• Wages Of Fear, The



    Released by: BFI
    Released on: October 23rd, 2017.
    Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Cast: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck, Vera Clouzot
    Year: 1953

    The Movie:

    Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 masterpiece of suspense Wages Of Fear was released in North American a year later in 1954 shorn of over twenty minutes. The American distributors removed portions of the film that they felt were anti-American, as they insinuated that the United States was involved in some crooked business dealings with less than wholesome elements down in South America. When Criterion released the film on laser disc, they restored the film to its full running time and when they issued the DVD the first time out, they ported over that same cut of the film. They then released a two disc special edition re-release of the film marks again featuring the uncut version of the film on home video. This new Blu-ray release from the BFI actually runs almost five minutes longer than that Criterion release, clocking in at 152 minutes versus the 148 minute run time of the Criterion disc.

    As to the story itself? In the small, impoverished South American town of Las Piedres, the Southern Oil Company is making money hand over fist. While the people who populate the town and supply much of the labor are living hand to mouth in run down shacks and eating bread and water, the men who run the oil company are doing just fine. Unfortunately for the suits, their life of luxury is put into some serious jeopardy when one of the main oil wells that they've been refining from catches fire. With the well located over three hundred miles from the border of Las Piedres, they're unsure how to get the proper men and supplies there to fight the fire and save their precious oil.

    Soon though, one of the oil company men comes up with the idea of hiring four tough rogues to drive two tanker trucks full of nitroglycerine there to use to put out the blaze. Word gets out, and soon the four men are ready for the job not because they want to do it, but because they need the money and the two thousand dollars being offered for their services is just too much for them to pass up. The fact that the odds of their survival are slim to none doesn't stop Luigi (Folco Lulli), Bimba (Peter Van Eyck), Joe (Charles Vanel) and Mario (Yves Montrand) from showing up for work. Soon they're paired up into teams of two for the long drive through dangerous terrain where a single bump or spark could send them to certain death.

    The four men drive their precocious cargo across the rugged roads, through bamboo forests, across teetering bridges and through rocky areas in hopes of making it there alive and intact to collect their pay. As their journey grows longer, their relationships develop and tensions arise from both their environment and their companionship.

    The four main characters are all in the same predicament but come from very different backgrounds. As such, they're not quite the best of friends sometimes despite the fact that they know they need to stick together to make this all work. The most interesting aspect of the film is to see how they react to one another and to their situations as they crop up. Each encounter along the road to their destination seems more arduous than the next. One of the men wants to get out and run, throw in the towel and make it out with his life intact, another becomes a brutal savage in the face of danger. One finds a new lust for life along the way, while another enjoys the challenge that this job presents him with.

    Clouzot allows us to get to know the four central characters just enough to care about what happens to them on their trip. This in turn makes the film all the more suspenseful. Stand out moments such as when one of the trucks gets stuck on a feeble looking bridge or when the other trucks becomes mired along an oil slicked road will have you gripping the edge of your chair in anticipation for what comes next. The performances are solid across the board, the cinematography makes excellent use of contrast and shadowy lighting effects to heighten the mood. The end result is that everything falls into place nicely in the full cut of the film. The characters and their motivations are there, the set pieces are riveting, and the pacing, even at two and a half hours in length, never seems dull. Wages Of Fear is not a happy film, nor is it a testament to optimism or the human spirit – it's very dark, very grim, and very intense – but it is an exceptionally well made picture that stands the test of time extremely well. It plays remarkably well even now, over fifty years since it was made, having lost none of its power to hold us in suspense right up until its perfect finale.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    This Blu-ray release from the BFI presents the film in its proper 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio. The black and white transfer, presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and takne from a new 4k restoration, looks fantastic. Black levels are strong and deep and don't bury the fine detail in the background of the image at all. There’s no crush here. The grays look nice and stay fairly strong, as do the whites and this is a very well balanced image. There the odd speck here and there but these instances are few and far between, most won’t notice them unless they’re specifically looking for them. An understandable amount of film grain is also present throughout but it never proves to be distracting at all. In terms of digital problems there aren't any compression artifacts to note and neither is there any serious edge enhancement or obvious noise reduction. The picture here is fantastic.

    As far as older Mono tracks go, this 24-bit LPCM track sounds pretty good. Presented in its original French language track with optional English subtitles, there's a surprising amount of depth to this track considering that it comes out of only one speaker. Dialogue is smooth and easy to follow, sound effects come through nicely and the score sounds great.

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary featuring Australian film critic Adrian Martin, who has written quite a few film books over the last few years and provided some interesting commentary tracks as well for the BFI, Arrow Video, Eureka and others. This is all to say that Martin knows what he’s talking about, he’s clearly a fan of the film but so too has he done the research. As such, he’s able to offer up plenty of interesting background information, notes on the contributions of the cast and crew, observations about the locations and the score and plenty more.

    Carried over from the Criterion Collection release are video interviews with assistant director Michel Romanoff and Henri-Georges Clouzot biographer Marc Godin. Romanoff speaks for just over twenty two minutes about his experiences on the film, his working relationship with Clouzot and some of the performers, and about some of the technical details that they really strived to nail during the production. This makes for a pretty interesting interview as Romanoff did work very closely with Clouzot on this particular film and as such, he's able to offer some unique insight into the movie and the man who made it. Godin does a great job of explaining how influential Clouzot's work would become years after it was made and he also details a lot of background information on the man, explaining that his lack of humor in real life often made its way into his films as he was at all times a rather deadly serious person.

    The BFI also includes an interview with Professor Lucy Mazdon recorded in 2017 running thirty-five minutes. Lots of insight here into the importance and the influence of the film, what makes it stand out and what makes it as effective as it is. Also on hand is The Guardian Lecture which is a ninety-nine minute long audio recording of Yves Montand in conservation with Don Allan from 1989. This piece doesn’t just cover his work in Wages Of Fear but is pretty much a retrospective discussion covering much of his career, it’s quite interesting.

    Rounding out extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. Though the BFI sent a test disc to review, retail product should include an illustrated booklet containing an essay by Andy Miller, an original reviews by Karel Reisz and Penelope Houston, an appreciation of Clouzot by Paul Ryan and full film and Blu-ray release credits.

    The Final Word:

    One of the most intense films of its time, Wages Of Fear receives a beautifully re-mastered high definition face lift from The BFI who issue the film with a gorgeous transfer and stack the disc with some interesting and informative extras. Consider this one essential.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!































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