A reconsideration of ‘The Wages of Fear’

N1fhjxFvKuDggfCqr3uTKD5L9mWJ. Hoberman at Lapham's Quarterly:

The Wages of Fear, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring of 1953, is movie as doom show: the four principal characters have signed on to a suicide mission, driving two truckloads of nitroglycerin across three hundred miles of winding, mountainous, badly paved roads. After a lengthy setup, the movie itself becomes a fuse of indeterminate length. “You sit there waiting for the theater to explode,” the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther ended his review when The Wages of Fear opened in early 1955 at the posh Paris Theater in Manhattan.

An evocation of human existence under threat of instant annihilation, The Wages of Fear is no less a manifestation of nuclear anxiety than the Japanese monster movie Godzilla (1954) or even Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964). In its way, The Wages of Fear—in production when the United States tested the first hydrogen bomb at Enewetak in the Marshall Islands—is cinema’s original articulation of that angst. Given its flirtation with total obliteration, the movie could have been titled, after Sartre’s 1943 magnum opus, Being and Nothingness.

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