LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR (THE WAGES OF FEAR) – 1953

the-wages-of-fear

Christopher

So when asked the question, “What’s your favorite movie?” I generally say The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. To me this question means, what movie can you sit down and watch no matter what? Though, I know I can sit down and watch The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, what I would consider the best movie I have ever seen that is also my favorite, Wages of Fear would probably win. This movie is just so cool!

In many ways I’m pretty jealous of the characters of this film. Yes, they are dead broke, some of them are just outright shitty people, but they are given this fantastic opportunity to be pretty manly. Now, I’m not saying I would be able to do what they do. In my mind I would like to think that I would be fine but in reality, I’m pretty fond of my life. Although the idea of getting paid for some kind of road trip/labor job sounds pretty nice to me, other than truck driving.

I’m glad Elizabeth and I finally got to see this. I was pretty nervous having her watch this cause I was fairly certain she might hate it, but it really does mean a lot to me so I felt we had to watch it anyway. This movie pretty much represented my experience in high school. I would get out of school or baseball and just hang out in my parents’ basement watching foreign Criterion Collection movies all night. It was nice being able to watch through about two movies a day. It feels so good watching this many movies with Elizabeth cause I pretty much only watched moves that friends wanted to watch in college. I averaged maybe a movie a week, if that.

Since so many of those Criterion movies were watched in high school, almost 10 years ago, I’m pretty excited to start going through them again, and watching more of the newly released.

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

I have to say, reading a one-sentence synopsis of The Wages of Fear didn’t make it sound too exciting: “Four men must drive dangerous trucks in South America.” Woohoo! But it’s one of Chris’ favorites, so I couldn’t not see it. To put it simply, it’s not boring. It’s actually kind of incredible.

So how compelling is watching four men drive two trucks? Well, first of all, all four of these men are, for whatever reason, stranded in a pretty sad and isolated village in South America. The biggest industry there is oil, and there’s an American oil company set up around them. When a fire breaks out over 300 miles away, the Americans have to send nitroglycerine to stop the fire, but they can’t afford to send any of their own workers. So they find 4 “tramps” stuck in the village, offer them each $2,000 (enough to fly out of town) to drive the trucks. But the roads are unpaved and treacherous and the slightest bump could explode the nitroglycerine and kill everyone in the truck. So it’s not exactly simple.

There’s tension from the drive and tension from the men. There’s two men for each truck; one holds Mario, a young ladies’ man, and Jo, an older tough guy. The other holds Luigi, a happy Italian, and Bimba, a cynical German. The two sets of men don’t particularly like each other and each truck starts off as rivals. But the longer they go, the more insane the on-road challenges become and less relevant the rivalries become and eventually all four men are working together. But then, out of nowhere, while Jo rolls a cigarette, Luigi and Bimba’s truck explodes ahead. This is after all four men have nearly died repeatedly between nearly running into each other, having to drive across a rotten wooden platform, and having to blow up a boulder using some of the nitroglycerine. Because Luigi and Bimba’s truck explodes from the perspective of Mario and Jo, we don’t know what happened. The sudden deaths of half of the main characters really puts into perspective the danger of what they’re doing. When Mario and Jo reach the scene of the explosion they find that it caused a nearby oil pipe to burst, filling the area with oil, which Mario and Jo must cross before it becomes impossible. Up to this point, Mario and Jo, who started out as inseparable best friends, have had some serious conflicts, mostly to do with Jo’s increasing cowardice. And then Jo finds himself ahead of the truck, submerged in oil, trying to move debris out of the way so Mario can drive the truck. But Jo gets stuck in the oil, and Mario knows he has to keep moving or else the truck will be stuck, too. So in a pretty intense scene, Mario knowingly (and slowly) runs Jo over, as he floats screaming in the oil. He doesn’t kill Jo then, but seems to sever or nearly sever his legs. But Jo dies in Mario’s arms while Mario drives the last stretch of the journey. When Mario arrives at the fire, he’s welcomed as a hero and faints soon after arriving. Once the fire is out, Mario receives $4,000 and a chauffeured ride back to the village, but Mario insists on driving himself. And when he does, he sort of loses it. Between the intensity of the drive and the death of three of his friends, one of which he was partially responsible for, Mario has just kind of lost his mind by the time he’s driving back. His purposefully reckless drives ends up sending him off a cliff and killing him.

I don’t really like endings like this. It’s hard to watch characters struggle for so long and make it through the struggle, only to fail in the end in a completely different way. Das Boot does this, too, but that movie is still great. So The Wages of Fear is also still great, but just exhausting. But it makes up for the stress by being beautifully shot with pretty intense and complex relationships. There’s also at least 5 languages spoken (French, Italian, English, Spanish, German), which just makes the whole thing that much more complex and interesting.

 

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