52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
We can thank the Movie Gods that Jean Gabin didn't want to play a coward or else we'd never have had Charles Vanel's superb performance in Clouzot's The Wages of Fear: it's notable that Friedkin's intriguingly feverish but suspense-free remake didn't even attempt to give its equivalent deadbeat killer a similar arc, despite the fact that the character and his curious shifting relationship with Yves Montand cuts to the very core of the story's take on the nature of courage, bravado and machismo. At the beginning of the film Vanel is the tough guy who can walk the walk, while Montand is his puppy doggish sidekick, throwing over his best friend for his new crush until his feet of clay are revealed when the chips are down. Even in a place where, in the absence of white women the white men cling to each other, this relationship seems to go a few steps beyond mere hero-worship, but when they hit the road the power in the relationship shifts, and in the process we get to watch Yves Montand become a genuine movie star before our very eyes, which is almost as exciting as the road trip to Hell with a truckload of unstable nitro and miles of very, very bumpy roads. Almost, because I doubt there's anything to beat the film's extraordinary double-jeopardy sequence on a rotting platform on a mountain road - a scene pretty much done for real - which takes your breath away until you suddenly realize that the second truck is going to have to do the same thing in even worse conditions... I remember when I saw that at a revival house a couple of years ago I genuinely forgot to breathe during that sequence, and found myself doing the same even on DVD.
Criterion's recent 2-disc DVD is a great improvement on their previous single-disc version in terms of picture quality and extras, but sadly, the `new and improved' subtitle translation is just as politically correct as the old one, dropping most of the obscenities and all of the racist language that's an important part of the hatred and self-loathing that drives the characters to risk everything for a chance for a ticket out of this backwater South American hellhole (amazingly recreated in the Carmargue in France because Montand refused to film in Fascist Spain). The shoot may have been jinxed by delays, accidents and colossal budget overruns, but damn, it was worth it.
A word of warning - aside from Criterion's recent 2-disc NTSC version, the UK PAL versions of the film are all very poor quality (especially Optimum's poor UK standards conversion copy) and are to be avoided.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2004
This is one of my favourite foreign language films. A true masterpiece of suspense, nerve-jangling tension, excitement with a cool French existentialist philosophy underpinning it all. The Wages of Fear would certainly be a contender in my Top Ten films ever made.
BUT, please don't waste your money on this DVD of the film. The print that was used is in a shocking condition. It is dirty, out of focus, creaky, and the subtitles are so faint they are barely readable. I think it was a disgrace to release a DVD in this condition at all. Without doubt it is worse than VHS, in fact the copy I have, taped off the TV about ten years ago is MUCH better even now. I had hoped to replace it with a sharp DVD edition, but this was a complete waste of money.
As well as the technical shortcomings there are also no DVD extras at all, when a classic like this should be accompanied by documentaries about its greatness and great influence on scores of action films since.
If any film is crying out for restoration and remastering this 1954 French classic is it - especially if this is the best print available for the public in 2004.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Wages of Fear is a magnificent thriller, the last hour-and-a-half of which will have you chewing your nails up to your wrists. The first hour is interesting but, to my mind, a bit slow. We spend a lot of time getting to know the squalor of Las Piedras. The anti-American point of view now just seems quaint.
Las Piedras is a tiny South American (or possibly Central American) town that reeks of poverty and bakes in the hot sun. Children with sores, tired donkeys and mangy dogs fill the dirt streets. It's the final stop for down-and-outers whose only hope is to find work with the Southern Oil Company (you can infer SOC easily is a stand-in for Standard Oil), which dominates the place. "Americans here? You kidding?" says one man. "If there's oil around they're not far behind," says his companion. SOC has a headquarters office in Las Piedras; the oil field is 300 miles away. Into this fly-infested hole arrives Jo (Charles Vanel), a tough, middle-aged French gangster out of luck and out of cash. He encounters Mario (Yves Montand), a ne'er-do-well in his twenties from Corsica who's stuck in Las Piedras. Mario does odd jobs to make enough money for meals and whiskey, beds and takes for granted the young woman who works at the town's cantina, and longs to get out of the place and back to Paris. The two of them bond in a way, the confident tough guy and the young, not-quite-amoral thug-in-training. The shifting relationship between these two is what drives the story; that they can get blown sky high at any moment after the first hour is what keeps us watching.
When an oil fire erupts at a well head, Bill O'Brien (William Tubbs), the local American SOC boss, decides to send containers of nitroglycerine in two trucks from Las Piedras over three hundred miles of rocky, pot-holed road to put out the fire. He'll hire two men per truck and pay $2,000 per man for those who get through. The one drawback is that nitro is notoriously unstable, will explode in heat and if jostled and the trucks have no safety equipment. The visa-less bums, last chancers and sweating drunks stuck in Las Piedras line up. These are men who are so close to being the dregs of humanity you won't want to spend time standing next to them. You're not going to hire those tramps, one of O'Brien's subordinates says to him. O'Brien makes clear the film's point of view regarding American oil companies. "Those bums," he says, "don't have a union or any families, and if they blow up no one will come around for contributions." And so fifty-six minutes into the movie, Jo and Mario in one truck and Bimba (Peter van Eyck), a blond German, and Luigi (Folco Lulli), a happy Italian dying of lung disease from working in the SOC's cement operation, set off in their trucks. Even they begin to have second thoughts when they watch how slowly and carefully the jerrycans of nitro are loaded.
From now on we're in the cabs of those two trucks, sweating with the heat and our nerves. The road cuts through baking semi-desert, filled with potholes and rocks, and over mountains covered with scrub, shale and boulders. We've got to get through the washboard, a long stretch of dusty road carved into ruts by the wind. If the trucks keep going at 40 miles an hour, all is fine. Go under 40, "boom." Go over and "boom." There's a hairpin turn high on a mountain so sharp the trucks have to back onto a wooden platform to turn around. We find out the wood is rotten and the platform is shaky. There's a boulder as big as a truck that will have to be blasted apart...but only by using some of the nitro in a hazardous improvisation that requires siphoning, a falling hammer and a lit fuse. And worst of all is a large, expanding and deep pool of oil which will have to be driven through. By now we've come to know, if not especially like, these four men. Luigi is strong, coarse and relatively happy. Bimba is resourceful but fatalistic enough to make you a little nervous. Jo? He turns out not to be so tough after all, while Mario becomes the senior partner of the two, and determined enough to run a truck over a man's leg. How many survive? You'll need to see the movie. The ending is just right.
Considering the passion French intellectuals have always had for smoking their Gauloises and condemning what they term American cultural and economic imperialism, Henri-Georges Clouzot makes his points but never at the expense of his film. The first hour may have messages to give, but they're understated and never smack anyone over the head. (However, the movie was cut by nearly an hour for it's initial American release. In addition to losing a fair amount of time in Las Piedras, all those anti-American swipes somehow disappeared.) The journey on the two trucks is so continuously gripping that any messages early on fall to the side of the road. Yves Montand, in one of his earliest movies, and Charles Vanel, an old hand, dominate The Wages of Fear. For those who recall Vanel only as the wily, good-humored police inspector in Clouzot's Diabolique, you're in for a master-class in the versatility of a first-class actor.
The Wages of Fear is a classic, powerful adventure of men placed at risk by their needs and their natures. The Criterion two-disc release features a fine transfer, several interesting extras on the second disc and an informative booklet in the DVD case. This is a movie well worth buying.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2006
Through Amazon's excellent rental scheme, I'm trying to educate myself by watching films I haven't seen before in genres I wouldn't normally watch. Although I love much modern French cinema, perhaps I'm showing my ignorance and youth by saying I hadn't heard of Wages of Fear.
Great film, though! It is pretty long, and if it were directed today so much of it would have been cut. But it's the opening twenty minutes or so under the beating South American heat which really set the tone for this claustrophobic thriller. The action scenes are fantastic, there are more set-pieces than you can shake a cinematic stick at and there are some great characterisations by a fine acting ensemble. Yves Montand is, of course, excellent in the lead.
I didn't actually fancy watching this when it came down to watching it (footie and phone calls seemed a priority) But as soon as it started I was hooked. A fantastic suprise.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2010
I've owned both of the previous Criterion releases of this film and even though I've seen it at least a dozen times before when I recently watched the Criterion Blu-Ray I was on the edge of my seat! It was just like the first time I watched it years ago.
Set in a small South American desert town, director Clouzot does a wonderful job of conveying the smoldering heat and the desperation of the noncitizens who want nothing more than to just get the [...] out. The only way out is by getting a plane ride at the very small local airport, but none of the guy's who hang out outside of the local tavern can afford a ticket. There are no jobs to earn money, so they are just stuck in a purgatory of boiling heat.
Things look grim for the guys, but then a stranger (Jo, an ex-gangster) comes to town and soon the group is divided. Most of them hate the newcomer, but fellow Frenchman Mario mistakenly thinks that Jo is his ticket out and starts sucking up to Jo and even turns his back on his friend's in the process.
A oil fire erupts at an remote oil field and the oil company needs a truckload of nitroglycerin delivered in order to put it out. The job is way too dangerous to risk using their own unionized men so they offer the men who hang out at the cantina the job. Two men to a truck. Two trucks and $2,000 per person upon delivery.
I'm not going to give away anymore, but I think this film is excellent. Very suspenseful and like I said before the picture on the Blu-Ray is [...] amazing. If you are at all interested in art house or international cinema or even in just starting a rad Blu-Ray library then you should pick this one up.