130 Min. | Adventure – Drama – Thriller | April 1953
IMDB Rating: 8.2
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck
The Wages of Fear Review
Four unsavory down-and-outs whiling away their hours in a poverty-stricken South American village accept the fool’s errand of transporting two truckloads of nitroglycerin across terrible roads to an oil company accident site. Once some preliminary character development is disposed of and the men are on their way, the movie settles into one hell of a nail-biter, sort of a French, 1950s inversion of “Speed” – if they go too fast, or make one false move, they go up in flames. The first hour of “The Wages of Fear” is a marvel of production design. Director Clouzot packs his frame with things to look at, and the village, though built specifically for The Wages of Fear, reeks of authenticity.
The mise-en-scene alone is fascinating to watch – some incidental action going on in the background of one shot (like a hothead smacking his girlfriend) is then picked up as the principal action in the next scene. And the Blu-Ray looks terrific, every mud puddle and heat-dazed fly is clear as a bell. The second half of The Wages of Fear is pure suspense. It’s a study in male machismo and one-upsmanship. The oldest member of the group, who struts around like Mr. Big Shot in the town when he has nothing to fear, crumples like a baby when faced with the prospect of death for real. But The Wages of Fear doesn’t let us be disdainful of him. As he says at one point, he’s scared because he has enough life experience to know what death is, unlike the young hotshots who think to be frightened is to be weak.
The Wages of Fear works so well as a character study, while also being an incredibly intense film full of riveting suspense. The combination of these two elements is done so perfectly, neither one taking over the other. Instead they blend beautifully, making an astoundingly powerful film. Clouzot doesn’t seem to have a rosy outlook on life, if the film’s fatalistic ending is any indication. Or maybe he’s just making the point that life is futile for men who approach it in a certain way. “The Wages of Fear” feels way ahead of its time, both in style and substance. The Wages of Fear is a masterpiece.
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