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The Wages Of Fear  

The Wages of Fear, made in 1952, is profound evidence that a good thriller could be made even during a time when special effects were in much shorter supply. Of course, such a movie like this had to made, because without special effects the filmmakers would have to do such demanding work ..... like writing a story!! Besides being a good film in general, The Wages of Fear also gives me more evidence that Henri-Georges Clouzot was a pretty evil man. If he can make both this film and Diabolique, there`s no way that he could`ve been a very joyous fellow.

Four men are assigned to haul two trucks loaded with nitroglycerin for an American oil company stationed in a poor South American country. These four men in particular are chosen for the task because they are poor and without any family or home, which means that, if something were to happen to these drivers, the company would not be held liable. This toxic union between the Americans and the drivers is possible because the men are desperate for money. For some reason, these French men are in a poor village in South America, supposedly looking for work, but, in reality, annoying the locals. The locals have problems with foreigners in general; they hate the French for taking their jobs away while at the same time hate the Americans for exploiting them. There are a few telling scenes when it is clear that the Americans are willing to risk lives and basically treat employees like scum (many of these scenes were censored for the original American release). But the Frenchmen take the driving jobs anyway, because they are promised 2000 dollars each. When one is desperate, one will do anything for money.

After the pretty dry first thirty-five minutes, the film becomes a non-stop roller-coaster of thrills. Nitroglycerin is a volatile and dangerous substance. One drop is enough to create a bang, so of course a truckload will blow up the truck and its surroundings. This means that every single movement brings with it a potential for disaster, and there are many situations in this film that bring such potential. There are many justly famous scenes involving the trucks, including a very scary moment when the two trucks attempt to manoeuver a bend in the road. The problem is that the bend in the road is situated on top of a mountain, and the only room the trucks have to turn around is on a partially built bridge hanging over the edge. And the first truck nearly falls off due to rotten wood! This very long scene is a real nailbiter, and, I swear to God, there is a look on Yves Montand`s face that can`t be mere acting! I hope these actors received good danger pay, because nothing looks fake!

The action scenes are worthy enough, but the film also has a layer of very pessimistic attitude. Clouzot must have been one nasty guy. Diabolique has a famous twist ending which gave the film more menace than any viewer could have guessed, and this movie also showers us with cruelty, this time with the loom of the utter pointlessness of life, and the selfishness of humanity, as a result of the capitalistic society all the characters, major and minor, live in. The characters are not above selfish emotions (most viciously in a scene near the end, when one truck must cross an oil spill), and the director does not permit any sappy, warm moments. The ending is like a kick to the head.

This film is certainly not for the perpetually happy, or those addicted to today`s films (or, for that matter, for truck drivers!). Most of these people would be advised to remain at the multiplex. Yet The Wages of Fear cannot be dismissed easily, for it is an extremely potent and wicked piece of work.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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