Steven Spielberg is a home-wrecker. Literally. In Sugarland Express, the foster parents of Baby Brandon have their home invaded and their windows smashed by the sniper team and in Jaws, we have Quint’s home The Orca wrecked and sunk by the great white shark but Close Encounters of the Third Kind takes domestic destruction to a whole other level.
Jaws was shown on ITV 8 October 1981, its UK television premier. A Saturday. I was 9 years old. 23 million others watched it the same night. Almost half of the UK population.
I came to Steven Spielberg's first film very late. Only a couple of years ago. I might have seen some of it on TV as a kid but I never sought it out and its fame was obscured by the mega-fame of the subsequent Jaws. But The Sugarland Express is a beautifully shot tragicomic road movie with a surprisingly dark undercurrent.
TV movies come with their own constraints. The budget is low; the schedule, tight and the ambition, narrow. Steven Spielberg got his shot with a Richard Matheson script based on Matheson's own experience driving home from a golf game the day JFK was shot. But Duel broke through a ten day shoot and the threat of Gregory Peck - his casting would have seen Spielberg booted off the project - to become one of the best TV movies ever made.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.