The Wages of Fear

The Wages of Fear

Infobox Film
name=The Wages of Fear
(Le Salaire de la peur)

caption= original film poster
director=Henri-Georges Clouzot
producer=Raymond Borderie
writer=Georges Arnaud
Henri-Georges Clouzot
starring=Yves Montand
Charles Vanel
Peter van Eyck
Antonio Centa
music=Georges Auric
released=flagicon|France 22 April, 1953
flagicon|USA 16 February, 1955
runtime=131 min

"The Wages of Fear" ( _fr. Le Salaire de la peur) is a 1953 adventure-drama film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Yves Montand, and based on a 1950 novel by Georges Arnaud. When a South American oil well owned by an American company catches fire, the company hires four European men, down on their luck, to drive two trucks over mountain dirt roads, while carrying the nitroglycerine needed to extinguish the fire. "Sorcerer" (1977), directed by William Friedkin, is the American remake.


The film centers on the fates of a handful of men who are stuck in a South American town. The town, Las Piedras, is isolated due to the surrounding desert but it maintains contact with the outside world through a small airport. The airfare, however, is beyond the means of the main characters (many of whom are also noncitizens without proper paperwork for work or travel). There is little opportunity for employment aside from the American corporation that dominates the town. The company, Southern Oil Company, called SOC, operates the nearby oil fields and owns a walled compound within the town. SOC is accused of unethical practices such as exploiting local workers and taking the law into its own hands.

The first half of the film develops the main characters by examining their daily struggles. Most of the action takes place in the town's cantina. The four most prominent characters are: the Frenchmen Mario and M. Jo, the German Bimba and the Italian Luigi. Mario is the main character, a usually optimistic Corsican playboy. Jo is an aging ex-gangster who ran bootleg, and just recently found himself stranded in the town. Bimba is an intense, quiet individual whose father was murdered by the Nazis, and who himself worked for three years in a salt mine. Luigi, Mario's roommate, is a jovial, hardworking individual, who just learned that he is dying from lung disease. Mario befriends Jo due to their common background of having lived in Paris, but a rift develops between Jo and the other cantina regulars because of his tendency to want to come off as a bigshot.

The catalyst to the film's action sequence is a massive fire at one of the SOC oil fields. The only means to extinguish the flames and cap the well is nitroglycerine. With short notice and lack of proper equipment, the only means of transportation are jerrycans placed in two large trucks. Due to the poor condition of the roads and the highly volatile nature of nitroglycerine, the job is considered too dangerous for the unionized SOC employees.

The company recruits drivers from the local community. Despite the dangers, many of the locals volunteer, lured by the high pay: US$2,000 per driver. This is a fortune to them, and the money is seen by some as the only way out of their dead-end lives. The pool of applicants is narrowed down to four handpicked drivers. All the main characters except for M. Jo are chosen. Smerloff, one of the chosen drivers, fails to appear on the appointed day for unknown reasons and Jo is substituted in his place. The other drivers suspect that Jo murdered Smerloff in order to take his place. The final half of the film is an extended action sequence focusing on the drive to the oil field. M. Jo and Mario are in one vehicle, and Luigi and Bimba are in the other, with thirty minutes separating them in order to limit potential casualties. The drivers are forced to deal with a series of physical and mental obstacles, including a stretch of road called "the washboard", a construction barricade that forces them to teeter around a rotten platform above a precipice, and a boulder blocking the road. Jo finds that his nerves are not what they used to be in his younger age, and the others confront him with his increasing cowardice. Finally, Luigi and Bimba's truck explodes without warning.

Mario and Jo arrive at the scene only to find a large crater rapidly filling up with oil from a severed pipeline. Jo exits the vehicle in order to help Mario navigate it through the crater. The vehicle, however, is in danger of becoming bogged down and during their frantic attempts to prevent it, Mario is forced to run over Jo. Although the vehicle is ultimately freed from the muck, Jo is mortally wounded. On their arrival at the oil field they are hailed as heroes, but Jo is dead and Mario collapses from exhaustion. Upon his recovery, Mario heads home in the same truck, now freed of its dangerous cargo. He collects double the wages following his friends' deaths, and refuses the appointed chauffeur SOC offers.

The final scene shows him jubilantly driving down a mountain road, intercut with a party at the cantina. He swerves recklessly and intentionally, having cheated death so many times on the same road. He takes one corner too fast and plunges to his death many feet below.

Critical reception

On its original release, "The Wages of Fear" was hailed by many prominent critics. Bosley Crowther of the "New York Times" wrote "The excitement derives entirely from the awareness of nitroglycerine and the gingerly, breathless handling of it. You sit there waiting for the theatre to explode." [ [ Rotten Tomatoes] ]

Subsequent critics have been equally flattering. Pauline Kael called it "the most original and shocking French melodrama of the 50s" [ [ Pauline Kael Reviews] ] , and Roger Ebert has stated that "The film's extended suspense sequences deserve a place among the great stretches of cinema." [ [ Chicago Sun-Times] ] .
Empire magazine has placed the film in its masterpiece list.Fact|date=February 2007


* Grand Prix at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.
* Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.


Due to the negative portrayal of the American oil company SOC, the film was accused of anti-Americanism and several scenes were cut for the U.S. release. [ [ Review: Wages of Fear ] ]

The depiction of Véra Clouzot's character as an easily manipulated simpleton, has led to accusations of sexism. [ [ Chicago Sun-Times] ]

Cast includes

* Yves Montand as Mario
* Charles Vanel as M. Jo
* Peter van Eyck as Bimba
* Folco Lulli as Luigi
* Véra Clouzot as Linda
* William Tubbs as Bill O'Brien
* Darío Moreno as Hernandez
* Jo Dest as Smerloff
* Antonio Centaas Camp Chief
* Luis De Lima as Bernanrdo
* Darling Légitimus

DVD release

"The Wages of Fear" was released on DVD on October 25, 2005 as part of The Criterion Collection. However, unlike most films from this exclusive collection, it lacked any special features beyond restoration of the scenes cut for its American release.

References in popular culture

* The BBC Radio Comedy The Goon Show did a parody in 1956 called "The Fear of Wages".
* In the American television show "Lost", the minor (unseen) character "Montand" is named after actor Yves Montand. This was confirmed as a tribute to the movie and its suspense plotline (mirrored on the show in the dynamite transport scene) in the 5/19/06 Official Lost Podcast by executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.
* In the American television show "MacGyver", the plot has been adopted in the episode "Hellfire" (Season 1, Episode 8).


External links

*imdb title|id=0046268|title=Salaire de la peur, Le
*" [ The Wages of Fear] " at Rotten Tomatoes
* [ Criterion Collection] essay by Dennis Lehane

###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
title=Palme d'Or
tied with "Two Cents Worth of Hope"
after="Gate of Hell"
succession box
title=Golden Bear winner
before="Hon dansade en sommar"
after="Hobson's Choice"
succession box
before = "Forbidden Games"
after = "Richard III"
title = BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source
years = 1955

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