Throughout his professional life, France's Henri-Georges Clouzot suffered comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock---the former's critical reputation languished for it, and he took it hard. Clouzot needn't have worried: On a good day, he was arguably better. Diabolique (1955) is the perfect psychosexual thriller, and this earlier effort is Hitch's bomb-under-the-table suspense formula burnished to an expert sheen. Literally explosive, the plot (from Georges Arnaud's page-turner) concerns a South American oil fire raging out of control, with only the possibility of a nitroglycerine blast to snuff it out. But which poor schmucks will transport the combustible jerricans over miles of bumpy road to the site?
Here's where it's easiest to see Clouzot's advantage over his more famous peer, as he combines nail-biting action scenes---calibrated to the millimeter---with a Hawksian command of earthy performances. Gallic hauteur (Montand and Vanel) swirls with Italian bluster (Lulli), Dutch severity (Van Eyck) and an overweening sense of European nihilism---the four cash-strapped men take their two trucks into the steep highlands and you wait for everything to go wrong. Clouzot's entire body of work will be revisited at MoMA beginning Friday, but The Wages of Fear (showing at Film Forum in a new 35mm print at the complete length) is ground zero and undoubtedly the place to start.
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Cast and crew
Peter Van Eyck