Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Wages of Fear

Based on French science fiction and fantasy writer Georges-Jean Arnaud's novel, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Salaire de la peur / The Wages of Fear / Lohn der Angst (1953) works on many levels. First, as a story. Four expatriates in a South American country (Venezuela?) take on a suicidal mission for $2,000 each because they need the money. There's an oil well fire deep in the interior, and these guys are hired to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerin to help blow it out. Hitch: the slightest accident and they'll be killed instantly by their own cargo.

The Wages of Fear works as an existential statement: life is more fragile than we'd like to think, but we also have more choices than we usually realize, too.

The Wages of Fear works as a socio-economic statement. Oil is more important than individual human life. "The Hell with the Union! There's plenty of tramps in town, all volunteers. I'm not worried. To get that bonus, they'll carry the entire charge on their backs." "You mean you're gonna put those bums to work?" "Yes, Mr. Bradley, 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."

The Wages of Fear works as a geopolitical statement. Yves Montand, in his first dramatic role (as Mario), quips: "Wherever there's oil, there's Americans." This is the context of the movie: armed guards patrol the perimeter keeping the locals in line and in poverty. "When the oil stops, everything stops." (This context also sets in relief today's emerging "resource nationalism" of Venezuela and other countries as they seize control from international corporations).

First and foremost, though, The Wages of Fear tells a compelling story. Censored in the USA when it first came out, there have been two remakes: Howard Koch's Violent Road / Hell's Highway (1958) and William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977). Friedkin's (director of The French Connection, The Exorcist, Bug, etc.) is the better remake. The oil well fire scenes may also have influenced Werner Herzog, most notably in Lessons of Darkness (1992). A classic.

Today's Rune: Flow.


Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds good. Reminds me a bit of a Bonanza episode from many years back.

the walking man said...

I have come to see that no matter how much credit the American public eats, this nation will never return to the 50's. As much as we try we will never again dominate markets. {No consumption, no economy}

Is this a bad thing? Not if we adjust to the reality, the Russians want to step up and make the ruble a new world benchmark standard. This is long as our markets adjust to the economik. American markets won't adjust and we will suffer accordingly.

America has been the truckers carrying the nitro too long...the fire in the interior burning too hot with a world ready to rebuke this nation, in the face of bush, chaney, rumsfeld, arrogance. A trinity of terror if there ever was one.

All the people can do is hang on wherever they can, it is going to get rougher still.

Sidney said...

I think a lot of TV shows co-opted that storyline. I'm with Charles either the Cartwrights or the Barkleys had to transport nitro at some point.

I can remember playing cowboys or something on the playground and pretending we had to transport explosives, all of it stemming from this show I'm sure.

jeffery said...

Being an "American Oil Well Fire Fighter" with over 25 years of experience in the industry I was greatly distrubed by the comments from others. Americans lead the way in Oil Field Drive because we arent afraid to work 80-100 hour work weeks. That is what makes us the best.

the walking man said...

jeffery...long hours is not the problem. Most adults will work them, but at what cost to benefit ratio? The mathematics have changed, and so has the propensity for the worlds tolerance of Americanism. Not good not bad just different.