Updated: 23 August, 1997



British born director, studied art and film at the Royal College of Art, London. His 10 years making commercials, his art school training and the fact the in the mid-1960s Scott worked for BBC Television as a set designer, have led many critics to argue that he favours visual "prettiness" at the expence of plot and character in his films. RS began directing TV shows ("Z Cars" and "The Informer") and after 1967 hundreds of commercials.


Scott spent 5 years preparing his first feature film The Duellists (1977), which won a special jury prize at Cannes; the acclaimed and original SF thriller Alien (1979); another SF film, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" - Blade Runner (1982), about a modern-day slave catcher hunting down sentient android slaves who yearn for freedom (the "Director's Cut much improved the original by dispensing with the voice over and changing the romantic ending); Legend (1985); Someone to Watch Over Me (1987); the popular hit thriller Black Rain (1989) (no relation to Imamura's film) set in New York and Tokyo with stunning urban shots; the "feminist" buddy movie Thelma and Louise (1991); and the commercial failure 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) about Columbus' "discovery" of America made to celebrate the 500th anniversary.


The Novel

Joseph Conrad, "The Duel" (1908) in Stories and Tales of Joseph Conrad (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1968).

Conrad begins his short story "The Duel" in the following way:

Napoleon I., whose career had the quality of a duel against the whole of Europe, disliked duelling between the officers of his army. The great military emperor was not a swashbuckler, and had very little respect for tradition.

Nevertheless, a story of duelling, which became a legend in the army, runs through the epic of imperial wars. To the surpise and admiration of their fellows, two officers, like insane artists trying to gild refined gold or paint the lily, pursued a private contest through the years of universal carnage. They were officers of cavalry, and their connection with the high-spirited but fanciful animal which carries men into battle seems particularly appropriate. It would be difficult to imagine for heroes of this legend two officers of infantry of the line, for example, whose fantasy is tamed by much walking exercise, and whose valour necessarily must be of a more plodding kind. As to gunners or engineers, whose heads are kept cool on a diet of mathematics, it is simply unthinkable. (Conrad, "The Duel," p. 33)


Meaning of the Title

A reference to the protagonists in Conrad's short story "The Duel" who carry on a private feud in the midst of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars; also by extension a reference to the self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon and his monarchical opponents "duelling" for control of Europe; and perhaps also a reference to the similarity between private duelling and war in general.


  • the aristocratic officer, Lt./General Armand D'Hubert - Keith Carradine
  • the common-born officer, Lt./General Gabriel Feraud - Harvey Keitel
  • Fouche - Albert Finney
  • the Emperor's emissary - Edward Fox
  • Laura - Christina Raines
  • Commanding officer of the 7th Hussars - Robert Stevens
  • the regimental doctor - Tom Conti

Two officers in Napoleon's 7th Hussars, one of noble birth with connections (D'Hubert), the other common born (Feraud), rise up through the ranks as the wars progress until the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy put an end to their careers. Although their paths do not cross very often, whenever they meet they fight a duel (swords, pistols), the continuation of some earlier slight which neither seems able to remember exactly.


V.G. Kiernan, The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy (Oxford University Press, 1989). Chap. 1 "The Problem of the Duel," pp. 1-18; Chap. 18 "Epilogue and Retrospect," pp. 315-32.

See the website on Duels and Dueling by Tim Spalding.


1. The visually striking picture postcard style RS uses.

2. Kiernan's argument that duelling and war "had the same function on a grander scale". Conrad says of Feraud: "A mere fighter all his life, a cavalry man, a sabreur, he conceived war with utmost simplicity, as, in the main, a massed lot of personal contests, a sort of gregarious duelling." (p. 86)

3. The common fantasy of pacifists (Remarque, Tolstoy) that single combat between leaders should settle two nations' differences rather than forcing millions of ordinary men to fight and perhaps die.

4. The suggested parallels between the commoners Feraud and Napoleon and the 'chip on their shoulder" concerning those born to high station, i.e. the nobility.

5. The idea of private war within a much larger public war.

6. The nature of male aggression, why do men fight duels, go to war, fight in pubs on Friday nights, play football, get involved in "melees" in football games? Are these matters connected in any way?

7. The issue of honour and "getting satisfaction" when honour is slighted.

8. The use of anbother Conrad story "Heart of Darkness" by Coppola in Apocalypse Now (1979).

9. The interweaving of the 6 duels and major battles and occupations of Europe by Napoleon's forces:

  • Strasbouorg 1800
  • Augsburg 1801
  • Lubeck 1806
  • Spain 1808
  • Russia 1812
  • Tours 1814


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