With Maven's enthusiasm for QUAI DES ORFEVRES, perhaps we should have a separate thread for Henri-Georges Clouzot. A search for past references to Clouzot showed great enthusiasm for THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953) and others of his films, and Mr. Arkadin said that he could write on and on about that film and LE CORBEAU. I hope he has the time to do that, and I hope some of the rest of you do, too!
I hadn't seen THE WAGES OF FEAR since college, and in these cases you always wonder if you'll still love a film as much as on first viewing. The version I had seen was cut for American audiences, dropping, I believe, some of the unfavorable portrayal of the American oil company and some of the homosexual implications. I remembered loving the almost unbearable nail-biting suspense of the scenes when the trucks make their perilous journey with their cargo of nitroglycerine. Every bend in the road means potential disaster, and you know Clouzot is ruthless enough to kill off any of the four drivers. I remembered, too, the cosmic pessimism and existential angst, which, in this situation, seemed totally justified.
None of that had changed. What was new to me was an admiration for the opening part of the film, which at the same time 1) seemed even better than neorealism, with an amazing documentary sense of a real world in which the story takes place and 2) had an editing rhythm which took my breath away, as if this had been storyboarded just like Hitchcock. I don't recall another film which manages that paradoxical feat. I also admire the completely polyglot world of the film, with, at a minimum, English, French, Spanish, and Italian dialogue in various scenes. Mario (Yves Montand) speaks a little Italian; Luigi (Folco Lulli) speaks a little French; Jo (Charles Vanel) speaks a little English; Bill O' Brien, the oil company boss (William Tubbs), tries a little French, and so on. This adds layers of texture as well as realism.
I recalled that Jo was implicitly gay, but Clouzot's version goes considerably beyond what the American censors could stomach. At the beginning of the film Mario shares a room with Luigi, who cooks and cleans for him in a quasi-spousal way, like Thomas Mitchell looking after Cary Grant in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. (Maybe it's unfair to make this analogy, since Hawks' film looks like backlot hokum next to Clouzot.) Mario leaves Luigi for Jo because he thinks Jo may be the key to a way out. Jo and Luigi square off in the bar, western-style, over Mario--I'm not sure I've seen that in another film--and Jo uses his power to ruin Mario's date with the pretty Linda (Vera Clouzot). Mario and Luigi clearly prefer women, but they're almost in a prison setting; Jo seems to hate women; and Bimba (Peter van Eyck), the handsome fourth driver, tells Luigi he doesn't like women. The sexual politics of all this will probably be clearer to a contemporary viewer than to audiences back in 1953.
If I've concentrated on the first half of the film, that's because the visceral appeal of the second half needs less commentary. The acting, cinematography, and editing are at such a high level. Yves Montand is a handsome man with great star power, yet he's perfectly believable in this below proletarian role. The print TCM showed is excellent, presumably the one in the Criterion Collection. This would be a knockout at the film festival some year.
Some artists say everything, or almost everything, they want to say in one work, and THE WAGES OF FEAR feels this way to me. This isn't to knock Clouzot's other fine films, but to suggest that THE WAGES OF FEAR is more an ending than a beginning.