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The Wages of Fear(1953)
In a squalid South American oil town, four desperate men sign on for a suicide mission to drive trucks loaded with nitroglycerin over a treacherous mountain route. As they ferry their explosive cargo to a faraway oil fire, each bump and jolt tests their courage, their friendship, and their nerves. The result is one of the greatest thrillers ever committed to celluloid, a white- knuckle ride from France’s legendary master of suspense, Henri-Georges Clouzot.
For more about The Wages of Fear and the The Wages of Fear Blu-ray release, see the The Wages of Fear Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 8, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter van Eyck, William Tubbs, Véra Clouzot
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
» See full cast & crew
The Wages of Fear Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 8, 2009
French director Henri-Georges Clouzot's legendary "The Wages of Fear" (1953) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The disc contains a restored high-definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack of the original, uncut, French version of the film. The Blu-ray package also offers interviews with assistant director Michel Romanoff and Clouzot biographer Marc Godin, a video interview with Yves Montand from 1988, deleted scenes, as well as an informative documentary on the director's career from 2004. Region-A "locked".
Three men – Mario (Yves Montand, César et Rosalie Luigi (Folco Lulli, Le comte de Monte-Cristo), and Bimba (Peter van Eyck, Die Todesstrahlen des Dr. Mabuse) – are stuck in a dead-end town in an unknown South American country. A fourth man, Jo (Charles Vanel, Du rififi à Tokyo), joins them shortly before an American oil company announces that it needs truckers to transport a large amount of nitroglycerin to a remote oil rig located some 300 miles away from the town. It is a dangerous job that could cost the men their lives, but if they make it, each would get a check for 2000$.
Based on the novel by Georges Arnaud, Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear didn't delight American censors when it was first screened for them in New York City in 1955. Some felt that the film was openly anti-American (in the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc, Dennis Lehane recalls that even Time magazine managed to offer an opinion: "a picture that is surely one of the most evil ever made"). As a result, the original French version of The Wages of Fear was censored and an entirely new cut of the film was approved for US distribution.
The key reason why Wages of Fear prompted such extreme reactions had to with the manner in which the American oil company that hires Mario, Luigi, Bimba and Jo, as well as its employees were portrayed – during the first half of the film, there is an uprising against the Americans after the locals learn that a terrible accident at one of the company's oil rigs, which could have been prevented, has claimed the lives of a few workers; there are also scenes where Bill O'Brien (William Tubbs, Cento piccole mamme), the man who runs the company, utters all sorts of controversial lines that were consequently cut by the censors.
The political overtones (which, by the way, are anything but controversial nowadays) however, are not what transform The Wages of Fear into a great film. It is the raw intensity of the narrative and unusually strong characters that separate The Wages of Fear from the majority of the films that were produced during the 50s.
Something else that also makes The Wages of Fear an unusual film is the fact that none of the main characters are likable. They are all given plenty of opportunity to impress and become heroes, but there is something about them, something very creepy, that does not encourage the audience to side with them.
There is a good reason why Clouzot filmed his characters as described above. It allowed the French director to constantly misplace their strengths and weaknesses in a manner that left the audiences guessing, unsure how to deconstruct their actions (look closely at Mario and Jo's relationship from the first half of the film and compare it to their relationship from the second half).
The finale is cold and brutal. It is also very much in sync with the film's intense tone and desire to provoke. Many critics believe that it was meant as another thinly veiled jab at American culture and the type of reality Hollywood was promoting through its films. Maybe it was, but, as I noted earlier, The Wages of Fear did not need to redeem itself as a political film.
The Wages of Fear Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
This new HD transfer for Clouzot's film offers a number of key improvements in terms of detail, clarity and color-saturation. The actual print is also notably healthy - plenty of debris, scratches and specks have been removed. This being said, there are obvious limitations to this print that certainly affect contrast and brightness (what this means is that certain scenes could look slightly sharper). Still, this Blu-ray is a substantial upgrade over the old SDVD release of the film. However, those of you with digital projectors will likely be the party that appreciates the 1080p transfer the most as the key areas where the Blu-ray excels are far easier to appreciate on large screens. Finally, I did not detect any traces of post-production filtering to report here. (NoteThis is a Region-A "locked" release which you will not be able to play on native Region-B players. You need to have a native Region-A or Region-Free player in order to access the disc's content.
The Wages of Fear Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Criterion have supplied a French uncompressed monaural audio track for Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear. Generally speaking, this is a solid audio track that does justice to the film. Obviously, it has been meticulously restored and, as far as I am concerned, this is the best quality that could have been achieved with the existing film elements (I actually have a very old French DVD of this film and did a few quick tests to see how the Blu-ray compares to it). Specifically, the dialog is clear, very easy to follow, and without any dropouts, hissing, or cracks that I could detect. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The Wages of Fear Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
An interview with Michel Romanoff - Assistant director Michel Romanoff worked with such renowned directors as Marcel Carne, Julien Duvivier, Jacques Demy, and Agnes Varda. He was also Henri-Georges Clouzot's second on Diabolique, The Spies, and The Wages of Fear. In this interview, recorded in Paris in 2005, he discusses his work during the two-year process of shooting The Wages of Fear in the Camargue area of southern France (1080i). There is a second interview with Marc Godin, coauthor (together with Henri-Georges Clouzot's godson Jose-Louis Bocquet) of the illustrated biography Clouzot: Cineaste. He was interviewed in Paris in 2005 (1080i). An interview with Yves Montand - Anne Andreu interviewed Yves Montand in the south of France on November 13, 1988, for the television program Cinema cinemas. In this clip, Montand explains how Henri-Georges Clouzot renewed his interest in acting by casting him in The Wages of Fear (1080i). Henri-Georges Clouzot: The Enlightened Tyrant - This documentary, produced by Open Art Productions in 2004, as part of the series Ces messieurs de la famille, gives an overview of Henri-Georges Clouzot's background and film career. It includes interviews with Clouzot's second wife, Ines; his brother Marcel; actresses Suzy Delair and Brigitte Bardot; and assistant director Michel Romanoff (1080i). Censored - When The Wages of Fear was first shown on American screen in 1955, it was in a much shorter form than the original French version. It is widely believed that distributor made cuts - eliminating perceived anti-Americanism and suggestions id homosexuality - to appease U.S. sensibilities and the time. This piece offers the scenes that were omitted from the U.S. version, as well as excerpts from articles discussing the cuts (1080p). In addition, this Blu-ray disc arrives with a lovely booklet containing the very informative essay "No Exit" by Dennis Lehane (author of several novels, including Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River).
The Wages of Fear Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This is yet another solid Blu-ray release from Criterion. I suppose, at this point, we could safely assume that the US distributors will be very consistent with their output. Frankly, seeing the dramatic improvements each of their Blu-ray transfers has revealed thus far, I think that if one is truly interested in building a serious film library, one cannot but collect each and everyone of these discs. Recommended.
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