A man who permits his honor to be
taken permits his life to be taken.
Joseph Conrad's short story The Duellists is about a relic of bygone years the gentleman's code of honor. D'Hubert, a well-bred and charming lieutenant in Napoleon's army, is challenged to a duel by Feraud, an ill-willed and obstreperous fellow officer. He insists that D'Hubert has maligned his character. There is also in his animosity toward him a hint of class hatred. And so they fight. Once the battle is over, Feraud insists on challenging D'Hubert again and again and again. In the next fifteen years, the milieu changes, the weapons are different, one is wounded, the other can't continue. Neither is killed.
Ridley Scott, a British director with over 3000 commercials to his credit, has fashioned out of this esoteric material a tightly structured, well-acted and cinematically alluring film. Details seem to interest Mr. Schott who has found some beautiful and scenic castles, villages, and fields to serve as a backdrop for the story. Keith Carradine as D'Hubert and Harvey Keitel as Feraud play their part admirably. There are also excellent supporting performances by Diana Quick as D'Hubert's lover and Cristina Raines as his wife, and Robert Raines, Albert Finney, and Edward Fox as military men.
The Duelists is a minor iflm surely limited in audience appeal by its subject matter. Conceding that, the movie still deserves out attention. It registers on the senses like a pointillist work of art, encouraging us to revel in its symmetry and relish its high regard for small details.