The Wages Of Fear
Special Edition, The Criterion Collection
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In a squalid South American oil town, four desperate men sign on for a suicide mission to drive trucks loaded with nitroglycerin over a treacherous mountain route. As they ferry their expensive cargo to a faraway oil fire, each bump and jolt tests their courage, their friendship, and their nerves. The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur) is one of the greatest thrillers ever committed to celluloid, a white-knuckle ride from France s legendary master of suspense Henri Georges-Clouzot.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:
Restored high-definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Video interviews with assistant director Michel Romanoff and Henri-Georges Clouzot biographer Marc Godin
Interview with Yves Montand from 1988
Henri-Georges Clouzot: The Enlightened Tyrant, a 2004 documentary on the director s career
Censored, an analysis of cuts made to the film for its 1955 U.S. release
PLUS: An booklet featuring an essay by novelist Dennis Lehane
A big, masterly movie...it joyfully scares the living hell out of you as it reveals something about the human condition. --Vincent Canby, The New York Times
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It isn't perfect...I have a few issues with the plot, but I have no trouble recommending it to anyone who can find a copy!
In many ways Henri-Georges Clouzot's film is a bridge between the Italian Neorealism of the early 1950's and the French New Wave of a few years later. Even more obvious is its link to early Hollywood Renaissance directors Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, and Stanley Kubrick. Peckinpah pays homage to "Wages of Fear" with a similar introductory scene in "The Wild Bunch" and again in "Straw Dogs". Kubrick does it with "The Blue Danube" waltz in "2001", juxtaposing exterior shots of the moving space station with interior views of the stewardess serving a passenger (just as Clouzot cut between the truck cruising down the road and the party back in town). Penn was a little less obvious but the violent shifts between comedy and tragedy in "Bonnie and Clyde" can be traced back to a similar narrative technique in "The Wages of Fear".
Most of the criticism about "The Wages of Fear" comes because Neorealism presents a more stylized reality than classic Hollywood narrative. The intent is to bring the ordinary features of the world into better focus by exaggeration. Expressionistically imitating reality while announcing that what is being shown is not real, the belief being that the more real the imitation the more fraudulent. Thus the use of narrative techniques that actually call attention to themselves. So the process of Jo (Charles Vanel) becoming a hero to Mario (Yves Montand) is shown through a montage of brief disjointed moments of connection. And Mario's journey from idolizing Jo to disillusionment and back to idolizing is much the same.
Jo, Mario, Bimba (Peter van Eyck), and Luigi (Folco Lulli) are desperate men stranded somewhere in South America (probably Venezuela). They need money to escape so when an American oil company offers $4,000 to each pair of drivers willing to transport a ton of nitroglycerin (300 kilometers over poor roads) to a burning wellhead, they sign on for the job. Death could happen at any moment and the reactions of each man along the journey is compared and contrasted with what the viewer learned about them back in the village during the first half of the film. There is a certain foreshadowing as it is pointed out at the start that this is the kind of intense task where even the survivors will be permanently scarred emotionally.
The four are not heroes, just a mixed group linked by a willingness to value themselves at only $2,000. The oil company (an American one) is able to operate in this remote region because there is plenty of manpower who share this mindset. The film is more anti- capitalist than anti-American and whatever political message it had in 1953 is more generic today.
The cinematographer, Armand Thirard, keeps things claustrophobic throughout; in the dead- end town and in the cab of each truck.
Clouzot sets up his most suspenseful sequence, where the trucks must back up on the unstable wooden platform in order to get around a hairpin bend, by having the first (smaller) truck narrowly succeed, heightening the tension as the bigger truck attempts the same maneuver.
What establishes this as European art cinema is its willingness to break primary film conventions. Clouzot was free from the need for a happy ending and could let anything happen to his characters. Conventional narrative required that a character's narrow escape early in the film was because he had a purpose later in the story, but that is not the case with "Wages of Fear". You first realize the power this gives Clouzot when a stray rock rolls down a hillside toward a Jerry can filled with nitro. In this film such an ironic anticlimax is actually a real possibility.
If you liked the original "Flight of the Phoenix" you will enjoy this film. And if you are a Peckinpah fan it is a must watch.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.