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‘This Absurdity’
The Duelist by Ridley Scott, with Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine

This period movie, based on a period novel, follows the path of two men, a staff officer and a field officer, from 1800 through1816, basically following the course of Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign as emperor of a republic. In such a bald age of naked power before honor was entirely purged from European sensibilities, the character of the impetus dueling Hussar, played by Harvey Keitel is not entirely out of place. Nor is the studied staff officer, played by Carradine, entirely in place. Both rivals exist in a callous world of soldiers and whores and politicians and nobles, far rougher than our own age but far less tolerant of personal heroics than the ages that brought these qualities about in men.

The Duels

The first duel demonstrates why one does not use a small sword or rapier in mass battle, for retrieving the thing from a still living human thorax can be troublesome.

The second duel, with sabers was quite good and realistic. The stunt coordinator quite understood that the saber favors the tall man and the small sword the more tightly knit man.

The third duel, with small swords is instructive of the code of the duel as well as the nature of the small sword, which favored experience and skill over all.

The fourth duel, a brutal indoor saber duel, demonstrates the utility of stick fighting as a preparation for such sword work, as controlled blade play cannot tax the body as close to the real play of sabers, but the stick permits higher intensity and physicality. This was the original purpose of cudgeling, to develop broadsword, hanger and saber conditioning.

The fifth duel, a hussar duel with sabers on horseback, ends with brutal effect.

And finally, the duel with pistols, though unconventional, affords the more often offended antagonist a rare opportunity for honor and civility.

My absolute favorite scene was the Cossack fight in the Russian winter.

The “Oh, shit” nature of actual blade fighting, the dying code of honor of the day—with men retaining their humanity through ancient means in an increasingly inhuman system—and the rhythm of the Napoleonic Age, are all deeply conveyed in this rather odd story of two men alternately tossed on the tides or war and human folly.

The movie linked below is not the original, but appears to be a 2016 remake.

The Duelist

Of Lions and Men

Add Comment
DonFebruary 27, 2019 3:29 AM UTC

Back a few decades ago it was a major search to lay hands on Conrad's story which is the basis of the Keitel-Carradine movie.

The movie is about 95% true to the story's plot.

All in all, an excellent historical film and a first rate guy movie.
Tex AlbrittonFebruary 17, 2019 10:17 AM UTC

The LaFond says...

"The movie liked below is not the original, but appears to be a 2016 remake."

Your friendly neighborhood geek Jim Rockford is ON the case...


(at the tone, leave your name and message, and I'll get back to you)
responds:February 19, 2019 10:29 PM UTC

For some reason this was the only link I could find. I am interested in viewing his knockoff.

Thanks for the heads up, Sir.