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Wages Of Fear, The (1953)

 

 it really IS jump-out-of-your-truck suspense!
It really IS jump-out-of-your-truck suspense!

Genre: Drama Thriller (France, Italy)

Starring: Yves Montand (ZJean de Florette)Charles Vanel (Les diaboliquesTo Catch a Thief)

Directed By: Henri-Georges Clouzot (Les diaboliquesQuai des Orfèvres)

Overview: In a poor South American town dominated by the Southern Oil Company, a shipment of nitroglycerine is desperately needed to put out a massive fire. The SOC, without the special equipment needed to safely transport the explosives, offers four drivers a large reward to risk their lives to carry the deadly cargo up the mountain.

My desperate fear of spoilers keeps me away from much: the backs of DVD cases, magazines, even trailers. Having such a forced wall of silence makes it easy to take it one step further into a pure information blackout when it comes to the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die listers. Unfortunately this practice brings some unfortunate consequences, as is true of The Wages of Fear. Had I known about that incredible premise sooner, I'd have seen this years ago.
We begin in the small, poor South American town of Las Piedras. The major industry there is the Southern Oil Company (SOC). We meet our cast of characters, most of which are foreigners waiting for a break, waiting to get out of town or both. Soon enough an accident up at the oil wells sends the mountain erupting in flames with no way to stop the fire, save for a few hundred tons of nitroglycerine. SOC doesn't have any of the necessary nitro-transporting equipment, and no union would allow their employees to undertake such a risk. The SOC's answer is simple enough:
Bill O'Brien: The Hell with the Union! There's plenty of tramps in town, all volunteers. I'm not worried. To get that bonus, they'll carry the entire charge on their backs.
Bradley: You mean you're gonna put those bums to work?
Bill O'Brien: Yes, Mr. Bradley, because those bums don't have any union, nor any families. And if they blow up, nobody'll come around bothering me for any contribution.

The majority of the film revolves around our four drivers in scene after suspenseful scene of their treacherous trek up the mountain, each obstacle with its unique set of deadly trials. Rather than ruining those wonderful heart-thumping scenes with examples, I'll merely say that as thrilling movie scenes go, The Wages of Fear's suspense is a genuine tour-de-force, being by far the highlight and lion's share of the film.
The extreme situation these men put themselves into is an incredible catalyst for grand high-drama that expertly showcases character dynamics, particularly Mario and Jo. Mario plays a strong, young dedicated man who bravely embarks upon this mission. Jo is older, beginning his story as a sly, wise man who's picked up quite a bit of experience along the way. Aside from them, notable characters are Bill O'Brien the SOC man, drivers Luigi and Bimba and a nice added touch in the character of Bernardo, a kid with a visa who's just trying to earn enough to catch a flight out of town.
After watching this 131 minute film, I thought about how long I felt the first hour to be, feeling that much of the character building moments seemed to go on a little, including those of the mood of poverty and boredom inherent in the town of Las Piedras. Now I realize those moments served to add an uncommon dimension of social commentary and character. For a film that was already an incredibly exciting adventure, that first hour pushed The Wages of Fear out of the common two-dimensional thriller. The fact that this did so well in theaters at the time of its opening is indeed a testament to its value. The Wages of Fear without a doubt a film you should make time for before going to that big cinemateque in the sky.
Wages of Fear

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 84% (High Wages Indeed)
Aftertaste:

Criterion included some interesting special features on this The Wages of Fear Blu-Ray, including a segment on the parts that were censored by America in the original theatrical release. Naturally, ironically, these were all the best parts of the first hour. Seeing them strung together added an interesting context into the perceived anti-American sentiment surrounding this film in 1953. I recommend you stick around and watch some of those special features on the Criterion Blu-Ray disk.

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I loved this one far more than I thought I would. The opening is slow but necessary--the last hour or so is amazingly tense. Loved, loved, loved it.


Funny, I just saw this for the first time to - about a week or two ago. Like you, I was blown away. However...

 

(spoilers)

 

I was disappointed by the ending. Yeah, that's part of the point - you've been through so much with him, you really WANT the character to survive (a good thing, and hard to do as so many thrillers instill a more bloodthirsty mood). But even if they're going to kill him, it should have been done with more poetic irony. I thought they had left a canister on the side of the road earlier in the film (you know, the one they poured into the boulder to blow it up) and that he would accidentally hit it on his joyride back. We would have still ended the film with hearts sunk, but it would have felt "right" in some way. Him just going flying off the road for driving too recklessly, I thought, was a pretty weak way to wrap things up. Otherwise though, fantastic.


Dude ,  I really envy you getting to see this for the first time.  It's on of the great "first time" films.

 

Have you seen Clouzot's "Diabolique" ?  If not, check it out.


I have, remember loving it as an early film in my 'wait movies are more than 90s comedies?' development and I'm looking forward to seeing it again as a critic.

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