Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and written by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi that is based on a novel by Georges Arnaud, Le Salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear) is the story about four European men carrying nitroglycerine to extinguish a fire at a South American oil well through treacherous terrains. Starring Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, and Folco Lulli. Le Salaire de la peur is a gripping yet mesmerizing suspense film from Henri-Georges Clouzot.
A group of foreign men are in a South American town taking odd jobs to get by as they’re seeking for some bigger job at a nearby American oil company. Arriving into town is an ex-gangster named Jo (Charles Vanel) where he meets a young Frenchman named Mario (Yves Montand) as Mario shows him around town. While Jo tries to make some deals with the company foreman Bill O’Brien (William Tubbs), Mario tries to flirt around with the bar’s waitress Linda (Vera Clouzot). Though Jo is seen as the big shot, he’s not favored by everyone including the hardworking Luigi (Folco Lulli). When news of an explosion at an oil well that has killed four men, O’Brien needs four men to drive two big trucks filled with nitroglycerine to stop the fire. Mario and Luigi are hired along with a Dutchman named Bimba (Peter van Eyck) and a German named Smerloff (Jo Dest).
When Jo manages to smooth his way to take the job, he joins Mario on the first truck while Bimba and Luigi drive the second as they go through the treacherous terrain to the oil well. The four men take turns to drive though it’s clear that despite Mario’s admission to being scared and his need for Jo to help him. Jo becomes ill and starts to become fearful while the four men go through many dangers including and old mine and a huge rock blocking the road. The ordeal would be tough on all four as Mario is forced to deal with Jo’s sudden behavior as it becomes erratic. With a bigger challenge emerging, Mario ponders about the journey he’s been through.
The film is about four guys trying to find some big payoff by taking on this big job. Yet, the job means having to go into a suicide mission carrying an entire truckload of nitroglycerine through these horrific terrains and roads that leads to the big oil well so that a fire can be stopped. Still, there’s the journey where it becomes more than just dangerous on a physical level but also from an emotional and mental perspective. The four men would deal with their own fears and how to handle situations where one would fall apart as his partner is forced to try and get him to calm down.
The screenplay that Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi create is about these men in the world they live in as the film has a structure that is very different. The first half is about the men themselves and their own lives as they each try to deal with trying to find work and live in this very poor South American town. One of the men is a kind laborer hoping to return to Italy while the other is an intense yet quiet Dutchman who spent his years working in the salt mines. Then, there’s these two different Frenchmen as one is a young playboy while the other is an aging ex-gangster. The first half of the film spends a lot of time with the two men along with various others all trying to find some work and make some money in this poor town that is run by an American oil company. While the company are seen as villains, Clouzot nor Geronimi aren’t making some kind of political or social statement towards American corporations other than the fact that they are known for exploiting poor regions in the world.
By the time it gets to the second half, the film changes into this suspenseful yet thrilling adventure where it’s all about what to do on the road. That half is definitely a more engaging portion of the film because of what happens in the journey. Through these challenges such as a series of very dangerous roadways, a very narrow turn near a cliff, a rock, and later a big crater as they‘re all carrying an entire truckload of nitroglycerine, which makes the journey more dangerous. While two of them end up working together very well and manage to maintain some control, there’s two more that are dealing with other issues such as their own fears and to try and to get to their destination. The stakes become more intense as the journey progresses where there is something that’s going to happen. The script’s success is due to the structure of the film where the first half is about these four men and the second half is the journey and what they hope to gain from it.
Clouzot’s direction is very entrancing in the way he presents the film in its different ideas towards the narrative and story. The first half is a more lighthearted yet intriguing drama where there’s elements of melodrama and character study with dabbles of humor. The direction for the most part is quite straightforward but also dwells into the lives of these men and the people that surround them. There’s also some tension throughout that includes a showdown between the working-class Luigi and the more experienced yet successful Jo. The latter of which is a man that can slime his way into anything in hopes that there’s a big payday.
For its second half, the tone of the film changes as it becomes this more harrowing film where the journey is very dangerous. There’s a claustrophobia to the roads and locations they’re driving in as they’re either quite narrow or unsafe because it’s bumpy or has lots of potholes. The camera is always showing the tires and from a point-of-view of the driver. Clouzot’s direction becomes more direct towards what is happening as the action sequences are slow but captivating over what these four men could do in the situations they’re facing. The ending of the film revolves around what was accomplished but also what was lost as it moves back and forth into two different scenes leading to a climatic moment about all that had happened. The overall result in Clouzot’s direction is a film that is chilling but magnificent for its approach to suspense.
Cinematographer Armand Thirard does a great job with the film‘s black-and-white photography to exemplify the broad yet sunny look of the small town the characters live in to more haunting yet stylish look for some of the nighttime scenes. Notably the scenes in the road where the camera work is more engaging for the action as Thirard’s photography is a major highlight of the film. Editors Henri Rust and Madeleine Gug do an amazing job with the editing in giving a lot of the film’s first half some stylish transitional wipes to maintain a steady yet methodical pace for that section. For the second half, the pacing is a bit slower to maintain that element of suspense and chills as it’s definitely engrossing as it’s another of the films technical highlights.
Art director Rene Renoux does a very good job with the set pieces created such as the bar that many of the men hang out to the decayed mine that the four men had to encounter in their journey. The sound work of William Robert Sivel is brilliant for the raucous atmosphere of the city including the bar where there‘s music and dancing played. The sound for the film‘s second half is mostly sparse with only the noise of the truck and locations present in that section to emphasize on its suspense. The music of Georges Auric is superb for its haunting yet acoustic guitar-driven introduction in the opening credits while a lot of the music in the film ranges from Latin American folk and dance music of the time to classical pieces that’s played on location.
The casting for the film is excellent as it features some notable small performances from Luis de Lima as a young Italian man named Bernardo, Jo Dest as the German Smerloff, Dario Moreno as the bar owner Hernandez, William Tubbs as the American foreman O’Brien, and Vera Clouzet as the flirtatious yet dramatic Linda who is in love with Mario. Peter van Eyck is wonderful as Bimba, a Dutch miner who likes to keep things straight as he becomes the biggest risk taker when dealing with a huge roadblock that threatens the job. Folco Lulli is brilliant as the upbeat yet no-nonsense Luigi, a laborer that just wants to get paid and return home for a good life as he’s the most upbeat of the four men.
Charles Vanel is great as Jo, a former gangster who tricks his way into getting the job unaware of the dangers that he’s facing as he becomes a coward due to his illness and old age. Finally, there’s Yves Montand in a phenomenal performance as Mario. Montand brings a nice complexity to a man who is charming but mysterious man who likes to flirt with Linda while also being sort of cruel to her at times. Montand also shows a real everyman quality to a man who is determined to get the job done as it’s definitely a very captivating performance.
Le Salaire de la peur is a spectacular yet powerful suspense film from Henri-Georges Clouzet. Featuring a towering lead performances from Yves Montand, the film is truly one of the most engaging and compelling films ever made for its suspenseful action sequence as well as its devotion to get to know its characters. For anyone that is into suspense films should see this as an essential piece of how it should be done. In the end, Le Salaire de la peur is a haunting yet exhilarating film from Henri-Georges Clouzet.
Henri-Georges Clouzot Films: (Caprice de Princesse) - (Tout pour l’amour) - (The Murderer Lives at Number 21) - (Le Corbeau) - (Quai des orfevres) - (Manon) - (Miquette et sa mere) - Les Diaboliques - (Les Espions) - (La Verite) - (Grand chefs d’orchestre) - (La Prisonniere)
© thevoid99 2011