Thursday, June 23, 2011

Clouzot, Le salaire de la peur

Next in our Henri-Georges Clouzot spree: the 1953 film Le salaire de la peur [The wages of fear]. The premise is simple: somewhere in South America, the American-owned Southern Oil Company signs up four unemployed Europeans to drive two truckloads of nitroglycerin to the scene of an oilfield fire. The route is primitive and exceedingly dangerous: the slightest mishap can cause the cargo to explode. Minute for minute, Le salaire de la peur is one of the most nerve-wracking films I’ve seen. The above still is one small bit of evidence: each truck must back onto this partly rotted platform to make a sharp turn.

Le salaire de la peur made me think at many points of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (dir. John Huston, 1948), another film in which desperate men try to find their way out of the misery in which they’re stuck. Clouzot’s film also made me think of Homer’s Odyssey, another story of skillful intelligence applied to unforeseen challenges. Here though it seems that all gods, not just Poseidon, are angry.

Le salaire de la peur is available, beautifully restored, from the Criterion Collection. With Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck, and Folco Lulli as the drivers, and Véra Clouzot as a cantina worker.

More Clouzot
Le Corbeau
Quai des Orfèvres
Le mystère Picasso (Elaine’s post)

[My choice for most nerve-wracking film: probably Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2009). Yours?]

comments: 2

Elaine Fine said...

Mine is Le salaire de la peur. Inglorious Basterds has a few moments of comic relief.

Gunther said...

That movie is really outstanding, and I am happy to have the Criterion DVD too. There is a remake with the title "Sorcerer" which doesn't come up to "Wages of Fear" but is worth seeing nevertheless (not only because of the sometimes eery score by Tangerine Dream). – I am not able to name my most nerve-wracking movie but Clouzot's classic is a sure contender.