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The Wages of Fear
BLU-RAY disk
Apr 30, 2009 By: Mathew Plale
The Wages of Fear order
Director:
Henri-Georges Clouzot

Actors:
Yves Montand
Charles Vanel
Folco Lulli

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Four men, desperate for work, agree to drive two trucks stocked with nitroglycerin through mountains and treacherous roads to extinguish an oil field fire 3,000 miles away.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Films like this are why Henri-Georges Clouzot was dubbed “the French Hitchcock.” The Wages of Fear builds slowly, using its first forty minutes to establish location--the meager, sweltering South American village of Las Piedras--and the main characters--Mario and Jo, both French, Italian Luigi, and German Bimba.

And then comes word that an oil field, operated by the American-owned Southern Oil Company, has caught fire. Four men will be needed to haul two trucks stocked with jerricans full of nitroglycerin through the mountains and hazardous roads. The four chosen for the suicide mission turn out to be, of course, Mario (Yves Montand), Jo (Charles Vanel), Luigi (Folco Lulli), and Bimba (Peter van Eyck).

One truck is ordered to remain a half-hour ahead of the other, for fear they collide. “The slightest bump, you’re a goner. There won’t be enough of you to pick up,” explains SOC spokesman Bill O’Brien (William Tubbs). The $2,000 paycheck hardly seems worth the 300-mile journey.

So why can’t the nitroglycerin be flown in by experienced pilots? I don’t know. Why did Marion Crane check into the Bates Motel? Or why did the daughter drown in Don‘t Look Now? Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any suspense. And without that, there is no movie.

And so here is one of the greatest of thrillers, spilling over the edge with tension. The centerpiece of the film finds the lucky four maneuvering the massive vehicles cautiously over unstable planks on a narrow bend, through a pond of muddy oil, and full-speed over a spread of rocky road, praying the vibrations don’t cause the explosives to set off.

Upon its initial U.S. release in 1955, The Wages of Fear faced censorship and was deemed “anti-American,” primarily for its portrayal of the SOC (the only Americans in the film) as capitalist swine, best expressed in O’Brien’s speech to a colleague: “Those bums don't have any union, nor any families. And if they blow up, nobody'll come around bothering me for any contribution.”

Clouzot’s possible political leanings and criticisms of America’s exploitative practices may have been enough to cut his film down in the mid-’50s, but in retrospect, are the director’s ideas really all that radical? Is your Yankees cap not Made in China?

Today, every frame is intact as intended, and now The Wages of Fear runs just shy of two-and-a-half hours, not one minute of which is poorly paced or wasted. Clouzot, a seldom-equaled master--best documented here and in 1955’s Les Diaboliques (he reportedly beat Hitchcock to buying the novel’s rights by mere hours)--deliberately takes his time just as Mario, Jo, Luigi, and Bimba must. Every minute that passes is another minute they are closer to inevitable doom and we to the edge of our seats. And that’s just how we want it.
THE EXTRAS
Interviews: The first, with Michel Romanoff (22:26), was shot in 2005 and has the assistant director discussing working with Henri-Georges Clouzot for the first of three times (the other times being on Les Diaboliques and The Spies), relaying stories from the arduous two-year shoot; next, biographer Marc Godin (10:09) sits down for a 2005 chat to offer an overview of Clouzot’s life and career. Brief, but it may push you to pick up his book, ‘Clouzot: Cineaste;’ finally, actor Yves Montand (5:00), who played Mario, sits down for a 1988 interview with French television program Cinema cinemas, remembering being cast in The Wages of Fear and why he chooses certain roles.

Henri-George Clouzot: The Enlightened Tyrant (52:34): This 2004 documentary utilizes interviews (with family members, actresses Suzy Delair and Brigitte Bardot, and Romanoff) and clips, which elaborate on Godbin’s interview. The contributors dissect the French filmmaker’s traits, popular works, his two-year ban from directing, his venture into documentaries, and much more. An excellent addition to this disc and by far the highlight.

Censored (12:12) takes a look at why numerous cuts were made to The Wages of Fear for its 1955 U.S. release. Included are article excerpts and clip of the initially deleted scenes, which contain elements of “anti-Americanism” and allusions to homosexuality.

Also included is a 12-page booklet with an essay titled “No Exit” by author Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”).
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
A classic of both French cinema and universal suspense, Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear is given the true Criterion Collection treatment. Informative features, superb transfers, and an improved case highlight this must-own Blu-ray edition.
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