Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1977. Film Properties International N.V., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Walon Green, based on the novel The Wages of Fear by Georges Arnaud. Cinematography by Dick Bush, John M. Stephens. Produced by William Friedkin. Music by Tangerine Dream. Production Design by John Box. Costume Design by Anthony Powell. Film Editing by Robert K. Lambert, Bud S. Smith. Academy Awards 1977.
William Friedkin remakes Clouzot’s Wages Of Fear and the results are surprisingly good (I say that not because it’s Friedkin but because it’s an American remake of a European film). This time the opening act of forgotten men loafing around a South American village in the 1953 film is tweaked to show international intrigue, as various characters find themselves needing to run away from a negative past very quickly, and do so by heading to the Amazon. Among them is American gangster Roy Scheider who is on the lam from former colleagues of his, and he and three other men are eager to sign up when an opportunity to make some cash presents itself: a dangerous shipment of dynamite needs to be transported by two trucks to the site of an oil patch that was destroyed in an accident and must be cleared away. The danger pay is exceptionally good, but the danger involved is also exceptionally high. Many of the perilous situations are similar to Clouzot’s version, but the tone is much darker and less humorously cynical. Clouzot emerged from World War II fully accepting a belief that there is a God above who is laughing at our meaningless lives; Friedkin is fascinated by the Hadean darkness of the jungle which, when filmed in lush colour, has deep recesses that throw dark shadows over our characters’ mind. The shift in tone is also wonderful because it means that fans of the original have a good enough reason to bother with this one, as it is not merely a shot-for-shot transplant in a more commercially acceptable language.