The Wages of Fear (1953): March Blind Spot

This is going to make me sound awful but I’m going to say it anyway. Sometimes, I find older movies boring and it’s for no other reason than they’re old. The themes aren’t as relevant. They’re in black and white which isn’t as engaging. The sound is untreated and disjointed and it’s soooo much harder for me to concentrate on the film. This is probably why I had mixed feelings about La Regle du Jeu (1939) because a lot of the important contextual themes were subtle. And I’m sure one glance at my phone might have meant I missed the most important line in the film. The Wages of Fear had the exact opposite effect on me.

Wages of Fear

Wages of Fear (1953) is next up on my Blind Spot list to be reviewed
© 1953 – Cinédis.

I feared that was going to be the case with The Wages of Fear. The film opens in a lively South American town with bars, homes and people going about their business with work and family. If it weren’t so busy and clearly of it’s time, you’d mistake the setting for a Western frontier town. Gentlemen relax on porches in a hot, dusty desert setting. Alas, a plethora of nationalities say otherwise, though this just made it look like the opening of Casablanca (1942). The prologue goes on a good while before we get into the heart of our story.

US oil company (imaginatively titled ‘Southern Oil Company’) are digging for oil in the town and are one of the main employers. But everyone is unionised and it seems legit enough. When one of their other plants has a huge oil explosion (I think that’s what happens? There’s a big, out of control, fiery pit anyway.) 300 miles away and they need to transport a hec of a lot of nitroglycerine to sort it out. Which, if you didn’t know, is highly unstable and could explode with the slightest knock. The company don’t have the right equipment and therefore cannot use their own workers as that will no doubt get them in big trouble with the Unions. Instead, they hire 4 truck drivers of all different nationalities who are in no good position to turn down work. No matter what the job is.

Be afraid, be veeeery afraid

Once the 4 men driving two big trucks set off on their 300 mile journey, I’m on the edge of my seat for the next 2 hours. Unable to blink when the men smoke cigarettes without a care in the world. They pass uneasily over rocky ground and run into obstacle after obstacle as the tensions between the men heighten. This film is no ordinary ‘old’ movie. This is a great example of great filmmaking.

The themes of this film, unlike La Regle Du Jeu, are glaringly obvious and unsettling as they are still very much relevant to this time. The US company has taken over South American land in order to make profits for their own gain. AND exploit local and foreign workers who have no choice but to work for any money they can get. It’s completely sucky. And this is still a huge problem.

You can cut the tension with a knife

Mario is our main guy as he teams up with slightly older and world-weary Jo to drive the truck across country. Mario seems nice enough until Jo continually ‘gets the jitters’ and keeps unintentionally sabotaging the smooth sailing of this mission. Mario’s patience is consistently tested by Jo’s attitude. The high chance of their death isn’t worth the $2,000 waiting for them at the other side. The men have literally put a price on their own worth and it’s much, much too low. Nevertheless, it’s more money than any of them have ever known. The title of the film is ever lingering as the men sweat from their brows and develop nervous ticks that are shown in extreme close-ups. Their mouths are framed as they nervously chewing tobacco. The fingernails tapping on the truck door. The scratching of a match.

Through the fear of going hungry, the fear of not being able to afford a plane/boat ride back home, of not being able to support any family members, the worry of not knowing where your next pay packet is coming from or if it will be enough… Does The Wages of Fear offer any hope? Will any of the men be able to break the cycle? Will there be an end to the huge, money guzzling corporations? And will normal, hard working people will be paid a decent wage? I think you can answer that, over fifty years after this film was released, by taking a look around.

Have you ever seen The Wages of Fear? Did it put you on the edge as much as it did me?

I am taking part in The Matinee‘s Blind Spot challenge for the second year running. To read last year’s entries, click here and to read what’s coming up this year click here. 

Want MORE?

Seven Samurai (1954): January Blind Spot

La Regle Du Jeu (1939): February Blind Spot

La Dolce Vita (1960): March Blind Spot

Sharing is Caring! Pin me:

Wages of Fear (1953) is next up on my Blind Spot list to be reviewed
© 1953 – Cinédis.


I'm the human and hair behind Almost Ginger. I'm a cinephile travel obsessive vegetarian currently residing in Manchester.

6 thoughts on “The Wages of Fear (1953): March Blind Spot

  • March 11, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I love this movie! I saw it for the first time last year, and it was easily one of the best films I saw in 2015. I absolutely agree that the opening stretch is too long, but watching the last hour or so is amongst the most tense movie-watching experiences of my life. I literally chewed through my pen watching some scenes. Modern action film-makers should watch The Wages of Fear to see how action and tension can be achieved without massive CGI explosions. I’m glad you appreciated the film too.

    • March 11, 2016 at 9:57 am

      I was so surprised with how much it hooked me for so long, I couldn’t look away! You’re absolutely right, there are definitely lessons to be learnt here.

  • March 29, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Rebecca, I’m doing the blind spots thing this year too, so thought I’d say hello. Glad you enjoyed it, despite it being old and in black-and-white! (Admire your honesty on that at least, many people I’m sure think the same way but would never admit it, same as some would never watch anything with subtitles). Agree it is a fairly gripping film. I recently saw another film called The Train (with Burt Lancaster) about a man trying to halt a train full of priceless paintings before it reaches the German border – has many of the same perilous qualities as Wages of Fear.

    Also I should say I’m a big fan of travel films, especially road movies, so I will be back to trawl your blog for titles to add to my list. Cheers, Donald.

    • March 31, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Hello to you to Donald! 🙂 I’ll have to check out your posts! Well it’s hot that I mind black and white, I just wasn’t really feeling it when I sat down to watch. Ahhh I’ll have to check it out, that sounds awesome! Road movies are awesome, I’ll definitely be writing about more travel films in the future 🙂

  • March 30, 2016 at 3:13 am

    It took me a long time, too long as it turned out, to get around to watching this because of my indifference to Yves Montand who I usually find one of the most boring actors I’ve ever seen. Once I did give it a look though I was surprised how effective he was. A large part of the problem I suppose is that the other films I’d seen him in were English language pictures and he apparently wasn’t comfortable working in a language that wasn’t his native tongue since the difference was so vast. Anyway the whole film is so gripping and tension fueled, glad you gave it a try and liked it so much.

    William Friedkin directed a remake of this in the 70’s called Sorcerer with Roy Scheider in the Montand part. It’s not quite as exceptional as this but a very good solid film that now that you’ve seen the original you might want to check out.

    • March 31, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      I don’t think I’d ever seen him in anything before and I watched this movie knowing absolutely nothing about it so I was extremely pleased! I definitely think that’s a factor with some actors and it really must be very difficult, especially if they have to change their accent… Sorcerer?! I’m very intrigued by the title, it sounds like a completely different film!

Comments are closed.