The Wages of Fear (1953)

The Wages of Fear (1953), directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot.

At first the setting seems to be one of those decaying colonial African outposts from a Graham Greene novel. We soon see it is actually an oil town in South America, but with the same dirt streets, scrap metal shanties and morning vultures in the road.

Shady, lazy multi-national drifters have landed there and can't get away. Earn money in construction? No: "We work with our brains", which means not at all.

It is a cruel, brutal, exploitative place. When an oil well explodes the damned Company cares nothing for the deaths, they just need drivers for a well-paid suicide mission to deliver nitroglycerin to the site which will somehow blow out the conflagration.

It is a nightmarish, white-knuckle driving job. Never has the tension of traction been so well shown in a film, the difficulty of negotiating rough roads and impossible corners.

We come to understand that the money is just an excuse. It gives the men permission to do something so crazy. They would deny that.

Camaraderie? Not much, but some.

Our drivers:

The young woman at the café, dog-like in her devotion to the uncaring Montand, is Véra Clouzot, the director's wife, next seen in Diabolique (1955).


Georges Auric score. Photographed by Armand Thirard, who also did the director's Diabolique (1955) and La Vérité (1960).

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion.