Movie Project #32: The Wages of Fear [1953]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Wages of Fear [1953]

The Wages of Fear [1953]
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Writers: Georges Arnaud (novel), Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi (adaptation)
Country: France/Italy
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli, Véra Clouzot
Running Time: 131 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the greatest thrillers ever made. I had also never seen a film by Henri-Georges Clouzot.

Accolades: Golden Bear from 1953 Berlin Film Festival, Palme d’Or from 1953 Cannes Film Festival, BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source

Somewhere deep in rural South America, the impoverished town of Las Piedras has become something of a final destination for many foreign drifters and washed-up laborers. The nearby American oil corporation, Standard Oil, essentially controls the town and the surrounding area, providing the main source of income for most of the townfolk. The corporation’s practices are hardly ethical, and it’s common to hear of explosions and other horrific accidents on the oil fields. Given their reckless work environment, it’s no surprise that Standard Oil would send a man to Las Piedras to recruit four desperate civilians to perform an incredibly dangerous — and possibly suicidal — task.

The request? Drive two large trucks filled with highly volatile nitroglycerine over 300 miles across some of the continent’s worst terrain. One mere bump could set off a fatal explosion.

Unsurprisingly, given the extreme poverty in Las Piedras, it doesn’t take long for some men to take up the offer. A combination of pride, machismo, and the $2000 price point prompts four men to embark on the treacherous journey.

The Wages of Fear [1953]

Mario (Yves Montand), Jo (Charles Vanel), Bimba (Peter van Eyck) and Luigi (Folco Lulli) are these brave men, all four of whom are ex-pats looking for a way out of town. They pair up, two per truck, alternating turns driving across bumpy dirt roads, unstable bridges, and rocky mountain passes.

The Wages of Fear is essentially split into two halves. The first hour or so is methodically paced, as it introduces the main characters and shares a bit of their back stories. At the same time, it does grow somewhat tedious, as unimportant characters are given too much screen time, and it’s never quite clear *why* these European ex-pats ended up in this particular town.

However, when the actual driving begins, the film really kicks into high gear. There is an overwhelming sense of dread throughout their journey, as the men’s courage is constantly put to the test. There are many, many moments where it seems like the end is near for them. For example, one stretch of the road — dubbed “the washboard” — is especially rough, consisting of nothing but bump after perilous bump. In order to traverse through this area, they have to keep their foot on the gas, maintaining a high speed until they reach the end. It’s an unbelievably tense moment, especially as they had made it a point until then to drive very slowly.

The Wages of Fear [1953]

An even tenser scene — and arguably the film’s most famous — has the men trying to navigate a hairpin bend in the mountains in order to get around construction. The only way to do so requires them to back up on an unstable wooden platform, where one crack would send them flying off the cliff to certain death.

The Wages of Fear is filled with suspenseful moments such as these, and it truly earns its status as one of the all-time great thrillers. This is a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, and given its French/Italian origin, there is simply no guarantee that there will be a happy ending, adding even more to its effectiveness. Although the film takes some time to get going, it more than makes up for it in its white-knuckle second half.

8.5/10

Movie Project #24: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday [1953]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday [1953]
Director: Jacques Tati
Writer: Jacques Tati, Henri Marquet
Country: France
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Jacques Tati, Louis Perrault, André Dubois
Running Time: 83 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a Jacques Tati film.

Accolades: Oscar nomination for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay), nominated for Grand Prize of the Festival at Cannes, #49 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema

Well, it was bound to happen.

Outside of a few purposefully-included trashy films (Salo, Pink Flamingos, and *ahem* Crash), I have enjoyed, at least to some extent, pretty much everything I have included in my movie projects. That has changed with Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, my first Jacques Tati film. I have struggled with this like no other.

Tati himselfs stars as the eponymous Monsieur Hulot, a clumsy, pipe-smoking, socially awkward Frenchman who is going on holiday at a seaside resort. While there, he has a series of misadventures, though none of the other vacationers truly seem to mind his offbeat behavior. Perhaps everyone else is too stuck in their own world to care — after all, this is a break from everyday life for them. Who cares if someone is bumbling their way through their own personal getaway?

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

This is the core of the film, as we experience summer in this resort as seen from Hulot’s perspective. There are a handful of other characters, but none are given adequate screentime to truly get to know them.

Hulot’s disturbances are mostly mundane, and the film’s gentle slapstick humor gives little in the way of laughs. Outside of a couple of amusing scenes — including one in which Hulot, inside a folded-up canoe, becomes mistaken for a shark — most quickly grow tedious.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

Spoken dialogue is minimal at best, and in fact, Tati’s performance is reminiscent of silent era Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The visual gags are often impressive, and there’s no denying Tati’s talent in piecing them together. It’s just that most are not particularly funny.

Perhaps my issues with the film come from my expectations. I was hoping for something resembling a narrative, as well as more than a few chuckles. The subtle humor and slow pacing also made it more difficult to maintain interest. It’s also possible that part of my unenthusiasm is due to cultural differences. It’s hard to say. I wanted to love Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but did not find it engaging at all.

5/10