The Duelists (1977)
Director: Ridley Scott.
Starring: Keith Carradine (D'Hubert), Harvey Keitel (Feraud), Albert Finney (Fouche), Edward Fox (Colonel), Cristina Raines (Adele), Robert Stephens (Gen. Treillard), Tom Conti (Dr. Jacquin), John McEnery (Chevalier), Diana Quick (Laura), Alun Armstrong (Lacourbe), Maurice Colbourne (Second), Gay Hamilton (Maid), Meg Wynn Owen (Leonie), Jenny Runacre (Mme. de Lionne), Alan Webb (Chevalier).
one man is obsessed with killing another, duel over a period of fifteen years covering the Napoleonic era
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A duelist is a man who demands satisfaction. This is a true story.
1800. Strasbourg. Napoleon has become the Emperor of France. A girl is driving ducks up a lane. She runs into a soldier. She takes a closer look and sees a duel in progress using swords. Lt. Feraud duels with and badly wounds a local man. The little girl becomes very frightened and runs back down the lane.
Gen. Treillard comes into the room filled with officers and demands to know who knows Lt. Gabriel Feraud of the 7th Hussars. Lt. Armand DíHubert says that he knows the man. The General tells DíHubert to tell Feraud that he is confined to his quarters under close arrest. The man that Feraud skewered was the Mayorís nephew.
DíHubert knocks on Feraudís door and a woman answers. She says Feraud paid a call on Madame de Lionneís place. At the Madameís place there is a musical recital in process. DíHubert comes in and tells the Madame that he has orders for Lt. Feraud. She points out where Feraud is. He goes over and tells Feraud that he must return to his quarters. He is under arrest. Feraud asks him "arrested for what?"
Feraud and DíHubert return to Feraudís quarters. Feraud takes a dislike to the "lackey" DíHubert. He claims: "Youíve insulted me." He then demands an apology. D'Hubert says this is ridiculous and that Ferazud is a madman. Feraud just tells him to draw his sword. He demands to fight right now in the garden. It seems DíHubert must fight. They do fight and D'íHubert cuts the right forearm of Feraud and then knocks him out with a punch with the right hand with the sword in it.
General Treillard also puts DíHubert under close arrest for dueling. His face looks terrible because Feraudís girlfriend scratched his face up after her boyfriend got knocked out. DíHubert talks with his doctor friend, who tells him that Feraud intends to kill DíHubert. His advise is to keep away from him; keep ahead of him; and put your trust in Napoleon Bonaparte.
After six months of hard campaigning, there was a period of peace. Lt. Feraud looks for Lt. DíHubert. Feraud finds him and follows behind him, but leaves when an old love of DíHubert named Laura stops him on the street to talk. They catch up on some gossip. Jacques was killed at Marengo; Simon is still in Egypt. Laura and Armand kiss. She tells him: "You are the one I always wanted." He laughs.
Feraudís dueling second talks with Armand to tell him where the next duel will take place. The men meet in a large green field. Armand has a cold. Lt. Feraud wounds DíHubert in the right chest. His seconds tells Feraudís seconds that Armand is unable to continue. Before Feraud leaves, he shouts at Armand: "Next time, DíHubert!"
Laura bathes Armand. Later he dines with Laura. Lt. Feraud comes by and Laura seems to recognize him. Armand asks her if she knows the man and she says yes. Another duel is looming. One of his friends says: "The only way out is to go through with it."
Laura goes to see Lt. Feraud. She finds his tent and goes in. He is there with a lot of people. She tells him that nobody knows why he fights, but she thinks Feraud feeds his spite on DíHubert. Feraud gets mad and insults her. She calls him a blood sucking louse. She says she only came to have a look at him. She leaves.
Laura tells Armand that there is a fellow who wants to marry her. Armand just tells her to marry him. She is not too happy with that idea.
Armand takes some swash buckling classes with a tutor. Laura goes to a card reader and asks: "Do I leave the two of them behind?" She writes "goodbye" on Armandís sword and leaves.
Armand and Gabriel are in another duel. This one is with sabers and they whack away at each other. They have lots of small cuts on them and their shirts are torn and bloody. They become so exhausted that they fall toward each other and start wrestling. This is when the seconds rush in and stop the duel. Gabriel protests: "Iím not hurt!" Armand, however, is hurt. He has a gash on his upper right arm.
Armand has to go see the General again, who tells Armand: "Sit down before you fall down." He tells Armand that he will fight no more duels under his command. He also tells Armand that his Colonel thinks he is fit to command a troop.
Lubeck 1806. Five years have passed. The map of Europe has changed. In a tavern Armand goes upstairs to visit with a friend. His friend, however, has to tell him that Freaud is behind him. Armand is a captain now and he asks if Feraud is a captain. Unfortunately, he is so they can duel since they are the same rank. Armand tells his friend that he will soon be on the staff of Marshal Bernadotte with the rank of major. And now he has two weeks of leave. He starts to quietly leave the place, when one of Feraudís friends sees him and remembers him. And so up pops Feraud. Another duel will be set up.
On his way to the duel Armand runs into Laura again. She asks him: "Why werenít you killed at Elsingham?" She says her husband Martin died of typhus last July. Armand says he is very sorry for her loss. Now she is a lady of the garrison, a camp follower. Armand tells her to go back to France. She realizes that he is soon to fight another duel and is disgusted with him. She tells him: "This time heíll kill you!"
This time the duel will take place on horseback. His friend tells him that the regiment expects it. After all, with so many duels, Armand is a "man of reputation". He tells him to think of himself as fighting on parade. Armand is disgusted with the interest in his duel. He says: "Iím going to be killed as a compliment to the cavalry." His friend retorts about his rival: "Damn it, kill him!"
The two men on horseback charge each other. Armand wins as he gives Gabriel a very nasty cut on the top of his head where the blood profusely flows down into his eyes. The duel is discontinued! Gabriel is posted to Spain, while Armand remains in Europe.
Russia. 1812. Men lay on the ground by the road frozen to death. Other French soldiers keep slowly walking along the road. Resting by a fire at night, Armand sees Gabriel nearby. In the morning Gabriel asks for volunteers to go after the Cossacks in the woods. Only Armand volunteers to go with him.
A large Cossack man on horseback comes up and starts laughing at the two officers. Gabriel shoots the man off his horse and then he cuts the Cossackís throat. They chase the three other Cossacks away by shooting at them. Armand shouts to Gabriel: "Next time with pistols!" Armand comments that by tomorrow with any luck they will be across the River Niemen.
Tours. 1814. Armand walks with his two nephews in front of a large mansion. The boys asks him questions about fighting and Bonaparte. He is living with his sister Leonie and she really wants him to marry Adele who lives at Valmassique across the way. She is raven-haired.
Armand goes over to Valmassique. He runs into a man making shoes. He says to him he is looking for the head of the family, the Chevalier de Riverol. The shoe maker turns out to be the Chevalier. And the good man wants to make his neighbor a good pair of boots. Armand gets just a quick glimpse of the manís daughter.
Speaking with his sister, he tells her that he did not see Adele, but sister informs him that he certainly did, even if he doesnít fully realize it now. Leonie then tells him that they are all coming over from Valmassique. When they arrive Armand and Adele take a walk followed by two chaperones.
During their talk Armand tells her that he loves her. He proposes marriage to her and she tells him yes. Later, speaking with his sister, he says Adele is very young. Sis tells him that heís in love.
Napoleon has come back from Elba. One of Napoleonís officers, a Colonel, comes to General Armand DíHubert and tells him that he surely would not turn down the opportunity to lead a brigade. But Armand tells the man that he is just not interested. The talk turns to Gen. Feraud. The visitor tells Armand that Feraud said that he dueled with Armand for the honor of the Emperor. He maintains that Armand never supported the Emperor. In fact, he never actually liked Napoleon. In retort, Armand tells the visitor to ask Feraud about Madame de Leonne.
The visitor returns to Feraud, who now says that Armand told him: "For all I care, they can spit upon Napoleon Bonaparte." He adds that DíHubert is a turncoat. But in less than 100 days, Napoleon is defeated. Louis XVIII is the new king.
Armand has been summoned to attend upon Marshall St. Cyr in Paris with a command in the Kingís Army. But it is the wedding day of Armand and Adele and itís time to cut the cake.
Paris 1816. Armand talks with the Colonel who tried to recruit him to help Napoleon on his return from Elba. The Colonel tells Armand that Feraud was arrested. Heís on the "butcherís list" he says and is completely at the mercy of Fouche. He will be tried for treason. Feraud is as good as dead.
Armand goes to see Fouche. He tells him to remove Feraudís name from the list. Fouche says that man is so foolish he virtually talked his way onto the list. Fouche accommodates Armand. He tells him that Feraud will live, but he will be under constant police supervision. Fouche lets Armand personally cross out Feraudís name off the list.
Back home, Adele is pregnant.
Feraud learns that Armand is to take command of the Fifth Brigade. Not long afterward the second sof Feraud arrive on Armandís land. They want to set up the next duel. Armand says he has no friends, so the second man of Feraudís team says he will serve as the second for Armand. Armand says that the duel will take place right here on his land tomorrow morning. The men agree.
Armand slips out without arousing Adeleís suspicions. When Feraud and his men arrive, Armand tells Feraud that they each will have two pistols, they will start at opposite ends of the huge field and then basically "hunt" for each other.
The two men find each other. Feraud shoots at Armand, who plays dead. Feraud slowly crawls along the uneven ground and then jumps up and fires as Armand fires back. They both miss, but Armand has another shot and he is only five feet away from Feraud. Feraud shouts at him: "Go on, kill me!"
Armand returns to the house. Adele asks him where has he been? He just says he had to work late and then went for a walk. Meanwhile, Feraud walks along one of the country lanes.
Flashback to the duel. Armand tells the now defenseless Feraud: "You have kept me at your beck and call for fifteen years. I shall never again do what you demand of me. By every rule of single combat, your life now belongs to me. . . . I shall simply declare you dead."
The movie is enjoyable to watch. But from an historical point of view, it just has a thin veneer of history. It is just set against the backdrop of Napoleon's wars, but battles are just mentioned without any information. And you don't have to know anything about the battles, they are just names for the film. The behavior of Feraud can only be explained with reference to mental illness. He becomes obsessed with killing D'Hubert, even though the latter never did anything to him. Feraud just didn't like him delivering the message to him and so decides to kill him using the duel as an excuse. He seems a bit of a sadist in his love of killing. And why did D'Hubert never go to his superior officers and try to get Feraud arrested? D'Hubert was disobeying orders not to duel. Both men are strange tokeep dueling over a period of fifteen years. I'm glad that dueling is not legal anymore.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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