The Wages of Fear

1953

The Wages of Fear

Critics Consensus

An existential suspense classic, The Wages of Fear blends nonstop suspense with biting satire; its influence is still being felt on today's thrillers.

100%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 43

95%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 8,694
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Movie Info

Together with Diabolique, The Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la Peur) earned Henri-Georges Clouzot the reputation as a "French Hitchcock." In truth, Clouzot's ability to sustain suspense may have even exceeded Hitchcock's; when originally released, Wages ran 155 tension-filled minutes. Based on the much-imitated novel by Georges Arnaud, the film is set in Central America. The Southern Oil Company, which pretty much rules the roost in the impoverished village of Las Piedras, sends out a call for long-distance truck drivers. Southern Oil's wages of 2,000 dollars per man are, literally, to die for -- the drivers are obliged to transport highly volatile nitroglycerine shipments across some of the most treacherous terrain on earth. Through expository dialogue, tense interactions and flashbacks, we become intimately acquainted with the four drivers who sign up for this death-defying mission: Corsican Yves Montand, Italian Folco Lulli, German Peter Van Eyck, and Frenchman Charles Vanel. The first half of the film slowly, methodically introduces the characters and their motivations. The second half -- the drive itself -- is a relentless, goosebump-inducing assault on the audience's senses. The winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival, The Wages of Fear was remade by William Friedkin as Sorcerer (1977). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for The Wages of Fear

All Critics (43) | Top Critics (9)

Audience Reviews for The Wages of Fear

  • May 07, 2016
    There is nothing like having your nerves frayed to shreds by a brilliant director who knows how to create something so unbearably suspenseful (the mise-en-scène and editing are phenomenal) using the frame of biting political satire to tell an amazing story of friendship and fear.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Apr 23, 2016
    "The Wages of Fear" perfectly demonstrates what it means to be on the edge of your seat. It is nothing but pure excitement made by the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot. Films don't get much better than this and certainly films that are more than sixty years old don't get that much more exciting. It's an absolute nailbiter. Superbly adapted from the Georges Arnaud novel "Le salaire de la peur" by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi, the characters come to life with fully realized ambitions, fears, anxieties and dreams. Set in a small Mexican village surrounded by desert with its only link to the outside world being a small airport whose airfare is much too expensive for the out of work foreigners who pass the time idly at the local tavern. Some find work doing odd jobs here and there for enough money for food and alcohol, but not much more. The village is dominated by an American oil company called Southern Oil Company (SOC) who controls many oil fields in the area. For the most part, if you find yourself in this village with no money and no prospects for work, you're pretty much stranded there. Mario is played by Yves Montand, a Frenchman who starts to bond with a newcomer to the area over their shared experience of living in Paris at one time. Jo (Charles Vanel) is an aging gangster with a past relationship with the foreman at SOC named Bill O'Brien (William Tubbs), but this relationship isn't explained. The Italian Luigi (Folco Lulli) has been saving up his money doing odd jobs, but he is constantly referred to as a miser. Bimba then proceeds to buy the tavern a round of drinks prompting antagonism from Jo almost esculating into murder. The Dutchman Bimba (Peter Van Eyck) is the fourth out of luck foreigner introduced. They all dream of leaving southern Mexico and returning back home. Their opportunity arises after a fire erupts at an oil field killing thirteen SOC employees. The townspeople are furious that their lives are taken for granted and they are paid so little. O'Brien and other executives come to the conclusion that the only way to put out the fire is to use nitroglycerine to cause an explosion to put the fire out. The only way to get the nitroglycerine to the oil field is to drive it in jerrycans on the flatbed of a large truck across 300 miles of horrible roads making sure not to hit a bump too hard or go too fast or too slow. The union would probably not let their members take such a dangerous job so O'Brien recruits the foreigners knowing they will do and offers to pay $2,000 each. The suspense that these four characters are literally sitting on a bomb that could go off at any time drives the film for the last hour and a half. There's two truck driven by two men, Mario and Jo in one and Bimba and Luigi in the other. Montand and Vanel are the stars and the film focuses on them more than the other two. Jo, who O'Brien thought was too old, connives his way into being the fourth driver. Once taking the wheel he seems unsure and scared and perhaps Mario is thinking he is too old, too careful driving to the point it may kill them both. Jo's doubt and skittishness causes Mario to treat him horribly as the two get to know each other better along their 300 mile trek. Speeding up, slowing down, backing up are all moments that cause alarm and Clouzot does it all with such precision and care. Having two trucks trying to stay a good distance apart for fear of explosion leads to some miscommunication when the other team needs to be warned for dangers ahead. There are many obstacles along the way that make for some exciting action. As the audience, you want nothing more than to see these guys succeed. Much of the suspense in the film contain no music and it's just painful silence. The film was supposed to be filmed in Spain but Montand refused to film in Spain as long as Franco was in power so Southern France filled in for Southern Mexico. The role of Jo was originally offered to Jean Gabin but he turned it down and Vanel jumped to the opportunity. Montand was not known as a dramatic actor before this film but he does a terrific job and has good chemistry with Vanel. For the U.S. release about seven minutes was cut from the film because it was deemed too anti-American because of the film's depiction of the oil company in Central America. At one point, Jo even asks Mario, "There's Americans here?" to which Mario responds, "Wherever there's oil." The cuts led to a confused movie with unclear motives and maybe to some this is "anti-American" but it seems more against foreign businesses exploiting local workers for cheap wages and horrible working conditions.
    Joseph B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 02, 2014
    Man, that's an awesome title, at least by comparison, because at least it makes more sense than "Sorcerer". That title is so misleading that it just has to be some kind of an abstract symbolism, which goes to show you that between this adaptation of Georges Arnaud's "Le salaire de la peur" and the one by William Friedkin, the latter is the more pretentious. I think I may be the most pretentious for comparing existential, European-style thrillers in the first place, and for actually saying the series of words, "Georges Arnaud's 'Le salaire de la peur'", although, in all fairness, "Sorcerer" doesn't set the highest standard for artsy fartsy. Still, I never thought I'd the day in which the Americans take a French property and make it even more abstract, and poor ol' Henri-Georges Clouzot didn't get the chance to see that day either, as he passed away but a few months before the "remake" of this film came out. ...Fun facts which aren't in the strictest sense fun aside, to be fair, this film was made 24 years before "Sorcerer", in the '50s, when they didn't have the raw guts to... see how well they can bore someone. People, I'm joking, but "Sorcerer" did get a little slow, whereas this film keeps momentum adequate, as well it should if it's going to flirt with a runtime of two-and-a-half hours. Well, sure enough, the film holds your attention just fine, but it also challenges it, partly because of that length, quite frankly. Flirting with two hours and quarter, and two-and-a-half hours in the case of the director's cut, this film is too long, no matter which way you look at it, being bloated, not by those European meanderings one might fear when they enter what is supposedly an art film, but simply be excessive material that overdraws the development segment, as well as other segments whose eventual shifts feel jarring. If nothing else establishes a sense of unevenness in the storytelling as it goes along, it's tone, which is so light, - sometimes even rather satirical - then suddenly so intense, at least for the '50s, when there is, in fact, kick to tone, that is. This isn't one of those distinctly European sort of dry affairs, but it is a little subdued with its atmosphere at times, and when such atmospheric delicacy runs into all of the dragging and unevenness, the film begins to feel rather monotonous, and it doesn't help that it's not that difficult to see what exactly this plot is meandering to. This film promises to be unique for the '50s, maybe even for today, but it's not even unique for the former, having its shocking moments, but not enough to overcome some sense of predictability deriving from clichéd dialogue and dated tropes, many of which include superficialities of the time. I've gone on and on about how this film isn't as experimental of a European drama as I was expecting, but really, what I mean to say is that this film has no more edge that one of the less sugar-coated Hollywood pieces of the '50s, being either too unsubtle with its contrived dramatics, or too subtle in its portrayal of potentially biting conflicts that are toned down, if not overlooked. The film is plenty effective, as it's subject matter is so intriguing, and its storytelling highlights are so compelling, but when the film goes relatively flat, it simply can't get a grip on pacing, tone, originality and subtlety. The film's grip on my investment loosened to the point of me feeling underwhelmed, but just a little more than barely, for even the aesthetic value of the film has its commendable attributes. I don't know if it's because this film is so blasted dated or because this film was perhaps so blasted cheap, but Armand Thirard's black-and-white cinematography isn't particularly pretty, and yet, that kind of adds to the film, because if there is a sense of bleakness within this often superficial leader, it is found within a gritty visual style which immerses you into gritty, well-selected locations. There isn't much technical value here, at least in retrospect, but it is very much so present, and it is pretty immersive when realized, bringing more life to the grit of this drama than plenty of aspects to the telling of a promising story. On the surface, this film's subject matter seems to simply deal with a quartet of European men on a grimy adventure to douse an oil fire and pick up money to help them overcome their respective woes, and when you get deeper into this narrative, even as an idea, it's hard to ignore themes regarding comradery and self-preservation in the midst of a dangerous journey which keep up an immediate degree of intrigue, no matter how much limp storytelling limits it. Really, I suppose you can blame most of the bloatings and superficialities on Henri-Georges Clouzot's and Jérome Geronimi's script, for although Clouzot's direction gets a little flimsy in tone, whether it be handling it unevenly, or simply abandoning it to a dull point, it isn't afraid to get thoughtful, and upon finding material to draw upon with his meditations without getting too uneven, he bites. There is a fair bit of tension sustained here and there throughout the film, as well as plenty of gracefully subtle moments, and in between those heights in engagement value is enough nuance and immersion value that the final product flirts with a rewarding state as a meditative character study that wouldn't be so endearing if the performances weren't so much more spirited than the storytelling is in a lot of ways. The cast's material kicks in slowly, but surely, but once it gets here, after every performer has gotten you invested through individual charisma and collective chemistry, dramatic heights that were arguably above the acting standards for thrillers of this time and nature anchor what resonance there is in this drama. Yes, resonance finds itself seriously limited by questionable pacing and tone which are both overwrought and paper-thin, but when it's all said and done, with patience, you'd be pressed to not get invested enough to find a final product that at least comes to the brink of out-and-out rewarding. When the journey is done, exhaustingly overdrawn, somewhat disjointed, and formulaic plot structuring, and a tone which is either uneven or cold, yet frequently superficial in its bite, secure the final product as rather underwhelming, but not so underwhelming that immersively gritty cinematography and locations, intriguing subject matter, biting direction, and solid performances aren't able to make Henri-Georges Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear" (Ah, that title is so awesome!) a decent and often gripping thriller, even though it isn't consistently thrilling. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jul 17, 2014
    A towering, devastating motion picture about a few brave men who are handpicked to be drivers of trucks carrying explosives, along a rugged terrain with life-threatening turns in the road. This picture reminded me a lot of "There Will Be Blood" strangely enough, basically in how it depicts greed and pride and how those can be the driving force behind one's motives. The performances all around are fantastic, with some shocking twists in the plot that I for one not see coming. You hear this phrase a lot, sometimes it is overdone, but this is truly a movie that was ahead of its time in terms of how well it handles its white-knuckle thriller aspects with such meticulous care. The ending is also one for the ages. Make no mistake about it, this is a downbeat film, but also a brilliant work of art.
    Dan S Super Reviewer

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