Sunday, August 07, 2005

Movie Review: Wages of Fear

France, 1953
Running Time: 2:24
Rated: Not Rated (Violence, brief nudity)
Cast: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli, William Tubbs, Vera Clouzot

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Producer: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi, based on the novel by Georges Arnaud
Music: Georges Auric
Studio: DCA
In French with subtitles

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Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la Peur) is a film that embeds itself deep within the trenches of your brain’s every fold. Subsequent to an initial viewing, the film will surely cling to your thoughts and inspire you to indulge in its expert craftsmanship again and again. Its camera work is close to the cream-of-the-crop of the time, and its ability to close like a Shakespearian tragedy rather than a happily-ever-after tale, makes it far more rewarding than most of the stock stories that have followed.

The two-hour-and-twenty-four-minute running time abides by a fairly simple premise: four men must drive two six-wheeled trucks full of nitroglycerine for more than 300 miles. Once their task is complete, they will collect a wage of $2,000 apiece. On the downside, if the truck hits a bump too hard or the temperature gets too hot, the nitroglycerine will explode in atomic fashion. The two teams of men must maneuver their way through the treacherous terrain as cautiously as humanly possible in order to get the deed done.

The four brave, yet desperate, men to attempt this stunt are: Mario (Yves Montand), Jo (Charles Vanel), Luigi (Focco Lulli) and Bimba (Peter Van Eyck). All of whom are eager to “clear out” of the poverty-stricken town in which they currently reside called Las Piedras. The four men decide to risk their lives so as to gain an opportunity to live a better life elsewhere. Once the rickety wheels begin to roll, the four daring souls have a one-way ticket down a long, long road full of obstacles.

With director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s other masterful suspense thriller Diabolique, the man they call the “French Hitchcock” provides an excellent one-two punch. Despite Clouzot’s continuous use of wipe-away screen transitions, he uses the camera in a flawless manner—traversing the two trucks and their separate storylines, emphasizing the action that the men encounter, and intensifying the suspense that they undergo.

Wages of Fear is the absolute epitome of high tension and as good as it gets in terms of establishing trepidation. While the trucks do endure various accelerations and sudden stops, it is in every steer of the wheel and every loss of traction that the levels of nervousness are heightened. When considering films like Speed and its own 1977 remake Sorcerer, it is obvious that Wages of Fear is the granddaddy of all that is gripping.

For those who are unfamiliar with a bulk of black-and-white foreign films, this one will have you yearning for more. By the picture’s end you will most definitely have both a pair of white knuckles and a movie title to add to your list of favorites. Wages of Fear is a multilingual nail-biter, which proves that human beings can hold their breath longer than science perceives to be possible. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005