In the South American jungle supplies of nitroglycerin are needed at a remote oil field. The oil company pays four men to deliver the supplies in two trucks. A tense rivalry develops between the two sets of drivers and on the rough remote roads the slightest jolt can result in death.Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film was cut for U.S. distribution in 1954, in part due to scenes that denounced crooked U.S. business interests in Latin America. The Criterion Collection laserdisc restored the film to its uncut version with 21 minutes of footage removed from other versions of the film. See more »
The kind of film that instantly announces that it's the best of its kind
This is richer, tenser, more atmospheric, and in all ways a better film than Clouzot's next one, "Les Diabolique" - which is saying a lot. I've never understood why Clouzot isn't more highly regarded. Indeed, for a long time I simply couldn't believe that he wasn't.
One charge that hangs over his head is misogyny. With regards to "Les Diabolique" this is simply ridiculous; with regards to "The Wages of Fear", I can see how one could harbour the uncomfortable feeling that there is, perhaps, something in it. But what, really, does the evidence amount to? The fact that one of the heroes is inexcusably cruel to his girlfriend? It's not as if the film endorses this, or invites us to take pleasure in it, or even, for that matter, allows us to. The characters are all flawed, and the film doesn't seek to deny it. It does, however, make an attempt to explain it. That town in the middle of nowhere is, we feel, really in the MIDDLE of nowhere; it must be the dustiest and most demoralising place on Earth. After a while we feel as if we could start kicking someone, just to break the monotony.
There's no doubt that the initial monotony gives the rest of the film half its strength. William Wyler once said that if you want to surprise or shock an audience the best thing you can do is bore them half to death beforehand - and although I can think of absolutely no reason why this should be so, allowing for a little exaggeration, it's true. The seemingly aimless opening sequences help make every single frame, from the moment the nitro-glycerin is mentioned, electric.
So much is, in retrospect, amazing. There's the way Clouzot manages to show us the humanity in these seemingly squalid people. (Even the oil magnate, just when we think he's the world's most heartless capitalist, reveals he has a heart with an unexpected remark, and yet the remark doesn't feel at all out of character - it's the kind of masterful characterisation film-goers live for.) Then there's the obstacles these drivers must face. All are memorable; most are so perfectly realised they deserve to be called mythic.
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