A group of men are hired by an oil company to transport truckloads of nitroglycerin across rough terrain in The Wages of Fear.
In Las Piedras, a sleepy town in South America, work is hard to come by outside of the Southern Oil Company (SOC), which looms eerily in the background of the desolate town. After Mr. Jo (Charles Vanel) rolls into town, acting like a bigshot, Mario (Yves Montand) develops a close bond with his fellow Frenchman. Mr. Jo rubs the rest of the inhabitants the wrong way with his arrogance and attitude, including Mario’s former roommate, Luigi (Folco Lucci), and Bimba (Peter van Eyck). After an explosion at an SOC site several hundred miles away, the company decides to send trucks loaded with nitroglycerin to extinguish the fire. It’s too dangerous for unionized workers, so they gather up the best men from Las Piedras to make the harrowing journey for $2,000 apiece.
To call The Wages of Fear anything less than exhilarating and tense would be an understatement. From the moment Mr. Jo arrives, the tension begins to build. First, between the folks in town and then they set off for a journey none of the men expect to come back from. Be prepared because once those trucks full of the highly combustible material leave the SOC, the tension will likely make you sweat.
I had long heard of The Wages of Fear but had doubted the impact that it would have on me. A group of men driving trucks slowly across the South American landscape didn’t seem all that interesting or tense to me but the way that Clouzot sets up the story and characters is truly amazing. There are no “good guys” here, the men chosen have some likable traits but are, for the most part, jerks. They have become stuck in Las Piedras despite their differing nationalities and the money would go a long way for them.
The Wages of Fear also has an interesting censorship history outside of France. In several countries (the US included), the film was mauled by censors who deemed much of the film to be anti-American and even parts of the film were admonished for glorifying homosexuality. It should be noted that I picked up on neither of those themes throughout the film. The Criterion release of The Wages of Fear has some extras that detail the cuts made and the history behind this. They offer the film uncut as it was meant to be seen, and the release is amazing, as expected.
Few films have kept me on the edge of my seat the way that The Wages of Fear has, and it manages to keep the viewer firmly gripped by suspense for the entire second half of the film. This is a film I wish I had watched much sooner so I could keep revisiting it. Luckily, I will be reviewing The Wages of Fear‘s remake, Sorcerer, shortly.
I give it 5 loaded trucks on a rotting wooden platform out of 5.