The Wages of Fear (1953) — Drama/Thriller (10/10)

February 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm (Movies) (, , )

(wow, I haven’t done a review in over a year?)

I may have not noted before, but I struggle with classic cinema. I have found that many films tend to date themselves, and one can hardly understand their cultural impact because they happened too long ago. It’s actually kind of a hypocritical thing of me to say, for I can totally understand the cultural impact of say… 12 Angry Men (1957) and The Night of the Hunter (1955), but I can’t say I felt anything but hatred for The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Maybe it’s a problem of sci-fi versus drama. Sci-fi dates, drama relates.

Anyway, what am I really going on about? I think it’s this black-and-white French film from 1953 called “The Wages of Fear”. It stars the French hunk Yves Montand (the only person I knew of… due to my viewing and cherishing the perfect (10/10) French films “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring”) and some other people.

It takes place in South America in the contemporary times of 1953, and, for complicated reasons, a lot of people have found themselves in a predicament. They have come from various places, but they have arrived there to do any kind of work. There is an American oil company thing going on, and only a limited number of people can work for them. As such, there are a lot of tramps without work. It’s too expensive to leave, so everybody’s stuck.

Then the oil company has an explosion, and the company needs to get a great deal of nitrogylcerin transported from their HQ to some other site. The problem is that they don’t have any of the necessary safety equipment to transport the nitroglycerin easily. The problem is that any large bump or spill could ignite the whole bunch. So, they company hires two pairs of people, based on their driving skills, to take a truck strapped with the explosive chemicals over hills, mountains and dangerous terrain.

That’s the movie–there it is. We are presented with a great deal of drama in order to build up the effectiveness of the overall story, and it does so for the first half of the movie. I watched The Wages of Fear on the Criterion release on blu-ray–what an experience! It looked so very good. The runtime is 156 minutes, so you’ve got to wade through a lot of characters bickering and the hopelessness that they all feel, being stuck in that town and all. Don’t underestimate where the movie takes you, though.

There is incredible tension that occurs when the truck drivers are scared about one bump that’ll blow them to bits. They have to traverse many, many miles to get where they are going. They encounter, as I recall, at least 4 big obstacles along the way. I remember, during one such instance, experiencing great tension in my body. I remember when I saw the horror movie The Descent (2006) alone in the movie theater years ago, I had my fists clenched. I was there with the characters in the dark, struggling against bat-people and claustrophobia. That same kind of feeling gripped me in these scenes of The Wages of Fear.

I encourage all to investigate this movie. I don’t know what the other versions cut of the movie, ’cause I see some other releases have runtimes of 131 and 148. Forget that mess, get the Criterion release that has all the footage in the movie. There was a great deal of controversy about how Americans were portrayed in the movie, and I say make them look bad. We are kinda bad sometimes, you know.



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