THE WAGES OF FEAR aka La salaire de la peur/1953). Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot.
"If I'm going to be a corpse, I want to be presentable."
"Just takes a few months to get to be a hundred."
In a grubby, hopeless town in South America, four desperate men agree to drive two trucks loaded with nitroglycerin over rough terrain to deliver to a fiery oil well for a great deal of money. The two main characters are Mario (Yves Montand) and his fellow Frenchman, Jo (Charles Vanel), with whom he strikes up an affectionate father/son friendship which is sorely tested and pretty much defeated by their ordeal. In the second truck are Mario's former friend, Luigi (Folco Lulli) and Bimba (Peter van Eyck). What sets this movie apart from its Hollywood remake, William Friedkin's Sorcerer, is the intense, more dimensional characterization that has you caring what happens to these not always likable individuals. The Hollywood version is also afflicted with "Indiana Jones" fever in which the situations the drivers and trucks find themselves in are sometimes like something out of a cliffhanger, while Clouzot manages to generate suspense over more reasonable travails. The acting is excellent, with Vanel in particular etching a memorably superb portrait of a tough guy who has to deal with thoughts of age and fear as the taut and terrifying journey continues, but the others are also marvelous. Luis De Lima, Vera Clouzot, and William Tubbs also register as another wannabe driver, Mario's sometime girlfriend, and the supervisor in the oil company who's much more concerned with the nitro getting through than he is about human lives. The Wages of Fear is imperfect and overlong and builds slowly [although there are tense scenes even in the first half hour, such as a confrontation between Jo and Luigi in a tavern] but it is arresting and moving. At one point Mario allows his desperation and exasperatioin with Jo to go too far, but in a very satisfactory conclusion it all comes full circle. Clouzot also directed Le Corbeau.
Verdict: A classic French film well worth the viewing. ***1/2.