Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur)

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Director Henri Georges Clouzot was known for his strict planning. Prepared for each detail, twists and turns, Clouzot wasn't known for his adaptability, or for an open mind to suggestions. Instead, he was renown for his uncanny talent for planning ahead that wrought an unmatched sense of foresight. ★★★★

1953's The Wages of Fear is a taut drama, thrilling and nerve-grading. Many want to point to Clouzot's depiction of his heroes as fundamentally flawed characters that are hard to root for, to say the least. But Clouzot makes not-so-subtle, though easily-passed-over criticisms of America's globalization and capitalism's organic cutthroat effects.

A poverty-ridden, South American town, full of immigrants desperate for jobs with over-worked, under-paid laborers is the backdrop for Clouzot's post-war, oil- and power-hungry world. The tough, dangerous, life-risking jobs are the only paid opportunities for this ignored community. When SOC, a large American oil company, needs volatile nitroglycerine shipped to a blazing oil well 300 miles away, four men are chosen out of many desperate applicants to drive two over-sized trucks full of the hazardous chemical through rough terrain.

Yves Montand's flirtatious Mario is joined by fellow driver Monsieur Jo, a rotund, conniving man who is not easily intimated. Their two counterparts are the strong and resourceful Aryan German Bimbo and terminally ill, jovial Italian Luigi.

The four must drive the trucks thirty minutes apart from each other; they must avoid bumps and sudden stops; they must traverse rocky terrain and claustrophobic forests. One obstacle after the other brings each man to the precipice of panic and cowardice, as the threat of death hangs over them. Clouzot builds tension with a cache of angles, close-ups, wide, lingering shots, and quick cuts--a composition at an artistic, meticulous level.

With each escalating pitfall, we discover to what lengths poor men will go to earn life-saving money while witnessing the crippling effects of fear on the human soul. Cowardice, bravery, and merciless survival reveal the exploitative motivations of globalizing capitalism.

Clouzot's powerful The Wages of Fear is part social commentary, part thrill-ride,  a pillar of entertaining, thought-provoking film-making.

About the Author

Ian Tilman Nichols

Author & Editor

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