20 July 2013

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Men -- The Wages of Fear


When your soul is weakened by the hate and avarice that envelops so many places people and things. When your heart aches for the losses the catastrophes the misbegotten and woebegone.
When your mind races as it whirls and twirls and shambles its way to the failure of meaning.
What do you do?
How do you get up?
How do you stand and smile and say its all all right?
How do you look the stranger in the eye and say "how ya doin'?"

Anger fear twisted malice and hate and prejudice and the deaths premature of too many -- any.

I am surrounded by happy people in a happy place and yet I spend so much time wondering at the abyss and what the whole thing is doing and meaning and I couldn't cry about it if you paid me.

Classic stuff. Eh?

Today I watched The Wages of Fear (1953) and wondered again at how one goes many decades without laying eyes on a particular film that is so damn good.

Here we have a story about desperate men trying to get out. Get back. Get away. Stuck in a town of ennui and purposelessness and heat and spiders and emptiness. The town is in South America and it is desperately hot and barren. An American oil company is a villain. Well that's an easy choice. Nothing particular heroic about American oil companies. Wages of Fear ticked off Americans 60 years ago. It was shown here with parts removed because freedom of speech is well not absolute when it ruffles feathers. The ending was cut too so people would be happy. Because artificial happy is far more important than art I guess. The same kind of butchery was perpetrated on Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli (1950) at roughly the same time. C'mon movies make us smile.

Before that ending there are four men among the desperate who desperately take a desperate assignment. They are to transport a nitroglycerine shipment in two trucks across 300 miles with the great risk that a mistimed bump or jump could blow them sky high. If successful they will pocket $2,000. A princely sum at that time in that place. Plenty enough to get them the hell out of nowheresville.

This is one treacherous road trip heightened by misfortunate and the fact that three of the four hate one or more of the others. Director  Henri-Georges Clouzot knew his way around a motion picture and here was masterfull in creating tension drama and even excitement. He also knew how to make special effects that seem not at all special but part of the reality that these characters are sunk in. Yves Montand and Charles Vanel headed an excellent cast.

Movies are nothing without a story to tell. Movies are nothing without compelling characters. Movies are nothing without purpose. Wages of Fear has plenty of all three. It is very much something. Even minor characters are fully drawn with a degree of complexity. No one is merely a personification of one characteristic or another. Even our hero Mario (Montand) is no day at the beach slapping around as he does the woman who loves him.

Sometimes I'll see an excellent film from 40, 50, 60 years ago and wonder if it could possibly be made today. Could something like The Wages of Fear be made and released among all the superhero schlock and Adam Sandler gross out comedies? Would the public want such anti heroes? If made at all it would heavily emphasize the special effects -- extra explosions! -- and their would be stick figure bad guys and a joyously happy ending with a rock and roll sound track then ten minutes of closing credits.

But we have The Wages of Fear and other great films like it from the past. So let us not despair.

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