Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear) (1953)

Today's film is The Wages of Fear.  It wasn't necessarily what I would call thrilling, but it was definitely tense.  It starts off in a town in South America people of all nationalities gather and basically do nothing.  Our main characters are either from France or Italy.  It makes me wonder how they all got to this town, whether or not they had jobs and lost them, or anything about their past really.

The first part of the film lets us get to know the main characters, the four drivers of the two trucks.  They are all immigrants to this country with no real job, except Luigi who works with concrete.  Learning that he job is contributing to some serious health issues, he agrees to go along as well.  His driving partner is Bimba.  The other truck drivers are Mario, the main guy who arrives as the sole driver and successfully delivers the nitro to the oil field.  His partner is Jo, who appears to be in charge but is really a worrisome guy.

A faroff oil well is on fire, and they need nitro to blow it out.  Why?  Because the explosion will eat up all the oxygen around the oil well, and fire needs oxygen to burn.  A big problem is that nitroglycerin is very sensitive to shock, meaning a bump can set it off in a huge explosion, and over time it becomes more unstable, making it more dangerous.  The oil field near the town has some it can deliver, but doesn't have any safety equipment to go with it.  Question: Why would they even have nitro without safety equipment to transport it?  Wouldn't it make sense to keep some on hand just in case?

The boss hires four men, who they call tramps because they don't have regular jobs, because they are not union nor do they have any family that would expect retribution if they are killed.  Each man knows how dangerous this work is.  Did anyone else notice that one truck had Mario and the other had Luigi?

Some moments are especially tense.  There is a giant boulder blocking the path of the trucks, so Bimba decides to blow it up with a bit of the nitro.  It works, spectacularly, and I worried that the rocks from the hillside might tumble down and hit the trucks.  But they didn't.

Even though we don't see exactly what happens, we see that in the distance there was an explosion.  Somehow traveling while driving through a huge puddle, Luigi and Bimba's truck has exploded and there is literally nothing left of them (except a cigarette holder).  Now the reality of just how dangerous this stuff is really sinks into the other two, who have no choice but to go through the same puddle.  I remembered earlier when Mario was backing up and asked Jo to spot for him.  No matter how many times he yelled to stop, he didn't and nearly knocked him off the cliff.  So I know that it isn't going to end well for Jo.  So when he yells at Mario to stop, again, he can't because he doesn't want to lose momentum and runs straight over Jo.  After freeing the truck from the puddle, Mario loads him onto the truck.  Right before they enter the oilfield, Jo goes into shock and dies.  Mario emerges onto the oilfield and is treated like a hero, and even given double the salary.

Mario celebrates his drive home by driving like a total asshole, weaving wildly from side to side.  He loses control of the truck and plunges off a cliff.  This is an excellent lesson to learn from a film: Don't drive like an asshole.  You might get stuck, explode, run over someone, and drive off a cliff.  All these things happened because they weren't driving as carefully as they should have.  I will give this film an 8/10.


  1. I thought the drive section was among the tensest scenes I had ever watched in a film.

    For what it's worth: there was no puddle for the first truck to drive through. It was the explosion that caused the massive hole in the ground and ruptured the pipeline, which then filled the hole with oil. It was really stupid to start to drive through the puddle without knowing what was in it or how deep it was, but like you pointed out, the driver isn't exactly Mr. Careful. And look how many idiots today still try to drive through flooded streets and get stuck when the water lifts their vehicles or drowns their engines.

    1. That makes more sense. And it makes me sad because they were just driving along and now they're a puddle.