May 16, 1983 12:00 PM

When this film first appeared as an ABC-TV Movie of the Week in November 1971, its director was an unknown. In the intervening years Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. have been unreeled, and whatever else you want to call Steven Spielberg, “unknown” is out of the question. “Money-in-the-bank” might be more like it, and this slightly altered version, shown in theaters for the first time, can only have been designed with that in mind. Not that the movie is negligible, especially for a TV film, and most especially for a first-time director. Written by Richard (The Incredible Shrinking Man) Matheson, it is a man-against-machine fable, with Dennis Weaver as a motorist who becomes involved in a life-and-death chase with a menacing diesel truck on a lonely highway. Weaver is terrific as the harried victim, and Spielberg, at age 23, was able to maintain the tension, despite the original TV commercials, and didn’t let the improbability of the tale weigh him down. The film still turns up on late shows, which is really where it belongs, but for those who have to go out to see a movie, there are worse choices than this. (PG)

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