“The duellist demands satisfaction. Honour,
for him, is an appetite. This story is about an eccentric kind of hunger. It is
a true story and begins in the year that Napoleon Bonaparte became ruler of
France”. (prologue of “The
Like many people, I watched this film, after
“Alien” and “Blade Runner” both directed by Ridley Scott. I was then very
impressed by the elegant direction of Ridley Scott in another universe than
Science Fiction. There are other movies about the Napoleon period, among them
we can retain “Napoleon” (Abel Gance / 1927), “War and Peace” (King Vidor /
1956) and “Waterloo” (Sergei Bondarchuk /1970).But, “The Duellists” must be regarded as a
special Napoleonic Movie because there are no big battle scenes, but rather a
lot of intimate and emotional moments. For these reasons it must be seen
separately from the above mentioned epics. That’s why I like it and choose to
write a topic about this film.
The Story : Young Lieutenant Armand
D’hubert (Keith Carradine) of the French 3rd Hussars is obliged in
confused circumstances to fight a duel with a fellow officer, Lieutenant
Gabriel Feraud of the French 7th Hussars (Harvey Keitel). Feraud is
implacably quarrelsome and will not let the affair rest; It continues in grim
and bloody earnest through four separate encounters. D’Hubert loses his
mistress (Diana Quick), repeatedly hazards his life gains notoriety which he
finds idiotic and unwelcome. Nevertheless, the Hussar’s code of honor holds him
trapped in permanent obedience to Feraud‘s savage whim and their feud survives
even the shared ordeal of the Russian campaign. After the war, D’Hubert returns
to his family, makes a happy marriage with Adele (Cristina Raines), and
salvages his military career. Feraud declines into lonely and vengeful
obscurity. Finally, he reappears out of the past that D’Hubert has half
forgotten and forces another duel. The last duel…
“The Duellists” is a film adaptation of a Joseph Conrad short novel,
“The Duel” (“Point of Honor” / 1908). This movie was shown two years before the
monumental epic movie war of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, “Apocalypse
Now” (1979). It is a historical drama film based on a true story which
has its genesis in the real duels spread over 19 years between two French
Hussar officers during the Napoleonic era and even after : “The general
Pierre-Antoine ComteDupont de
l'Étang and the general François Fournier-Sarlovèze”.
But above all, it must be noted that it was
the first movie directed by the acclaimed British director Ridley Scott(“Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Thelma and Louise” (1991), “Gladiator”
(2000), “Kingdom of Heaven” (2005) and “Prometheus” (2011)) !
In 1976, Scott, first known as a prominent
director of television commercials in Britain choose the Conrad’s novel for his
debut as a feature director. Enigma Production with David Puttman (“Chariots of
Fire” (1981), “Local Hero” (1982), “The Killing Fields” (1984), “Cal” (1984),
“The Mission” (1986), “Memphis Belle” (1990)…) agreed to produce the movie. With the help of Paramount Picture, Putman
succeeded in getting a budget of $ 900 000 ! (considering of today’s
inflation rate, we could multiply the amount by two or three…).
The first Scotts’ choice for the two
leading parts, were Oliver Reed and Michael York but the financial costs could not
afford to get them. After several months, Keith Carradineand Harvey Keitelbecame the characters of the two French
two talented American actors were joined by an outstanding cast : “Albert
Finney as the Minister of Police Joseph Fouché, Edward Fox as the Colonel
Reynard (a Bonapartist agent), Christina Raines as Adele (d'Hubert's wife), Tom
Conti as Dr Jacquin (an army surgeon and friend of d'Hubert), Robert Stephens as
the Brigadier-General Treillard, John Mc Enery as Second Major (Feraud's second
in the final duel), Diana Quick as Laura (d'Hubert's mistress), Meg Wynn Owen
as Leoni (d'Hubert's sister), and Alan Webb as Adele's uncle and
the narrator was Stacy Keach”.
Vaughan-Hughes (“Sebastian” (1968)) wrote a very great screenplay from the
Conrad‘s novel. The producers gathered a very fine team of technicians, Frank Tidy was the cinematographer (“Sweet Liberty” (1986),
“Under Siege” (1992), “Chain Reaction” (1996)…), Tom Rand (“The French
Lieutenant’s Woman” (1981), “The Bridge” (1999), “The Count of Monte Cristo”
(2002)…) was the costume designer, Susan Barrabel was the make-up supervisor, Paul
Nix was the hairdressing consultant, Rita Wakely was the wardrobe Mistress, and
Bryan Graves was the art director.
duels were superbly choreographed by William Hobbs (“H.M.S. Defiant” (1962),
“Cyrano de Bergerac” (1990), “Rob Roy” (1995), “Games of Thrones” (2011)…) and the
late and well-known military historian adviser Richard Holmes gave a very
helpful participation to the movie. Still today, the film is praised for its historically authentic portrayal of
Napoleonic uniforms and military conduct.
the film score, Scott and Putman”s the first and the only choice was, Howard
Blake (“Riddle of The Sands” (1978), “Flash Gordon” (1980), “The Snowman”
(1982), “The Snowman and the Snowdog” (2012)). Scott and Blake have been known
each other because they already worked before on a series of television
The Composer Howard Blake
with “War & Peace” (1952) and “Waterloo” (1970) (both scores written by the
great and famous Italian composer Nino Rota), “The Duellists” is one of the best score
ever written for a Napoleonic movie ! The composer told that he selected some concert
music of the period that he merged with his own music with a view to give the
feeling of a “source music”. Also, he used a large symphonic orchestra to
dramatize the romantic and tragic mood of the story and underline the loneliness
of the Carradine‘s character.
The Main Theme of "The Duellists"
composer described his work for the movie :
“The Duellists as the most visually exquisite
films I had ever seen. I watched fine cuts of each scene materialize, and would
rush home with one new inspiration after another. David (Puttman) and Ridley
(Scotts) gave me tremendous input and support, and a generous free hand. The
result of this intense collaboration produced what I consider to be my finest
film score ever”
the music, Scott said :
“In my first experience as a feature
director, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Howard Blake, who proved
to be a sensitive guide into the mysteries of film scoring. It was beautifully
evocative music for my film”.
1979, the director asked Howard Blake to compose the score of his next movie
“Alien” but the Twentieth Century Fox executives preferred the veteran composer
Jerry Goldsmith to him. Unfortunately, the two artists will not work again for
the big screen.
The photography of the movie is marvelous and Ridley Scott took the work of the
cameraman with the collaboration of Frank Tidy. Together, they did an
incredible job. The main locations used for shooting the film were in and
around Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne region of France. Never the Dordorgne
country was so beautiful with a great sense of poetry and a clever approach of the
naturalistic painting of the period. The result was so stupendous that the critics
compared “The Duellists” to Stanley Kubrick's “Barry Lyndon”.
Scott, “The Duellists” was a wonderful luck and he succeeded
very well. The reviews of the critics and the audience were good, especially in
Europe. But not in United States, because the film was considered as an “Art”
movie. Thus, the commercial impact of the movie on the international market was
limited. Despite, this ridiculous statement, “The Duellists” was nominated for
the main prize at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival and won the special Jury Prize
as best debut film.
Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel gave one of their best performances, alike, the rest
of the cast was just perfect.
“The Duellists” remains to me, a wonderful story and a
powerful movie. Every time, I watch this masterpiece it catches my renewed interest
as it would be the first time I see it because of its first-class cast, its
superb photography, its romantic score and its human drama …
Armand D'Hubert (Keith Carradine) : “You have kept me at your beck and call for fifteen years. I shall never
again do what you demand of me. By every rule of single combat, from this
moment your life belongs to me. Is that not correct? Then I shall simply
declare you dead. In all of your dealings with me, you'll do me the courtesy to
conduct yourself as a dead man. I have submitted to your notions of honor long
enough. You will now submit to mine”.
The Last Scene
Director Ridley Scott once said of the film's central theme of the movie :
"The one man played by Harvey Keitel is a prisoner of his own
hatred. He must kill or be killed. Keith Carradine plays the other man who is honor bound to fight. It
is a fascinating story of man's violence within himself".
P. S. : If you want to know more about “The
Duellists”, please refer to :
● Books :
“The Duellists” by Ridley Scott, the US
Press Book (In English), 1977, Paramount Picture, US. (This press book includes movie production
information, actors' and actresses' biographies, as well as, synopsis information
about the movie…).
“The Duel” by Joseph Conrad (in English), 2011,
Melville House, USA.
“The Duel/ Le Duel” by Joseph Conrad (in English and
French translation), 1998, Folio Bilingue, Gallimard, France.
“Le Duel” by Joseph Conrad(In French) 2010, Edition Sillage, Translation
by Marie Picard, France.
● Video :
“The Duellists” by Ridley Scott, 2003,
Paramount Picture, US DVD Zone 1, Ref. N° B00006JU7U, Widescreen Edition, NTSC,
1.85.1. Languages : English English (Dolby Digital 5.1) and French (Dolby
Digital 2.0 Mono). (Special Features : “A commentary by
Director Ridley Scott and the Composer Howard Blake ; A short documentary
(“Duelling Directors”: Ridley Scott and Kevin Reynolds featurette) ; "Boy
and Bicycle" (Ridley Scott's first short film) ; Photo Galleries and
“The Duellists / Les
Duellistes” by Ridley Scott, 2003, Paramount Picture, FR DVD Zone 2, Ref. N°
B000089QL7 / EU 100832, Widescreen Edition, Pal, 1.85.1. (This edition
contains the same special features than the US DVD issue).
● Music :
CD Promotional Album of the original score
of “The Duellists” by Howard Blake, Airstrip One Cie,N°AOD HB002, 2000, USA. (This album is paired with “The Riddle of
The Sands”, 33 tracks, Stereophonic Sound, Total CD Time : 73.54).
He was well known as the hysterical (and funny) chief
inspector Charles Dreyfus, the boss and also the worst enemy of the Inspector Clouseau (Peter
Sellers) in the series of slapstick Pink Panther comedies.
Like Anthony Quayle, he was a charismatic second role in
many great adventure and famous epic films : “The Ladykillers” (1955), “War
& Peace” (1956), “Spartacus” (1960), “El Cid” (1961), “Die Nibelungen Part
2” (1967) and “King Solomon’s Mines” (1985)…
So Long Herbie... R. I. P.
Here are some stills from
with Peter Sellers in "The Return of The Pink Panther"
(Blake Edwards / 1975)
with Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus" (Stanley Kubrick / 1960)
“Sphinx” is a very special movie. The Story takes place
in one of the most hypnotic, beautiful and mysterious place in the World :
This film is one of the most exotic romance and
thrilled movie that I have ever seen. It is both a tale of an ancient and
modern adventure which merges actual facts and old curses (the mystic of the
king Tut legend and the search of a lost tomb of the Pharaoh Seti I).
Many times, Egypt was taken by screenwriters as the
theater of many great adventures but in the case of “Sphinx”, the moviemakers
choose to speak about the secret black market of antiquities. It is why to me,
“Sphinx” is a very audacious movie.
The Story : A young brilliant Egyptologist Erica Baron (Lesley-Anne
Down) is researching some information about a forgotten ancient architect of
the Pharaoh Seti I, named Menephta. After her arrival in Cairo, she is shown a
golden statue by an old unscrupulous art dealer-shopkeeper, Abdu-Hamdi (Sir John
Gielgud) who is brutally murdered. A French journalist, Yvon Julien de Margeau
(Maurice Ronet) saves her from the murderers and tries to help her to find the
stolen statue of the Pharaoh Seti I. Thus, she becomes the target of the black
marketeers determined to keep their treasure for themselves. Only, the handsome
Director of Antiquities for UNESCO, Ahmed Khazzan (Frank Langella), tries to protect
her from all the dangers around and falls in love with Erica.
In 1980, Orion Pictures bought the rights of the Robin
Cook’s best–selling novel “Sphinx” (600 000 copies in hard cover). He was
also known like the successful novelist of “Coma” which a film adaptation was
made by Michael Crichton in 1978.
The Academy Award-winning director, Franklin J.
Schaffner, (“Planet of the Apes” (1968), “Patton” (1970), “Papillon” (1973) and
“The Boys from Brazil” (1978)) was approached to do it for the screen. With the
collaboration of the producer Stanley O’Toole (“The Boys from Brazil” (1978)),
he entrusted the screenwriter-director John Byrum (“Heart Beat” (1980), “The
Razor Edge” (1984)) with the writing of the screenplay. The veteran American director
was so involved in this project that he decided to serve as executive producer
and “Sphinx” became a Franklin J. Schaffner film for Orion Picture release through
Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker in "Valley of The Kings" (1954)
Like in the first chapter of the Indiana Jones saga
(“Raiders of the lost Ark” / 1981), the main character is again an archeologist
but this time in a realistic way. Some years before, the legendary actor Robert
Taylor portrayed an intrepid Egyptologist in the “Valley of the Kings” (1954), now,
it is the very talented and gorgeous British origin actress Lesley-Anne Down
who protrayed the leading part of Erica Baron who fought against a bunch of
vicious black marketeers. It was her fourth major role for the screen after
“The (First) Great Train Robbery” (1978/ See the topic), “Hanover Street” (1979) and “Rough
The very talented American stage and film actor
Frank Langella (“Dracula” (1979), “1492 : Conquest of Paradise” (1992) , “Dave”
(1993), “The Ninth Gate” (1999), “Frost/Nixon” (2008) and “Robot and Frank”
(2012)) joined her to portray the handsome and intellectual Ahmed Khazzan, who headed the antiquities
division of the United Nations.
Frank Langella with Lesley-Anne Down
The high class Shakespearean British actor, Sir Arthur
John Gielgud (“Julius Caesar” (1953), “Richard III” (1955), “The Charge of the
Light Brigade” (1968), “Providence” (1976) and “Hamlet” (1996)) played the part
of the mysterious Egyptian shopkeeper, Abdu Hamdi.
Sir John Gielgud with Lesley-Anne Down
The French legendary actor-director-writer
Maurice Ronet portrayed the now-good, now-bad journalist, Yvon de Margeau
(“Elevator to the Gallows” (1958), “Carve Her Name with Pride” (1958), “The
Talented Mr Ripley” (1960), “La Piscine” (1969) and “La Balance” (1982)).
Maurice Ronet with Lesley-Anne Down
Three distinguished actors
completed this unconventional cast, John Rhys-Davies (“Raiders of The Lost Ark”
(1981), “Victor Victoria” (1982), “Shogun” (1980) and “The Lord of The Ring”
(2001 / 2002 / 2003) played Stephanos Markoulis, a malicious Greek antiquity
dealer, Martin Benson (“The King and I” (1956), “Exodus” (1960), “Cleopatra”
(1963) and “The Sea Wolves” (1980)) was Mohammed, the evil chief of the black marketeers and the Jordanian origin actor,
Nadim Sawalha (“The Wind and The Lion” (1975) and “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985))
was Gamal the loyal assistant of Langella’s character.
John Rhys-Davies with Lesley-Anne Down
The cinematographer Ernest Day (“Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “A Clockwork
Orange” (1971) and “Mission Impossible” (1996)), the production designer
Terence Marsh (“Doctor Zhivago” (1965), “A bridge too Far” (1977) , “The Hunt
for Red October” (1990), “Basic Instinct” (1992) and “The Shawshank Redemption”
(1994)) and the Art Director Peter Lamont (“Sleuth” (1972), “The Boys from
Brazil” (1978), “Titanic” (1996) and “Casino Royale” (2006)) were hired by the
The movie was shot on location in Egypt, Cairo (The Cairo bazaars, the
Egyptian National Museum, the Sphinx and Pyramid of Giza), Luxor (the Valley of
the Kings and the Winter Palace Hotel) and in Hungary at Mafilm Studios, Budapest
for the interiors (the tomb of Seti I with her braces of gold–saddled horses,
jeweled thrones, golden warriors, presiding gods and idols, cases of jewelry
and true-color hieroglyphics incised on all walls). A one quarter of a mile
long tunnel was built in the Hungarian studios to collapse behind the racing Ms
Down for the impressive ending of the movie.
The Composer Michael J. Lewis
The brilliant and talented Welsh composer Michael J. Lewis (“Julius Caesar”
(1970), “Theater of Blood” (1973), “The Passage” (1979)) was hired to write the
musical score. His romantic music is one of my favorite. Like Jerry Goldsmith (“The
Wind and The Lion” / 1975) and Maurice Jarre (“The Man Who Would be King” / 1975),
Lewis managed to merge ethnic instruments with a large symphonic orchestra. The
result was so marvelous that the Director and close friend of Jerry Goldsmith
stated of Lewis’ work : “This music could not have done better”. In 1982, the
two men will work again together on the very charming comedy with the famous singer
Luciano Pavarotti : “Yes Gorgio”.
A Tribute to Michael J. Lewis (13:57)
In 1995, the composer produced and conducted several symphonic suites from
his best scores (“Sphinx”, “Theater of Blood”, “The Passage”, “Julius Caesar”…)
in a spectacular double CD Album : “Orchestral Film Music of Michael J. Lewis -
The first twenty-five years (1969/1994)”. Also, a promotional CD Album of the
complete score of “Sphinx” was produced by the composer with extra cues.
Another Tribute (10:00)
Today, it is difficult to understand why such a versatile composer doesn’t work
more for the big screen ? This is a complete mystery to me. Nevertheless, if
you want to know more about this great artist you can hear some of his works, on
his official website (see the link hereunder) !
It is well known that the professional conscience obliges everybody to do
his best, but in the case of “Sphinx”, we can say that Lesley–Anne Down gave more
than a fine performance. In fact, we have the feeling that “she gave her soul” to
this movie. Of course, although people can think, she has never opened an
archeologist book, we believe in her character. After all, it is the work of an
actor to make us believe that he is on the screen. In addition to that, we
cannot disregard that the clever direction of the versatile Schaffner probably helped
her very much, in finding where she was the best.
The elegant Frank Langella was just perfect in his part and his “duo” with
Miss Down worked on the screen very well. My only regret is that they didn’t make
another movie together. Maurice Ronet and Sir John Gielgud, like always, were
very convincing in their parts.
Despite the bad response from the critics and audience at that time, I have
the feeling that “Sphinx” must be rediscovered and could become a “cult” movie.
There are very good moments in this film, especially during the second hour (Erica’s
escape from the black marketeers’ trap and the discovery of the golden chambers
of Seti I).
A short scene from the Movie (3:35)
“Sphinx” is a splendid romantic story including all the ingredients of the
epic qualities of the thriller, with an international cast at its best sustained
by a very great symphonic musical score, in an exotic location. For all these
reasons, this movie should have deserved a better welcome. I hope you will
share this opinion and enjoy it…
P. S. : If you want to know more about
“Sphinx”, please refer to :
● Books :
“Sphinx” by Robin Cook (in English),
1979, Mass Market Place, USA.
“Sphinx” by Robin Cook(In French), 1981, J’ai Lu - Edition
Illustrée ; N°1219 ; Paris ; France. (This book includes some black & white photos from
“Sphinx”, the US Press Kit (In English),
1981, Orion Picture, US.
(This press kit includes photos, movie production
information, actors' and actresses' biographies, as well as, synopsis information
about the movie…).
“Sphinx” , the French Press Book (In
French), 1981, Warner Bross Inc/Orion Picture Cie, France. (This press book includes some color
photos from the movie).
“Sphinx” , the Japanese Program (In
Japanese), 1981, Warner Bross Inc/Orion Picture Cie, Japan. (This program includes some black &
white and color photos from the movie). A rare Interview of Michael J. Lewis : Soundtrack, Vol. 17 / N°65, March 1998.
● Video :
by Franklin J. Schaffner, 2010, Warner Bross, US DVD All Zone