Somehow I had never seen Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear before this and it definitely lives up to its reputation. One of the great films revolving around tension and what extreme situations will do to a person, Clouzot tells the story of 4 expatriates in an unnamed South American country (it makes the most sense if it is Venezuela but it doesn’t really matter) who are hired by an American oil company to drive two trucks of nitroglycerin across treacherous mountain roads in order to put out an oil derrick fire. Of course, the chances of survival are very low but these are desperate men. Why are there so many expats marooned in this nowhere town? Don’t know. But these details aren’t so important. Fear changes people–the meek are strong and brave. The braggarts and showoffs turn weak. Relationships are transformed as people are locked in a struggle to survive.
This kind of tension is usually reserved for the best war films, but then World War II is an underlying theme here. One of the drivers is a survival of the concentration camps, others are veterans. The spirit of the war, with men taking incredible risks and people blown around the globe for various reasons, is central to the film.
This is also a great film about work. Hauling nitroglycerin is a dangerous trade indeed. The scene where one of the men clears a boulder that has fell in the road by pouring nitroglycerin in it and blowing it up is one of the great scenes of dangerous work in the history of film. The brutality of a capitalist, colonial economy is on full display here, even if this really isn’t a political film. Also, why Europeans are hired to do this work and not locals is unknown; presumably, South Americans can also drive and take on dangerous risks. Unfortunately, they remain in the background except for Yves Montand’s girlfriend, who is basically a stereotype anyway.
It also seems that tank tops for men were cut much lower in the early 50s than today.
Great direction and really great editing make this a classic.