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The Duellists

Theatrical release poster
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
Cinematography Frank Tidy
Editing by Pamela Power
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) December, 1977
Running time 100 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $900,000

The Duellists is a 1977 film, which was Ridley Scott's first feature film as a director. It won the Best Debut Film award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival.[1] The basis of the screen play is the Joseph Conrad short story The Duel (U.S. title: Point of Honor) published in A Set of Six.



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.


Historical basis

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.[2]

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 reception

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.


External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to Duellists article)

From Wikisource

The Duellists. (The Duellist) Fable VI
by Christopher Smart
From Fables.

             The DUELLISTS.            


What's honour, did your Lordship say?
My Lord, I humbly crave a day.—
'Tis difficult, and in my mind,
Like substance, cannot be defin'd.
5 It deals in numerous externals,
And is a legion of infernals;
Sometimes in riot and in play,
'Tis breaking of the Sabbath day:
When 'tis consider'd as a passion,
10 I deem it lust and fornication.
We pay our debts in honour's cause,
Lost in the breaking of the laws:
'Tis for some selfish impious end,
To murder the sincerest friend;
15 But wou'd you alter all the clan,
Turn out an honourable man.
Why take a pistol from the shelf,
And fight a duel with yourself.—

      'Twas on a time, the Lord knows when,
20 In Ely, or in Lincoln fen,
A Frog and Mouse had long disputes,
Held in the language of the brutes,
Who of a certain pool and pasture,
Shou'd be the sovereign and master.
25 Sir, says the Frog, and d---n'd his blood,
I hold that my pretension's good;
Nor can a Brute of reason doubt it,
For all that you can squeak about it.
The Mouse averse to be o'erpower'd,
30 Gave him the lie, and call'd him coward;
Too hard for any frog's digestion,
To have his froghood call'd in question!
A bargain instantly was made,
No mouse of honour could evade.
35 On the next morn, as soon as light,
With desperate bullrushes to fight;
The morning came—and man to man,
The grand monomachy[1] began;
Need I recount how each bravado,
40 Shone in montant and in passado;[2]
To what a height their ire they carry'd,
How oft they thrusted and they parry'd;
But as these champions kept dispensing,
Finesses in the art of fencing,
45 A furious vulture took upon her,
Quick to decide this point of honour,
And, lawyer like, to make an end on't,
Devour'd both plaintiff and defendant.
Thus, often in our British nation,
50 (I speak by way of application)
A lie direct to some hot youth,
The giving which perhaps was truth,
The treading on a scoundrel's toe,
Or dealing impudence a blow,
55 Disputes in politics and law,
About a feather and a straw;
A thousand trifles not worth naming,
In whoring, jockeying, and gaming,
Shall cause a challenge's inditing,
60 And set two loggerheads[3] a fighting;
Meanwhile the father of despair,
The prince of vanity and air,
His querry, like an hawk discovering,
O'er their devoted heads hangs hovering,
65 Secure to get in his tuition,
These volunteers for black perdition.



First published in The Gentleman's Magazine (Aug. 1754). Reprinted 1773, 1791. Title: The Duellist (1791).

  1. 38. monomachy: single combat.
  2. 40. montant and in passado: terms for sword-strokes in fencing.
  3. 60. loggerheads: thickheads, fools.
PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


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