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The Wages of Fear

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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  • Posted October 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer



    Criterion's restored hi-def transfer of Henri-Georges Clouzot's controversial, visceral and prescient thriller still grabs the viewer by the throat for a breathless, nihilistic ride.

    This iconic film of suspense and despair was deemed "evil" by Time magazine during its 1955 US release. Based on the harrowing 1950 book by George Arnaud, it's a cautionary tale of the true blood toll of oil and greed.

    Filmed in 1951 and first shown in France in 1952, "The Wages of fear" (Le Salaire de la peur) is about four European men at the end of their ropes in a hell-hole of a South American village who accept a job from an American oil company to drive two trucks of unstable nitroglycerine along a treacherous mountain route to an oil fire.

    Clouzot, who made less than a dozen films including the acclaimed "Les Diaboliques" and "Quai des orfevres" never flinches from his vision. Although the first half seems a bit unfocused and meandering as we get to know our characters, the squalid S.A. setting and the uncaring, greed-driven, business-as-usual of the American oil company, the movie literally jump starts when the four hapless men hit the road in their two trucks overloaded with nitro. We know these men. And we ride with them and their emotions. Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck and Antonio Centa are terrific as the frantic, fraught drivers.

    There's a lot of post WW II existential angst in this tale and that's not surprising. After all, it is French and the ideas of Camus and Sartre permeate this film as they did the decade in which it was produced.

    My only memory of this film was a washed out video tape copy with impossible to read subtitles and later a faded 16mm print in film school.

    I've watched this Blu-ray version several times now and it is stunning. It looks like a print that just came from the lab. The black and white is crisp, with a wonderful range of grays, velvety shadows to silvery shimmers. And the subtitles are always easy to read and perfectly synched to the spoken French. The rhythm and meaning of the dialogue is not lost in the subtitles.

    This gritty film, devoid of sentimentality, follows men who live in fear. They know death is coming and yet continue with the task at hand until the end. Although my personal philosophy is not that of the drivers, it reminded me to relish the precious moments of life and to live it fully, bravely and in the moment.

    This is one in the rather small handful of great films in world cinema. It has never looked better. And it asks questions that are relevant today: How desperate are we in our need for oil? And what is the final price? Highest recommendation.

    Superior extras include:
    Interviews with assistant director Michel Romanoff, Clouzot biographer Marc Godlin and Yves Montand from 1988). A great documentary on Clouzot's career "The Enlightened Tyrant." "CENSORED," a revealing look at the cuts made for the initial 1955 U.S. release. And "No Exit," an insightful booklet/essay by novelist Dennis Lehane.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2011

    In regards to the official review

    Interesting how the corporate hack who wrote the official review does not even know the difference between Central America and the South American mainland. Venezuela is NOT in Central America it is on the mainland of South America. While the film does not name the country where the F! elese do you think it is !! Of course its Venezuela ! Then there is the usual laughable expression of dismay that the American oil company should be portrayed in a negative light. So how exactly should it be portrayed as a cross between GREENPEACE and AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL...NOT !! The actual historical and still on -going record of conduct is worse than the film shows a lot of horrible things have been done in the name of oil since this classic was made.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2013

    Definitive white-knuckle thriller Hyperkinetic contemporary ac

    Definitive white-knuckle thriller

    Hyperkinetic contemporary action movies pale in comparison to 'The Wages of Fear,' and contemporary directors would do well to learn from its grueling sustained tension. I always think of it as a film noir, in spite of the fact that the last two-thirds of the narrative progress in the glaring sunlight of an unforgiving, arid landscape. The nihilistic darkness of Clouzot's vision must have been too much for audiences of the 1950s, but seems perfectly suited to our modern sensibilities. It's a movie that richly deserves to be rediscovered. Just remember to sit down to watch the DVD with an empty bladder, because once you get hooked in, you won't want to put it on 'Pause' for anything!

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    Posted October 30, 2011

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