The Wages of Fear (1953)

The Wages of Fear (1953) movie poster

director Henri-Georges Clouzot
viewed: 03/05/2014

G R E A T    F U C K I N G   M O V I E .

On my 2014 trek through “great movies that I’ve never seen,” Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear is one that has earned that “great” epithet in a seriously big way.

Set in an unnamed South American country in the film’s present, the early 1950’s, a true post-war era, down and out European expats struggle in a small village where money is scarce and hope is even scarcer.  Yves Montand is the young good-looking Frenchman, scuttling about with other vagrant wastrels, wishing they could get back home.

The town’s only real business is an American oil company, the resident villains of the film, who run their tight ship and are the only game in town.  When an accident sets fire to the oil well, the Americans turn to the lowlifes of the town to see who wants to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerin across some rugged jungle and mountain roads to deliver the one shot at a knockout punch to the fire.  They won’t use their own men for this and they dangle $2000 at the men of the town, at which they all jump.

Clouzot ekes maximum tension and drama from these sweaty, greasy characters, Jo (Charles Vanel) the sliest coward in the bunch, Bimba (Peter van Eyck) the Teutonic stoic, and the genial Italian Luigi (the great Folco Lulli). Clouzot’s wife, Brazillian Véra Clouzot is the lovely, simple girl of the town (she also appeared in his classic Les Diaboliques (1954)).

For a film shot in the south of France, so much of the film builds a very authentic reality to its location and characters.  American actor William Tubbs is the manager of the drilling operation and his patter is just classic Americanese of the 1950’s.  The film is a bit of polyglot throughout, jumping between French, English, Spanish, Italian, German.  It seems a keen cross-section of the post-WWII world, dislocated, mixed up, and at the wheel are the callous Americans.

I don’t want to belabor a reading other than to say that this is an excellent, excellent film.  A tense classic, amazingly rendered.  Truly a great, great movie.

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