Top 100 Films #51 – The Wages of Fear (1953)

 

image-w1280#51. The Wages of Fear (1953)
Directed by: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by: Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jerome Geronimi (based on Le Salair de la Peur by Georges Arnaud)
Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter Van Eyck

French film director Henri-Georges Clouzot has been referred to as the French answer to Alfred Hitchcock, and after seeing a film like The Wages of Fear, it’s easy to see why. Clouzot’s film sees four men driving two trucks filled with nitroglycerine in order to extinguish a raging fire on an oil field.  The oil field is over 300 miles away from the town of Las Piedras, and the road to the field has been in a state of disrepair for years. Considering the highly volatile nature of nitroglycerine and the poor state of the roads to the oil field, it would be crazy for anybody to attempt the mission – unless those in question are incredibly desperate and willing to take such a life-threatening chance. The Wages of Fear is another film on my list that can be considered deliberately paced, as it takes quite a while to truly shift into second gear.  Clouzot uses the first act of the film to build atmosphere in the small town of Las Piedras, where only desperate men seek refuge.  It’s here that we meet our four main characters Mario (Yves Montand), Jo (Charles Vanel), Luigi (Folco Lulli), and Bimba (Peter van Eyck), all of whom are in desperate need of money so they can escape the hellhole that is Las Piedras.  Each man has his own motivations and reasons for embarking on the near suicide mission, and all of them are compelling in their own right.  When things finally get going and the men get out of the town and onto the dangerous, nearly impossible to traverse road, The Wages of Fear begins to really shine as the suspenseful thriller it is.  The film had me on the edge of my seat for the entire journey, cringing at every bump in the road, and dreading what might happen if the road conditions become any worse. When the two trucks encounter obstacles in the road, it truly becomes a race against time to solve the problem as safely and efficiently as possible – building the suspense and showing the skills of our lead characters.  The film’s gorgeous photography certainly helps push the film into classic status, with scenes of dark, flowing oil contrasting beautifully with the largely barren locations featured in the film.  The cinematography combined with Clouzot’s expert use of suspense and the build-up makes The Wages of Fear one of the greatest foreign-language films ever made, and one of the most thrilling movies I’ve ever seen.  

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