Le Salaire de la peur (1953)

Alfred Hitchcock realised that he had a serious rival when he saw this painfully riveting suspense thriller about a suicidally dangerous mission involving trucks and nitroglycerine.
“The characteristics of the people are not the absorbing thing in this film. The excitement derives entirely from the awareness of nitroglycerine and the gingerly, breathless handling of it. You sit there waiting for the theatre to explode.” Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 1955 Few films are as gripping as The Wages of Fear, largely because few have come up with as effective a mechanism for generating pure white-knuckle tension. In an unnamed South American country, four European ex-convicts are so desperate to escape that they accept the potentially suicidal mission of driving two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine over the roughest terrain imaginable in order to extinguish a burning oil well – assuming their own lives aren’t extinguished first. The slow build-up gives Henri-Georges Clouzot time to round his characters – cynical Yves Montand, grizzled Charles Vanel, rugged Peter Van Eyck, nervy Folco Lulli – and establish how lethal a single drop of ‘nitro’ can be when jolted. And then the trucks leave the town, warning sirens blaring, whereupon Clouzot begins to slice at the viewer’s nerve endings with the clinical precision of a master surgeon, and doesn’t let up until the characteristically pessimistic ending. The film was directly remade as Violent Road (1958) and Sorcerer (1977), and its influence can clearly be seen in Speed (1994).
1953 France, Italy
Directed by
Henri-Georges Clouzot
Produced by
Georges Lourau
Written by
Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jérome Géronimi
Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck
Running time
156 minutes