Monday, June 13, 2016

Le salaire de la peur (The Wages Of Fear)(1953) Road Trip to Oblivion

Directed by  Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique (1955)). The film stars Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter Van Eyck, Véra Clouzot, and William Tubbs. Cinematography was by Armand Thirard, music was by Georges Auric.

A Film Soleil Noir based on the 1950 French novel "Le salaire de la peur" (lit. "The Salary of Fear") by Georges Arnaud a French expatriate who in 1947 went to Venezuela, working various jobs, a cross-country trucker, a saloon waiter, a taxi driver, a contrebandier and conman. He met many of the wild characters in the tropics who eventually made it into his novels.

Clouzot was given the script for Le salaire de la peur after an extended trip to Brazil where he filmed an unfinished documentary Le voyage en Brésil (1950). That trip informed the setting and the various locations/sets for Le salaire de la peur. The delta of the Rhône, Bouches-du-Rhône, France was chosen aptly to represent the desolate South American backwater flytrap.

Las Piedras

Las Piedras, San Miguel is a tropic Southern Oil Company (SOC) dirt street, shanty boom town. But the oil booms gone bust. The town's overcrowded with international boomers turned moochers. Human trash. Unemployed. Running up tabs. They desperately wait for either jobs or a way out.  It's Hot. It's squalid. It's fetid. The only connection to the outside world is the airfield and the planes that land infrequently.

The film's opening shot is of string bound cockroaches. A half naked "cockroach" Boy/God pokes at them with a stick. A poignant metaphor for the film's main characters. Mario (Yves Montard), is a jobless French drifter who rooms with Luigi (Folco Lulli), a husky Italian who works as a mason. Linda (Vera Clouzot), is a cute, waifish, but simple minded, servant with benefits for saloon/hotel keeper Hernandez (Darío Moreno). Linda and Mario are sweet on each other. Bimba (Peter Van Eyck) is a German expat stranded in town, he runs the taxi for Hernandez. Jo (Charles Vanel) is an ex-Parisian gangster a recent arrival who blew into town on a DC3 looking like a bigshot. Looking like money. He's as broke as the rest but puts on a good con. Hernandez buys his schtick. Bill O'Brien (William Tubbs) is the SOC project manager, a former shady contraband runner pal of Jo's now turned legit.

El Corsario Negro (The Black Privateer) the town dive bar. Grandly located upon the dirt and mud puddled "municipal plaza" of Los Piedras. It's a human fly ribbon that has captured the town's dreggs. They sit, sprawl and sweat upon its lath slatted porch. The barred shadows symbolically emphasizing their entrapment.

El Corsario Negro

Porch Lizards

Linda & Mario

When the Parisian ex-gangster Jo arrives with a bit of fan fair the delicate balance of life on the skids for Mario is thrown askew. Mario abandons his shanty digs with Luigi in favor of his fellow countryman Jo who has scammed a more upscale flop at El Corsario Negro. Jo has some nefarious designs on the town and he questions Mario about the local setup. Luigi resents Jo's pushy gangster style and the two get into a showdown one night at the El Corsario Negro cantina.

Luigi & Mario

Mario's pinups
Jo's arrival
Jo and Mario meet

Getting the layout of the town
Luigi's & Jo's confrontation

The film spirals into Noirsville when an SOC oil well catches fire out in the boonies. The only way to put it out is with explosives. The only explosives on hand is Nitroglycerin and its all in Las Piedras, two hundred some odd miles away. Bill O'Brien and his team decide to offer a suicide job paying $2,000 apiece to four truck drivers to take the two truck loads of gerry cans up to the fields. To paraphrase one of O'Brien's men "we'll get those losers to do it for peanuts."

Of course there is a mad scramble to apply for the jobs, which means liberation out of Las Piedras, and the field is eventually weeded down to Mario, Luigi, Bimba and Jo.  The trek will be intense, nerve wracking, and highly dangerous. The unpaved road following the pipeline up to the fields goes through marshes, plains, bamboo jungles, and switchbacks across rocky mountainous terrain.

The wages of their fears will be their salvation. Who will survive?




They'll do it for peanuts

Clouzot, does a fantastic job of creating edge of your seat suspense. The trucks crawl along through potholes and ruts, and speed through washboard stretches (it smooths the ride), and have to do a see-saw maneuver around a switchback by backing over a dilapidated platform. A huge boulder blocks the road at another bend in the road.

You are constantly expecting the works to all get blown to hell at any moment.  The screencaps are from the Criterion DVD. 10/10

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