Favorite Films: The Wages of Fear (1953)

Original French Poster

Original French Poster

Because of my broken shoulder, I took today off from work. (Tomorrow, I’ll work half a day and see the orthopedic surgeon in the afternoon.)

Fortunately, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel was playing Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 Le Salaire de la Peur (better known in the U.S. as Wages of Fear). In the whole history of cinema, there are relatively few action films that can hold their own with the classics. Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai is one of them, and I can think of several Westerns, including Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo that are real action classics. Think of Wages of Fear as France’s contribution to the genre.

Starring Yves Montand, the film is set in some unspecified Latin American country in which there is an oil well fire. The American Southern Oil Company hires four foreign drifters to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerin over horrendous washboarded roads on the theory that at least one of the trucks will make it. They are to drive half hour apart in case one of the trucks explodes.

Along the route, they meet a number of obstacles that up the excitement level to the boiling point. These include a sharp right turn forcing them to back over a half-finished bridge full of rotten boards, a huge boulder in the middle of the road, and crossing a huge puddle of petroleum formed when a pipeline is ruptured.

There were two remakes, including a fairly decent one by directed William Friedkin called The Sorcerer (1977) with Roy Scheider. But the French original is much better.