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aka - Salaire De La Peur, La
France 1952
Directed by
Henri-Georges Clouzot
140 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Wages Of Fear

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film about a quartet of desperate men in some South American backwater who are hired by a US oil company to transport an urgent shipment of nitroglycerine through 300 miles of inhospitable mountainous countryside always rates highly amongst cinèastes (it won both a Palme D'or and a Golden Bear) and in its day did well at the box office internationally. The latter was probably for the impressively realistic staging of the perils of the journey which include notably, the turning of the trucks on a mountain's hairpin bend and, later, a fraught passage through a pond of spilled oil. Dramatically however the film is a lot less compelling.

Beginning with a scene which recalls John Huston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) a lengthy first act introduces us to the various disreputable characters and sets up the main act which is the journey itself. Much of this introduction is given over to establishing the relationship between Yves Montand’s Mario and Charles Vanel’s Jo as two tough guys who bond so quickly that one suspects some homoerotic implication, particularly as this puts out the nose of Luigi (Folco Lulli), Mario’s fat room-mate. These three together with Peter Van Eyck’s Bimba will become the truck drivers. Thrown into the mix however is the improbably gorgeous Vera Clouzot as the wife of an unprepossessing café owner. She dotes on Mario who for some reason treats her as if she were his moll.  (As the original French print ran 2 hours 11 minutes one assumes that some pertinent material was sacrificed for this version)

Once all this is out of the way and the film settles down to depicting the hazardous journey things improve although there is a still a limit to how interesting the adventures of four oafs can be. Clouzot's gambit here is to have Jo lose his bottle and turn into a panty waist (when the other three men celebrate blowing up an obstructing boulder by having a communal wee Jo is not invited) and this plays quite well to the business we saw between the two men at the film's beginning.

The short last act is at once nicely ironic and a return to awkwardness as back at the oil town the gang all break into song and dance on the news that three of the men are dead which presumably doesn’t matter because leading man Montand has survived. At least for a while. 

Although few critics would agree, for my money Clouzot’s film benefited from the 1977 William Friedkin remake, Sorcerer.which, like this film, was an arduous production.




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