The Wages of Fear [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (22nd October 2017).
The Film

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

In a rural South American town, the Southern Oil Company employs the locals as well as European and American expats who are looking for work. Frenchman Jo (played by Charles Vanel) arrives new into town looking to work together with his old American pal O'Brien (played by William Tubbs) who is the boss of the oil company branch, though he finds that getting a good opportunity with his friend does not go accordingly. Fellow Frenchman Mario (played by Yves Montand) who has been in town for some time helps out Jo in getting settled and finding work, but with one more person looking for work means limited amount of work for the rest of the people. Tragedy and opportunity strikes when an explosion occurs in one of the oil fields and thirteen local workers were killed. Before anyone can go back to the site for work the fire must be put out, but water is not enough. O'Brien needs to recruit four workers to make a dangerous delivery - canisters of nitroglycerin to deliver to the site for the firefighters to extinguish the oiled flames. The eventual four that are chosen are Mario and Jo who drive one truck and Italian Luigi (played by Folco Lulli) and German Bimba (played by Peter Van Eyck) driving the other. Through rocky terrain, unstable bridges and other dangerous obstacles that challenge their lives.

"The Wages of Fear" was based on the French novel "Le salaire de la peur" first published in 1950, and went through two years of development with director Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose previous film "Miquette et Sa Mère" from 1950 was a commercial and critical flop. A comedy that was not comedic, the director and screenwriter went back to the dramatic table and to create something very different from the rest of French cinema at the time. Along with his brother and frequent screenwriting partner Jérôme Géronimi, the production was a post-war drama about corporate greed, racism, Americanization, and how far man would go to seek true happiness no matter how distant it may seem.

Looking at the characters of Mario, Jo, Bimba, Luigi, and other expats in town, they are not necessarily there because they want to but because of circumstances all differing. Mario dreams of going back to France and keeps a metro ticket with him as a good luck charm and as a reminder of home. Each character has a personality, from the ex-gangster Jo and his path downwards, or the carefree and loud Luigi, or the quiet danger that lurks in Bimba's mind. The interactions between the characters and their environment raises the tension from the opening expository scenes to the latter half where they are on a tightrope of life and death. The character of Mario is the lead, as we see his playboy charm towards Linda (played by Véra Clouzot and his later transformation into a near soulless madman with disregard for human life while driving the truck. The actors do a phenomenal job in giving life to each with not a missed beat to be heard.

With the haphazard attitude and careless regard for human life that the fictional Southern Oil Company shows toward both the local workers and the white workers does reflect poorly on corporate policies and how disasters are handled, and that could be something normal in either 1953 or in 2017. Large oil companies still try to control people and marketplaces, disregard safety regulations and make up wild claims about climate change being a hoax in order to further their production without caps, and how their rich get richer while the poor continue to roll around in the mud begging for pennies and scraps. If the original novel and the film of "The Wages of Fear" was a wake-up call, it did not do much to change things, but that may also have been because of cuts done to the original American theatrical release. Nearly a half hour was removed, with many of the scenes being the attitudes of the fictional American oil company, so most Americans were not able to see the full version until much later.

The film is labeled a thriller yet it is not a conventional thriller in textbook sense. There is no particular "bad guy" or a chase. There is no mystery to be solved or any large hidden secrets. The tension comes from both within - the racial and social divide between the characters, and also from the dangerous nitroglycerin that could explode if not handled with proper care. There are a number of scenes that are truly heartpounding. The argument at the cantina, the truck backing up on the wooden ledge that is weakened, the giant boulder that blocks the path. The scenes are sometimes longer than they should be but that only strengthens the edge and master of suspense Clouzot was critical on how the particular scenes were shot and edited. Shots of ropes about to snap, a gun barrel slowly revolving, the small cracks in rotting wood unable to sustain weight, truck tires right on the edge of a cliff. But why are these desperate men risking their lives for a mere $2000? What the hell else are they going to do?

"The Wages of Fear" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on April 15th, 1953 where it took the Grand Prix. It also won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Best Film at the BAFTA awards, and Best Film at the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics. Not only was it a critical favorite restoring Clouzot's reputation, but also a massive hit with audiences which in France was the fourth highest grossing movie of the year, and rolling out across Europe and America to high praises, even if it was a truncated version. In 1958 the book was made into the English language film "Violent Road" directed by Howard W. Koch and in 1977 in "Sorcerer" directed by William Friedkin. The 1958 film went relatively unnoticed. The 1977 film was scathingly received critically and commercially although in more recent years the film has been reappraised as one of Friedkin's masterpieces.

The original 152 minute French theatrical version of "The Wages of Fear" has rarely been seen since its original run, with even the supposedly restored version released by The Criterion Collection in America was a slightly shorter 148 minute version. This BFI release presents the original 152 minute version for the first time in the UK and English speaking countries in a stunning 4K restoration which premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray which can only be played back on a region B or region free Blu-ray player

Video

The BFI presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the original theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The film was restored in 4K by TF1 Studio and the Cinémathèque Française from the original 35mm nitrate negative. This restoration is the most complete version of the film, restoring four minutes of footage that had been unseen for years, and restoring the length of the original French theatrical release in 1953. The results are absolutely stunning. The black and white image is pristine with deep blacks and bright whites with a healthy looking greyscale in between. Scratches, dust, and other damage has been removed completely with almost no defects in the image, while still leaving the film grain intact. There are a few moments here and there that become grainier than others due to the way the scenes were shot, though not too distracting from the rest of the film. The film is framed at the correct original aspect ratio with no issues of bad framing or wobbliness to the image. While the previously released US Criterion Collection Blu-ray looked good with their high definition transfer, the new 4K restored edition is a bigger step ahead in quality as well as having restored footage missing from the Criterion. A very pleasing job in the transfer presented here.

This is the restored original French theatrical version and the runtime on disc is 152:40.

Audio

French/English/Spanish/German/Italian/Russian LPCM 1.0
The original multilingual language track is presented in lossless mono sound. French is the predominant language with about 50% of the dialogue, followed by Spanish and English at around 20% each and the other languages taking up the remaining 10%. The audio has also been restored from the original materials and sounds fairly good, though not particularly remarkable. With many location shoots the audio can get slightly distorted due to the conditions they were recorded in, and some of the indoor location audio can also sound flat from time to time. On positive notes, the dialogue is always clear, music sounds good, and there are no issues with hisses, pops, or cracks in the audio.

There are optional English subtitles for the non-English portions in a white font. There are no English subtitles or an English HoH track for the English portions of the film. The subtitles are easy to read, well-timed, and no issues in spelling or grammar to speak of.

Extras

The BFI's release of "The Wages of Fear" is a dual format Blu-ray+DVD release, with the film and extras presented on the Blu-ray disc and repeated on a region 2 PAL encoded DVD.


DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin
Film critic Adrian Martin gives a full length discussion on the film, on Clouzot, and the impact the film had. Topics include the lengthy exposition, the casting of Vera Clouzot, the cuts the film had for the original American release, the issues of racism and corporate greed, comparisons with the later remakes, and pointing out the restored scenes. It's long but never boring and commentary veteran Martin gives another great one here.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Lucy Mazdon on The Wages of Fear" featurette (34:59)
Professor Lucy Mazdon of the University of Southampton gives a brief overview of Clouzot's career, the actors in the film and their biographies, relationships of the characters, the success of the film commercially and with critics worldwide, and more. Some clips of the film are also shown, in which it is in the original aspect ratio with burned-in English subtitles.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Guardian Lecture" Yves Montand in conservation with Don Allan (98:45)
This audio-only extra was conducted at the National Film Theatre on July 25th, 1989 with Yves Montand and moderator Don Allan. Montand talks about his childhood growing up in Marseilles with an Italian family, how he had a passion for singing, his rise to fame in France and internationally, working with Clouzot, Costa-Gavras, Marilyn Monroe, and more. He apologizes in advance for sometimes not knowing English words and having to revert to French at times, in which Don Allan helps with. Though the amount of French being spoken is very little and when he does, it is translated soonafter for most of the time.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Interview with assistant director Michel Romanoff (22:26)
Romanoff was only 27 years old when he first met Clouzot and work with him two years later on "Wages of Fear" and on the director's subsequent films. Romanoff, or Prince Michael Feodorovich of Russia was actually a great nephew of Nicholas II - the last Russian Tsar, born and raised in France following the Russian revolution. He recalls the first time working with Clouzot and being the youngest kid on set, the actors, the extremely challenging shoot, and much more. This interview was produced by the Criterion Collection and was previously released on their 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray releases.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Interview with Henri-Georges Clouzot biographer Marc Godin (10:49)
Biographer Marc Godin discusses Clouzot's life in a basic overview. He mentions the collaborations with his brother Jérôme Géronimi on screenwriting, the controversy of the director's 1943 film "Le Corbeau", as well as the restored reputation with the films "Wages of Fear" and "Diabolique". He also interestingly mentions that Clouzot was not a humorous man, and that does seem obvious by looking at his works. This interview was produced by the Criterion Collection and was previously released on their 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray releases.
1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in French Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Original theatrical trailer (3:20)
The original trailer has been restored as well. Though not as clean as the full film, the picture and sound quality are quite good.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.37:1, in French Dolby Digital 1.0 with optional English subtitles

DISC TWO (DVD)
The film and the extras are repeated in standard definition PAL.

Booklet
A 20 page booklet includes essays, credits, photos, transfer information, and acknowledgements. The first is simply "The Wages of Fear" by author and critic Andy Miller who breaks down the film and its release. Next is a positive 1954 review of the film by Karel Reisz for Sight and Sound magazine. "Henri-Georges Clouzot: Master of Suspense", a 2003 article by critic Paul Ryan is reprinted here, which discusses Clouzot's career and suspense films in brief.


The BFI release is packed with lengthy extras including two interviews licensed from Criterion, although the Criterion Blu-ray additionally had the following extras:

- Interview with actor Yves Montand (5:00)
- "Henri Georges Clouzot: An Enlightened Tyrant" documentary (52:34)
- "Censored" featurette (12:12)

Those that already have the Criterion Blu-ray or 2-disc DVD should still keep it for those extras, but with the BFI release offering so much more, it is an easy buy.

Overall

More than 60 years after its original release, "The Wages of Fear" still continues to inspire, provoke, and amaze audiences worldwide, never losing its stride and never forgotten as one of the cinematic greats. The BFI release is excellent with the 4K remastered version of the film with the previously missing footage reinstated as well as excellent informative extras all around. Absolutely one of the best releases of the year.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: A

 


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