France, 1953, 131 min
Direction: Henri Georges Clouzot
Cast: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Vera Clouzot, Jerome Geronimi, Peter van Eyck, Antonio Centa, Folco Lulli, Dario Moreno, Luis De Lima
Awards: Golden Bear, Berlin Festival 1953; Grand Prize, Cannes Festival; Best Film by French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, 1954; BAFTA Award for best film in all categories, 1955.
Selection: Pedja's Film Collection
Henri Georges Clouzot (1904-1977) was a cineaste that left a significant trace in French culture of the 20th century. He was a director and screenplay writer known by such movies as The Raven or The Truth, then The Mystery of Picasso that won him Golden Palm in Cannes, as well as Quay of the Goldsmiths that won Golden Lion in Berlin. His most interesting work, at least for a wider cinema audience, is certainly the action drama translated as The Wages of Fear, made in 1953, based on the original by Georges Arnaud who cooperated with the director on the screenplay. An American creation with the same topic, called Sorcerer, with Roy Scheider as the lead actor, is probably much more familiar to present-day film lovers, but this is, as well as many other modern hits, just a remake, made the same year when Clouzot died.
The story goes in a South American village of Las Piedras, in the heart of a desert, accessible only through a small field airport. The single purpose of this place being an oil rig owned by an American company, it is clear why the most numerous inhabitants of the village are suspicious characters from around the world, mostly without an identity, but with too rich criminal records. The plot begins when the oil rig is caught in a fire that can only be extinguished with an explosion which would bury it. A great quantity of explosive of great destructive power is needed for the job. Four people get the task to drive a truck full of too dangerous nitroglycerin to the destination. They are wastrels who see the opportunity to get away from the hell around them with the promised lucrative award. However, the road to the rig is too rough and bumpy, full of temptations, and nerves in such situations are usually tense. And when they are always tense…
The lead role in this movie was the greatest symbol of male sexuality in France of the period, Yves Montand. However, attributes of sexism and male chauvinism were attached to the movie because the character of a feeble-minded girl, Linda, played by Véra Clouzot, was sexually harassed several times. At the same time, American censors protested because of an extremely negative image of the oil company, so in the USA, the movie was shown in a shortened version, with several problematic scenes omitted. All this did not bother European film critics who awarded the movie greatly in those years.