The Duellists
Directed By Ridley Scott
Produced By David Puttnam
Written By Gerald Vaughan-Hughes & Joseph Conrad (Story)
Starring Keith Carradine & Harvey Keitel
Music By Howard Blake
Distributed By Paramount Pictures
Release Date(s) December, 1977
Running Time 100 Minutes
Filming Location(s) Aquitaine, France - Aviemore, Highland, Scotland, UK - Dordogne, France - Highland, Scotland, UK - London, England, UK - Sarlat, Corrèze, France - Sarlat-la-Canéda, Dordogne, France
Language(s) English
Budget $900,000
Proceeding Film Alien

The Duellists was a 1977 film by director Ridley Scott. This was his first feature film to be released, the film has won numerous awards including "Best Debut Film" award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. The story is written by Joseph Conrad who wrote the short story titled The Duel.


Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it features two French Hussar officers, Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) and Gabriel Féraud (Harvey Keitel). A misunderstanding between them over an initially minor incident becomes a quarrel that turns into a bitter, long-drawn out feud over the following fifteen years, interwoven with the larger conflict that provides its backdrop. At the beginning, Féraud is the one who jealously guards his honor and repeatedly demands satisfaction anew when a duelling encounter ends inconclusively; he aggressively pursues every opportunity to locate and duel with his foe.

As the story progresses, d'Hubert also finds himself caught up in the contest. He is unable to refuse Féraud's repeated challenges to duel or to walk away because of the rigid code of honour. The feud persists through the different campaigns of the Napoleonic war, and on into the period of the Bourbon restoration which follows. When the story begins, both men are lieutenants, and over time both rise through the ranks to reach the rank of General. At times Feraud and d'Hubert meet but are of different rank in the army, which due to army regulations prevents them from duelling, but whenever both are of the same rank and in the same place, Feraud immediately issues a challenge. Each comes close to fatally wounding the other, d'Hubert being critically wounded in a duel with small swords, Féraud later being slashed in a joust on horseback with cavalry sabres and both of them nearly killing each other in an inconclusive combat with heavy sabres inside a barn. During the retreat from Moscow, another duel (this time with pistols) almost takes place, but the two must act together to survive when they are attacked by Cossacks.

After the fall of Napoleon, d'Hubert marries and becomes a respected member of the restored aristocracy and a General of Brigade in the new French Army, while Féraud is an embittered member of the anti-monarchist party. Poor and despised, he rejoins Napoleon after the Emperor escapes from Elba (while d'Hubert refuses to take part in Napoleon's return), but his hopes are dashed after the Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon's final exile to St. Helena. Forced to live under supervised conditions in a country village (unknown to Feraud, d'Hubert, by interceding with Minister Joseph Fouche, was responsible for Feraud's not being executed for being "a rabid Bonapartist"), Feraud still tracks d'Hubert down and challenges him, although he no longer truly remembers, or has conveniently altered, the reason for the perceived injury to his honor.

The final duel is a pursuit through a ruin with each of the protagonists armed with a pair of duelling pistols. When Féraud misses his second shot, d'Hubert immediately seizes the initiative and corners Féraud at gunpoint. Féraud is completely defenceless, with no hope of escape. However, instead of firing, d'Hubert coldly informs Féraud that he has decided to spare his life – on condition that, since according to the rules of single combat Feraud's life now belongs to d'Hubert, Féraud conducts himself in future as a "dead" person and must never have any further contact whatsoever with d'Hubert ever again. Féraud has no choice but to submit to these terms and he departs from the scene. The movie ends showing d'Hubert happily married and expecting his first child and Féraud contemplating the fact that he can no longer pursue the obsession which has consumed him for so many years.


After leaving for Hollywood to focus on creating feature films, The Duellists came up to him as his first feature film. With limited budget, there was no sets but everything in the film was real and existed by the time shooting began. To create the sparks when the swords clashed, the swords were hooked up to a battery to produce the sparks. It was reported by Harvey Keitel that he was heavily shocked more than once.

Ridley brought in composer Howard Blake to compose for the film.

During the scene where D'Hubert asks Adele to marry him, she starts to laugh. This laughter was not intentional. According to director Ridley Scott, she actually has a hard time keeping a straight face since one of the horses has a huge erection.

According to director Ridley Scott, Paramount gave him a list of four actors to choose from for the two leads, which he had to agree to in order to receive financing. Scott selected Carradine and Keitel, then spent several months trying to convince them to accept the roles

Michael York and Oliver Reed were considered to play the lead actors, but were unavailable for the shoot. Oliver Reed will go on to film with Ridley Scott on his final film appearence as Proximo in Gladiator.

Historical BackgroundEdit

The Conrad short story evidently has its genesis in the real duels that two French Hussar officers fought in the Napoleonic era. Their names were Dupont and Fournier, whom Conrad disguised slightly, changing Dupont into D'Hubert and Fournier into Féraud. In The Encyclopedia of the Sword, Nick Evangelista wrote:

As a young officer in Napoleon's Army, Dupont was ordered to deliver a disagreeable message to a fellow officer, Fournier, a rabid duellist. Fournier, taking out his subsequent rage on the messenger, challenged Dupont to a duel. This sparked a succession of encounters, waged with sword and pistol, that spanned decades. The contest was eventually resolved when Dupont was able to overcome Fournier in a pistol duel, forcing him to promise never to bother him again.

They fought their first duel in 1794 from which Fournier demanded a rematch. This rematch resulted in at least another 30 duels over the next 19 years in which the two officers fought mounted, on foot, with swords, rapiers, and sabres.

Critical ReceptionEdit

The film has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. In both films, duels play an essential role. In his commentary for the DVD release of his film Scott comments that he was trying to emulate the lush cinematography of Kubrick's film, which approached the naturalistic paintings of the era depicted.

The film is lauded for its historically authentic portrayal of Napoleonic uniforms and military conduct, as well as its generally accurate early-nineteenth-century fencing techniques as recreated by fight choreographer William Hobbs. The main locations used for shooting the movie were in and around Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne region of France.


The soundtrack is composed by Howard Blake, it is considered the most sought after film scores by Howard Blake. The soundtrack was later re-printed on October 8, 2001. The soundtrack is currently out of print and is considered by many soundtrack collectors as a rare piece.

Soundtrack Listings

  • 1. The Duellists-Main Theme
  • 2. Mme. deLeon's Salon
  • 3. Opening Titles
  • 4. Military Life
  • 5. Laura
  • 6. Armand & Adèle
  • 7. I Renounce Love
  • 8. Tarot
  • 9. Cellar Duel
  • 10. Cavalry Duel
  • 11. Jubilation
  • 12. Russian Winter
  • 13. The Chateau
  • 14. The Marriage
  • 15. The Challenge
  • 16. Pistols
  • 17. Final Duel in the Woods
  • 18. The Lonely Walker
  • 19. End Credits