fri 07/08/2020

DVD/Blu-ray: The Wages of Fear | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The Wages of Fear

DVD/Blu-ray: The Wages of Fear

Arguably the greatest action film ever. Watch from behind the sofa...

Suicide mission: 'Le salaire de la peur'

The opening shot sets the tone for what follows: a pair of duelling cockroaches attached to a string, tormented by a bored child. In 1953’s The Wages of Fear, we quickly sense that Henri-Georges Clouzot’s characters are similarly powerless. His multi-national misfits, marooned in an unnamed South American town, are effectively prisoners, scrabbling around for the money with which to escape a place which is “like a prison: easy to get in, impossible to get out”. The film’s exposition is overlong, but creates a sense of oppressive dread.

As with Hitchcock’s The Birds, the leisurely first act means that the ensuing shocks hit home that much harder, the set-up (taken from a novel by George Arnaud) being that a serious fire at an American-owned oil well can only be extinguished with the aid of two truckloads of volatile nitro-glycerin. The Americans realise that they’ve a ready supply of willing recruits to drive them, the depot manager stating bluntly that “these bums don’t have any union  they’ll work for peanuts.” Drive too quickly and the consignment will detonate, and the four bums chosen have just a 50/50 chance of success.

The Wages of FearYves Montand’s strutting Mario and Charles Varnel’s sly hard man Jo drive the first truck, followed by Peter van Eyck and Folco Lulli as Bimba and Luigi. What ensues is unbearably tense: who’d have imagined that a pair of slow-moving lorries could instil so much terror? Predictably, this isn’t an easy ride: bumpy roads, rock falls, and a pool filled with crude oil all play significant parts. The famous sequence where the trucks reverse onto a shaky wooden platform remains uniquely terrifying.

As the tension rises, the pressure tells on the protagonists. Mario’s apparent bravery tips over into brutal thuggery and the cocky Jo turns into a snivelling wretch, though one undeserving of the fate which later befalls him. Clouzot’s bleak vision still looks and sounds unerringly modern: Armand Thiraud’s gleaming monochrome cinematography and Georges Auric’s minimal score haven’t dated at all. And the film’s nihilistic close remains a shocker.

This BFI reissue gives us The Wages of Fear uncut in a new 4K restoration, and comes with generous bonus features. Adrian Martin’s commentary is insightful, and there’s a long audio-only interview in English with Yves Montand: recorded in 1989, the star discussing his distinguished career. The best extras include an account of Clouzot’s chequered career and a revealing interview recorded in 2005 with Clouzot’s hard-working assistant director, Michel Romanoff. We learn that the film was actually shot in the Camargue region of south-west France, and that the huge boulder which blocks the road at one point took the crew several weeks to actually push into position. There’s an excellent booklet too, including contemporary responses by director Karel Reisz and critic Penelope Houston.

Overleaf: watch the 1953 trailer for The Wages of Fear

Who’d have imagined that a pair of slow-moving lorries could instil so much terror?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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