The Truck Driver is the main antagonist of the 1971 short story Duel by the late Richard Matheson, and the 1971 television film of the same name, which is Steven Spielberg's first directed film. He is the nameless and unseen driver of a large rusty 1955 Peterbilt 281 gasoline tanker truck.
He was portrayed by the late Carey Loftin.
The film's protagonist named David Mann (while traveling on a freeway) gets chased by a big truck whose driver, for no explained motive, wants to kill him. The driver seems to attract victims by purposely driving slowly in order to make them overtake him. Once his victim has passed him, he then speeds up and forces his victims off the road, typically killing his victim. The movie focuses on the thrilling car chase.
The driver is never fully shown to the audience; only his feet and his arm (when waving Mann) are shown, but the rest of his body is a mystery.
The driver's motives are unexplained. He seems to stalk Mann for the thrill. For example, he usually does not attack Mann when he is out of his car, unless to scare him and get him back in the chase. Also, the truck attacks only Mann, and no one else, since it considers him to be his prey, and wants to achieve the chase.
The driver of the truck also assists other drivers, excluding Mann himself, when they are in distress. In one scene, a school bus has stalled and only after Mann fails to start the bus, the truck driver helps the stranded school bus by push starting it with his truck. However, this may be a form of mockery at Mann for failing to assist the bus himself - or so he could possibly resume attacking him without distractions.
In the movie, the driver's only target seems to be David Mann, although there are numerous license plates on the bumper of the truck, implying that the driver had several previous victims. The driver is also willing to put other drivers in danger in order to kill Mann, as seen early in the movie when the driver signals Mann to overtake him, while unbeknownst to Mann there is another driver heading in the opposite direction.
After a long chase, Mann tricks his enemy to run into his car, creating a large fireball that blinds the truck driver's view when he collides with Mann's car. The truck driver realizes too late that he is heading for a cliff. He then pulls his air horn and activates the emergency brake, with little success and the truck plummets down the side of the cliff, destroying it and killing the driver.
- Richard Matheson got the inspiration for the short story when he was tailgated by a truck on his way home after a golf match on November 22, 1963, the same day as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
- In the novel, the driver is named Keller.
- According to Stephen Spielberg, the truck's animal-like roar that can be heard as it drives off the cliff at the climax is meant to imply something supernatural about the truck and its driver.
- It's even been theorized that the truck itself is alive, similar to Christine or The Car, this is supported by the fact that the truck is moving at unnaturally fast speeds, even keeping up with Mann when Mann is driving a very lightheavy Plymouth Valiant, even with a heavy trailer attached to it.
- This roar was later used in Jaws when the shark sank to the bottom of the sea after Brody kills it.
- The roar was a sound effect that was originally used for a Tyrannosaurus in the 1957 CinemaScope film The Land Unknown.
- When the truck plunges down the cliff, the driver door can be seen opening as the driver attempts to escape. By the blood seen in the wreckage, he was unable to escape in time.
- This was how Carey Loftin avoided certain death during the filming. The machinery used to keep the truck moving failed, so Loftin decided to drive the truck for the shot before jumping out at the last second. The fake blood was added to make it look like he was killed.
- The truck itself also makes a cameo in the 2004 action film Torque, where it is shown nearly hitting one of the bikers used by the Reapers.
- David Mann's car is also shown in the film, also being chased by the truck.