Review: The Wages of Fear or Le Salaire de la Peur

The Wages of Fear is an interesting film and very good, but is it a classic film noir?  While watching this I was on the fence and looked for other people’s opinion on the matter.  Wikipedia and AMC do not list it in their full list of film noir titles.  The Film Noir Foundation does, and John Grant has it in his “A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir.”  If you don’t know about John Grant check out his blog at for a ton of noir information.

My argument for it not being a film noir is there really isn’t anything illegal going on here, sure our big American oil company is immoral and all about the mighty dollar.  Sure some of the things they did in this film would be illegal today, but in the 1950’s it was probably all legit.  There is no femme fatale to speak of, Vera Clouzot is almost the anti-femme fatale.  All she cares about is the safety of her main man.  The shooting of the film is not in the classic noir style except in a few key scenes.  Hardly any shadow play is used, being most of the film takes place in the middle of the day in the desert.

My argument for it being a noir story is quite simple, a handful of characters are put in a situation they have very little hope of getting out of.  When they see their chance, they take it, even though they know their chances are slim to none.  They will almost do anything in their means for a little hope.  They are average men put in an extreme circumstance like all good noirs.  The end isn’t exactly a happy one either, another trademark of a good noir.

This movie is based on the book by Georges Arnaud and is adapted for the screen and directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot.   It stars Yves Montand  as our main hero, Mario.  This is Montand’s first dramatic role and what a role!  He went on to make many great films and I look forward to watching more of his work.

This story starts with Mario and some other ex-pats in a small bar in an unknown village.  We see Linda, Vera Clouzot’s character, washing the bar floor and soon crawls over and purrs like a cat as Mario pets her.  A very interesting scene as we get an idea of Linda’s situation.

A new man flies into town on the plane by the name of Jo, played by Charles Vanel.  We soon find out how it is cheap to get to this village but there is no work and it is very expensive to get out.  We have a small group of guys stuck in the village, scraping by on odd jobs, just enough to get a meal and a drink at the bar on a good day.  The opportunity arises when the big oil company has a oil well blow up and they need some nitroglycerin shipped over 300 miles to the site to extinguish the well.  Knowing the unions would never send any of their own men to do the task, they get the group to compete for one of 4 spots on driving 2 trucks to the site.  Knowing they have a 50% chance of making it, do to the lack of the right equipment and the nature of the nitroglycerin, 1 of the 2 trucks should make it.  This only gets darker and more intense from here.

After watching this, you can see why America edited out over 50 minutes of footage so they would not look to bad.  The greed of the big corporation is nothing new, but it is interesting to see this from a French prospective.  This movie is an amazing movie, every film buff should see it least once, but is it a film noir?  What do you think?

Favorite Tidbit:  Vera Clouzot only appeared in 3 films, all directed by her husband Henri-Georges Clouzot.  One of her other two films is Diabolique.  Not a bad hitting percentage.

Review: Le Cercle Rouge


Le Cercle Rouge translates to The Red Circle in English.  The reason I wanted to watch this was a little tidbit of trivia from the film John Wick.  When I was looking at the background of that film, the night club in one of the scenes has a red circle neon sign and the club is called the Red Circle.  Someone said this was in homage to this film.  That was enough for me to watch and review this movie.   Here is my review of John Wick:

Jean-Pierre Melville wrote and directed this film and was his next to last film before his untimely death of a heart attack at age 55.  Melville wrote and directed many classic neo noir films from France and made some masterpieces, this being one.  Melville is an important influence on today’s neo noir and crime directors.  Influencing a who’s who of today’s talent.  John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, Volker Schlöndorff, Johnnie To,  Martin Scorsese and fellow countrymen Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut all said Melville was a big influence on their work.  Needless to say we will be looking at more of Melville’s movies on this site as well as those he influenced.  Melville had the idea for this film in 1950 but shelved it until 1970 because of the similarities to the Asphalt Jungle that came out that year.  He held on to the idea 20 years, until he started working on this project in 1970.  Here is my review of the Asphalt Jungle:

Alain Delon plays our main protagonist and appears in a number of Melville movies.  Delon/Melville seem to be the French version of the USA’s De Niro/Scorsese.  Bourvil plays the police detective set on the case.  Gian Maria Volonté plays a recently escaped convict on the run and teams up with our hero for a big score.  Yves Montand plays a retired cop with chemical dependency issues and knows both our lead detective and our escaped convict.  He teams up with our thieves for the big score.

One of the things this film is famous for is the 25 minute heist scene.  There are no words spoken and had to be influenced by Riffi from 1955.  I will re-watch Riffi and review it later for this site.

Our story starts with our protagonist in jail and is visited by a money man that lets him know he will be getting out tomorrow, on one condition.  A job, one that is made for him and one that he will get away clean, as long as he doesn’t screw up!  Famous last words, right?  We also have our convict handcuffed on a train in the company of our lead detective, he escapes and is on the run.  Our two outlaws meet in a very unusual way and our adventure begins.

I already mentioned how John Wick gave a nod to this film, and I think there are many more.  I can’t help noticing this has many similarities in plot points to Heat, reviewed here:

And the scene in the forest reminded me of a similar scene in Miller’s Crossing, reviewed here:


I also seen small similarities in Ocean’s Eleven.  What other movies do you think used this for inspiration?  Let me know in the comments below.

There has been a remake in the work for years, with Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson rumored to be attached. From some reports this may be dead now.  A remake could be brilliant or it could be a big disaster.  How do you remake a classic of this caliber?  Worst case scenario is a remake will bring attention to the original.  This is a must see for neo-noir fans, and foreign movie fans alike.  It is a little long and the pacing deliberate, but is well worth your time.