A gangster, a crooked banker, a hitman and an arab terrorist are stranded and on the run in a small village in South America. Their only chance of escape is to drive two trucks filled with unstable nitroglycerin up a long and rocky mountain road in order to plug an escalating oil refinery blaze. With their deadly cargo likely to explode at the slightest bump, the four men must put aside their differences and work together to survive.
A week into the shooting in the Dominican Republic, William Friedkin and his crew went to Los Angeles to process the film and view dailies. The director described the prologues as "beautifully shot", but he was dissatisfied with the jungle scenes which he deemed "underexposed" and "dark". He told Dick Bush a reshoot would be necessary. Bush, on the other hand, argued that filming should have taken place on a stage where he could have adequately adjusted the lighting. The response reminded Friedkin of his previous problems on the set of The Boys in the Band (1970) and offended him, as from the very beginning he had wanted to shoot the entire film on location. Upon seeing the underexposed scenes, Bush reportedly "lost confidence" and was subsequently dismissed, which forced Friedkin to employ a new camera crew. He replaced Bush with John M. Stephens with whom he had worked under David L. Wolper. Stephens applied necessary changes, including the employment of reflectors balancing "the deep shadows of the tall trees", as well as replacing lenses and film stock. This resulted in a leap of cinematographic quality which delighted the director, who has said "the locations looked beautiful to the eye". See more »
When Sorcerer is attempting to cross the dilapidated wooden bridge, a shot of the outermost log falling away is used twice. See more »
4 desperate men and two trucks called Sorcerer and Lazaro carrying a cargo of tempestuous explosives.
Sorcerer is directed by William Friedkin and adapted to the screen by Waldo Green from Georges Arnaud's novel Le Salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear). It stars Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Raba and Amidou. Music is scored by Tangerine Dream and cinematography by John M. Stephens and Dick Bush.
It bombed famously at the cinema, was a location shoot nightmare with rows aplenty between cast and director, and even recently a court case erupted over the film as Friedkin sued Paramount and Universal over ownership of the picture. A film with such a mystical sounding title, could it be cursed? All the shenanigans surrounding Sorcerer have sort of had it hovering around the "forgotten" bin, where were it not for the Friedkin purists and 1970s movie aficionados it would have dropped in and had the lid put on it. However, if ever a movie from 1977 deserved to be revisited and treated better on home formats, then Sorcerer is the one. Where in its complete two hour form plays out as a lesson in skilled story formation, letting us know how these guys came to be in the situation they find themselves in, which in turn gives way to utter suspense as desperate men fight nature's jungle whilst perched on the precipice of explosive doom.
There are a number of factors put forward on why Sorcerer failed at the box office. The title itself is a classic case of misdirection, the name given to one of the trucks in the story, it conjured up images of mystical and magical dalliances, it's safe to say that the film is a million miles away from that sort of genre. It also went up against the box office monster that was Star Wars, in comparison, and Friedkin readily admits this, it's dwarfed in production scope and cross demographic appeal. Then there is the matter of the "cut" version that did the rounds, where almost thirty minutes were chopped to allow more showings in theatres, without Friedkin's permission, the resulting film was a travesty of Friedkin's vision. Lead man Scheider, who is terrific, didn't want to promote the film, such was his anger at Friedkin cutting a subplot involving his character being shown in a sympathetic light. Have to say the director was right in keeping it grim.
Also there's the Clouzot's factor and his version of the Arnaud novel released in 1953. Much beloved by many a critic as some sort of sacred cow of French cinema, Clouzot's The Wages of Fear is a very good film, but hardly a masterpiece. Looking back at some of the reviews upon Sorcerer's release, it seems that some big critics of the day wanted to appear cool by lauding from the roof tops about a foreign movie and how it shouldn't be remade. Weird really since Sorcerer isn't a remake, it's an interpretation on Arnaud's source. Inspired by Clouzot? Undoubtedly, but it's not remaking his movie. They moaned about the good hour of build up, calling it slow, but I'm sure I remember it rightly that Clouzot's movie does the same thing, and that didn't have Friedkin's fluid camera and Tangerine Dream laying hypnotic synthesisers all over it.
Though the current Region 1 DVD of the film is full frame and grainy in print, the skill of the director, photographer and actors really comes to the fore. Film is often gritty and realistic and playing better now thematically than it did back in the 1970s. The locations are real and you are easily transported into the character's world, you feel the danger as nature and human bandits enter the fray; as if it wasn't bad enough with the case sensitive explosives in the back! There are risks at almost every turn, breath holding the order of the day, and the famous bridge scene is as good a sequence as 70s cinema has to offer (a logistic nightmare for Friedkin that required take after take to finish). All this only works because we have had the hour of build up previously. True, we may hanker for deeper character interaction as they traverse the perilous terrain, but this isn't about bonding, it's about men risking their lives for freedom and redemption. It beats a black heart and never once cops out. A truly great film crying out to be rediscovered by old and new film lovers alike. 8.5/10
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