The Wages of Fear (1953) – Henri-Georges Clouzot

The 101 Action Movies has brought me another film I’d never heard of, and am now scratching my head over how I could ever have missed it.

Clouzot has crafted a tense, nail-biter of a film, that is just as telling today as it was when it was first made.

In a tiny village in South America, poverty, and hunger are rampant. You can only get out-of-town if you have enough money to fly out, but there are no jobs that pay. A group of men have been stranded there for far too long, and are looking for anyway to get out.

When an American oil company learns that one of its derricks is alight, and money being lost by the second, they hire four of the men, Mario (Yves Montand), Mr. Jo (Charles Vanel), Luigi (Folco Lulli) and Bimba (Peter van Eyck). Their mission, with a payday of $2000 each, enough for them to get out of South America and back home, is to drive a pair of trucks loaded down with nitroglycerin (the plan is to use the explosion to cap the site), to the derrick, some 300 miles away. The roads are unsafe, the cargo easily disturbed, and time is short… Buckle up.

luigimarioThe film spends the first 40 minutes just introducing us to the characters, setting up their conflicts, and their problems. After the four our selected, you can’t take your eyes off the screen as the journey begins, and Clouzot exploits your emotions and the tension to keep you on edge for the rest of the film.

Who will live? Who will die? And who will break first?

With reaction shots, inserts, and a good use of sound, the journey to the derrick is laid out before the viewer, and you don’t ever take your eyes off the road.

Having to maintain extremely slow speeds, or fast speeds in some cases to make sure that their cargo isn’t jostled leading them to their end, our drivers deal with hairpin turns, rickety bridges, road blocks, cliff edges, and each other.

marioI won’t lie, for the first half an hour, I was a little unsure of how I would feel about this movie. I loved the fact that Clouzot didn’t shine away from showing the squalor the village lived in , or that the American outpost there seemed a luxury when compared to it, but I wasn’t quite involved with any of their characters and their stories. Mr. Jo comes across as a know-it-all bully, and Mario just seems to follow the scent of money, and treats the local bar girl, Linda (Vera Clouzot), terribly.

Once they are on the road however, I was completely captivated right up until the final frames of the film.

The tension that is woven into the film is done masterfully, close-ups of wheels starting to creep over the edge of the road next to a drop, the sound of wood creaking under the weight of the trucks, the knowledge that they can’t stop or they may get stuck, even if it means running down one of their own.

This one truly does stand the test of time, and had me on the edge of my seat…


Have you seen it?



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