missed seeing it before.

In addition to the gorgeous outdoor scenes, the lighting of the indoor ones was also great.

Agreed. This is one of those rare films where you could hit “pause” at just about any random moment and find yourself looking at a frameable work of art.