When The Wages of Fear was released in 1953 it garnered great critical acclaim and commercial success - it was the first ever foreign language film to get a UK mainstream Odeon release - and this three hour beast took home the main prize at Cannes, as well as the Best Actor award that year, a Best Film Bafta and the Golden Bear at Berlin. The BFI certainly know a thing or two about the treatment of great films so does this 4k restoration released on Blu-ray with a host of extras do the French classic justice?
In a festering unnamed South American nowhere town, desperate travellers mix with the locals, there for unknown reasons but seeking any means possible escape. When the US oil company operating there needs 4 drivers to risk their lives transporting 2 trucks of highly volatile nitroglycerine 300 miles across dangerous terrain, there’s no shortage of volunteers, the $2000 fee per man being a surefire way out. The chosen (“because those bums don't have any union, nor any families, and if they blow up, nobody'll come around bothering me for any contribution”) embark on a journey in which fear shows us who they really are.
Some films transcend the expected boundaries of cinema and take on mythic form and, like 2001, The Tin Drum or Apocalypse Now; The Wages of Fear is unlike anything else. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot spends the first hour of the film setting up who we think these men are only to spend the next two hours destroying them, making fear tear them apart and, along the way, creating an existential examination of maleness, machismo, hopelessness and failure.
It also displays a daring homoeroticism, the notion that the needs of desperate men must be met somehow, this being particularly blatant in the first hour, thanks in no small part to the brilliant cast.
In 4k, the ravishing photography is presented as crystal clear, almost too clear, the effect of the ultra high definition making the visuals seem less cinematic (4k always seems to make film look digital and ‘new’) but this is still one of the most stunning looking films of its time.
Extras are typical of BFI releases, with some excellent archive interviews, a film historian revealing the fascinating context and history behind the film, an audio commentary, plus an illustrated booklet. But it’s the quality of the transfer, which makes this more than worth of purchase.
This is filmmaking at its very best and rarely does a film grip with such intensity, some scenes being almost unbearable to watch as the situations the men find themselves in create palpable tension, which you believe utterly.
THE WAGES OF FEAR / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT / SCREENPLAY: HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT, JÉROME GERONIMI / STARRING: YVES MONTAND, CHARLES VANEL, FOLCO LULLI / RELEASE DATE: 23RD OCTOBER