In 1953, before any American studio exec used the phrase "high concept", Henri-George Clouzot's The Wages of Fear boasted a premise so literally explosive that audiences were excited before they got into the theatres. With an oil-fire burning out of control deep in the South American jungle, two lorryloads of highly unstable nitro-glycerin have to be driven through miles of unstable terrain littered with dangerous turns, crumbling planks, falling rocks and mediocre hardtop. One good jolt will vaporise truck, nitro, drivers and a substantial swathe of the countryside, so the company recruits desperate souls among the loser tramps who loiter around the nowhere town of Las Piedras, begging for any kind of work.
On the road, Clouzot stages a string of unforgettable sequences: one stretch of badly paved track can only be crossed by driving at under six miles an hour or over 40; a mountain turn requires that the trucks back out onto a rickety, rotten wooden structure; a 50-ton boulder has fallen into the road, and one of the drivers calmly drains a litre of nitro into his thermos to blow it up, only remembering when the fuse is lit that this will rain pebbles all over the countryside and a few good hits on the cargo will set it off. This is perhaps as great a mix of action-adventure and contest as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and still a textbook example of sustained suspense.
On the DVD: The print is in great shape, though the image is a little soft; the menu has a clever explosive aspect and uses the same vintage artwork as the sleeve cannily combined with a snippet. There are trailers for both Wages and Clozuot's other masterpiece, Les Diaboliques, as well as biographies of the principal cast, eight stills and three posters.--Kim Newman
DVD Special Features:
Original Theatrical Trailer
Original Theatrical Trailer
Les Diaboliques Original Trailer
Cast and Crew Biographies
From the Back Cover
The film that continues to serve as a benchmark for Clouzot's magnificent career. The Wages of Fear established the writer-director on a truly International level after carrying off major prizes at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals.
Part-road movie, part suspense thriller, the plot is high-tension simplicity itself. In the South-American jungle, supplies of nitro-glycerine are urgently needed at a remote oil field. The unscrupulous American oil company pays four out-pf-work men to deliver the supplies in two hulking trucks. A tense rivalry quickly develops between the two sets of drivers; a tension magnified thousand fold by the unforgiving heat, the lure of the filthy lucre and the rough and rocky roads where the slightest jolt can result in agonizing death. Which of the disparate, desperate desperadoes will survive the white-knuckle journey and claim the loot and the glory?
Fuelled by Armand Thiraud's stunning photography and appropriately true editing by Madeleine Gug and Henri Rust, The Wages of Fear offers on one level pure cinematic adventure, whilst also succeeding as an eye opening peek at a crazed world driven by machismo, lust, competitiveness and greed.