The Wages of Fear
1953, NR, 131 min. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Starring Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter Van Eyck, Véra Clouzot.
REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., April 10, 1992
One of the all-time great truck movies, The Wages of Fear was severely cut for American audiences. This restored version of the 1953 Cannes winner loses nothing in suspense, but gains in irony and bitterness. In its original American release, 43 minutes were excised which, in addition to entirely deleting one character, also removed references to homosexuality, anti-corporate sentiments and Central American impoverishment. The movie is set in a third world hell, a backwash where European losers are stranded without money to escape and with little hope of finding jobs. The only industry is the American oil industry and so it is the Americans who control the economy. The allegorical material gives way to the purely cinematic, however, when the four men are offered the only hope of escape in the form of a hopeless job. They are to drive two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine over treacherous South American roads and in the hot sun. Most of the movie is taken up by this nightmarish ride. Giant trucks roaring relentlessly while the men driving them struggle with their own ideas of courage and honor. Each man is locked inside his own existential dilemma. Working together, each man discovers the weaknesses and strengths of the other. This film, the inspiration for the less successful Sorcerer, is a textbook case of how to handle suspense. It has also been called the cruelest movie ever made and it certainly earns that title by the film's end. Clouzot, who also made the classic horror film Les Diaboliques is just a tad heartless in dealing with the audience. Nevertheless, he is a master of manipulation. Go see how it can be done.