It’s hard to imagine today, but a significant set-piece (the finale, no less!) of an acclaimed director’s work was once considered “stock footage” that could be regurgitated in a fairly low-budget television series. While it was Steven Spielberg‘s first film, Duel has since gone on to achieve something of a cult status. But in 1978, it was still considered a television special, and fair game for use in The Incredible Hulk TV show, as they were both under the Universal umbrella.
Duel was actually an ABC “movie of the week,” first televised in 1971. While a section of a movie or show can be considered stock footage if it doesn’t involve principal actors, Duel’s “stars” are the car and truck. In the days before the prolific use of CGI, using stock footage of an explosion or natural disaster was a time and cost saving measure, and was standard practice in the film and TV industries.
However, The Incredible Hulk used 10 or 12 minutes of Duel footage, including; “one eight-minute sequence. It used approximately 218 cuts out of our film. The material was instantly recognisable, including the whole climax of our picture,” according to Duel’s producer George Eckstein, in a New York Times article first published in 1978.
Ken Johnson, the creator of The Incredible Hulk said; “Certainly most of the audience would not remember a seven‐year‐old movie…I was just trying to save money and shooting time, both problems in a six‐day television show…In retrospect, we probably used too much and would be more cautious in the future.”
“The principals in our film were the car and the truck,” said Mr. Eckstein. “Just as the shark is a principal in Jaws. I guess I’m most upset because there are not too many things you do in television that you can take pride in,” which is interesting to hear, as television (and attitudes to TV) has changed significantly since the seventies.
While Spielberg and Eckstein could not fight the use of the Duel segment on legal grounds, it did lead Spielberg to change his contract with Universal so that “no one can cannibalise my films and regurgitate them into some other show. I’d hate to see the mother ship from Close Encounters land on Laverne and Shirley five years from now.”
If you’re a fan of Duel, check out our guide to the best thriller movies.