Wages of Fear, The / Salaire de la Peur, La (1953)

Wages of Fear, The / Salaire de la Peur, La (1953)

“Who’d have thought there’d be so many candidates for suicide?”

When the foreman (Williams Tubbs) of an American oil company in a poverty-ridden South American town puts out a call for drivers to make a dangerous but lucrative trip across the mountains with nitroglycerine, four men — Corsican Mario (Yves Montand), Parisian ex-gangster Jo (Charles Vanel), German Bimba (Peter van Eyck), and fatally ill Luigi (Folco Lulli) — volunteer.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • Henri-Georges Clouzot Films
  • Survival
  • Truckers
  • Yves Montand Films

Response to Peary s Review:
As Peary writes, this “unbearably suspenseful existential classic by writer-director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who adapted Georges Arnaud‘s novel” is about a “heart-stopping” trip in which the four protagonists “may be dead” at any moment. It features no less than “three unforgettable scenes” that “rate with the most thrilling sequences in cinema history”: “the trucks back onto rotting planks over a mountain ledge”:

… “Van Eyck uses nitro to blow up a boulder that blocks the road”:

… and “Montand drives his truck through a lake of spilled oil while Vanel swims in the black liquid, trying to get out of the way.”:

Peary notes that “Clouzot’s film is, in part, about how men are considered expendable,” with Clouzot openly attacking “corporations (the U.S. oil firm) which continually exploit individuals and let them risk their lives — especially non-union workers in Third World countries — so that the company profits.”

He adds that Clouzot is “equally disappointed in men (such as our ‘heroes’) who are careless with their own lives” — but I take the opposite view; these men are far from “careless,” but instead simply feel they have no other options left. (The film was originally released in a truncated version which left out portions of the first establishing hour; this could help explain Peary’s stance.)

Regardless, there is very little about this relentlessly bleak film that’s easy to take — from opening lines spouting blatantly racist and colorist notions, to the miserable treatment of “Vera Clouzot as the knocked-about barmaid who loves Montand”:

… to every single moment of the drivers’ harrowing journey.

Indeed, this is such a deeply uncomfortable and stressful film that I put off re-watching it for decades, and will admit it’s not one I plan to return to. However, it is most definitely must-see viewing at least once.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Yves Montand as Mario
  • Charles Vanel as Jo
  • Armand Thirard’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a knuckle-biting classic.


  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Wages of Fear, The / Salaire de la Peur, La (1953)

  1. Superb film although the characters are tough to like or take. Absolutely essential for FFs.

    The William Friedkin remake, Sorcerer (1977), is also very, very good if not essential.

  2. Agreed; a once-must, for its solid place in cinema history.

    Reading the assessment given brought this film back to me vividly – so it’s understandable that you yourself put off revisiting it. I’m not inclined to revisit it at the moment but I have seen it at least twice in its uncut version. It seems to me the (rare) type of film that, once seen, lingers in the subconscious. Certainly intense viewing but an important classic.

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