Movies, Briefly: The Wages of Fear (1953)

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Just how intense is The Wages of Fear?

This movie didn’t just make my palms sweat; it made the soles of my feet sweat too. Either I’ve got a glandular problem or this is one suspenseful movie. Four desperate Europeans living in South America agree to a suicide mission hauling containers of highly combustible nitroglycerin along 300 miles of unpaved road. If they survive the perilous journey of roads that resemble corrugated metal, hairpin mountain passes, decaying bridges, and lakes of oil, they’ll each receive $2,000. In 2008 money, two grand inflates to a little under sixteen thousand, not exactly exorbitant pay for a job that can quite literally blow up in your face. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s message couldn’t be clearer: life is precious, short, and depressingly cheap. Not that you’ll have much time to ponder the emptiness of human existence once the men begin their journey, as Clouzot throws one obstacle after another at the drivers, which means one harrowing sequence after another for the audience. The trek to the deliver the nitro runs the final 90 breathless minutes of the two-and-a-half hour film. It’s some of the most exquisitely sweaty time you’ll ever spend at the movies. Make sure you bring your extra-absorbent footwear.


Matt Singer covers the world of film for the Independent Film Channel. He's also a regular contributor to their website, IFC.com. His personal blog is Termite Art. More from this author →