For this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Re-Made Movies, here’s a review of The Wages of Fear (1953) / Sorcerer (1977)) by SG of Rhyme and Reason
Thanks again to Robb of Red Bezzle for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Kira of Film and TV 101 and it is Western Crossover Movies.
Literally any film from any genre with western elements to it; comedy/drama/musical or even thrillers or horror.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of October by sending them to email@example.com
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Kira!
Let’s see what SG thought of these movies:
The Wages of Fear (1953) / Sorcerer (1977)
You don’t know what fear is, son.
You’ve felt it flicker and then fade.
But none can say they’ve fully felt
The fear that makes men’s spirits melt
Until their nerves have sat for hours,
Waiting as their ego cowers,
Dreading death, already begun.
That’s to be afraid.
MPAA rating for The Wages of Fear: Not Rated (could pass for PG-13)
MPAA rating for Sorcerer: PG (PG-13 or R is more like it)
In keeping with this month’s Genre Grandeur of remade films, I thought I’d cover an original and remake of the same story, like the Version Variations I’ve done in the past. I’ll be comparing the classic 1953 French thriller The Wages of Fear with its less known American counterpart Sorcerer from 1977. Based on a French novel by Georges Arnaud, both films feature the same suspense-filled plot of an American oil company recruiting four down-and-out drivers to transport nitroglycerin by truck through the treacherous terrain of South America. Neither film is perfect, so I won’t be calling either one a “masterpiece” no matter how critically lauded they are, but it was interesting to study how similar their strengths were and how different their weaknesses.
The Wages of Fear is known as a classic for a reason, since it captures the tension inherent to the story with some excellent nerve-wracking set pieces. With the explosive threat of nitroglycerin only a few feet behind the characters, every bump and bridge and obstacle carry implicit danger and the promise of something going wrong any minute. One scene with a truck backing over a rickety wooden platform was especially well-executed, climaxing in one of those impressive takes of destruction that were so much harder to pull off before the age of CG effects.
Unfortunately, The Wages of Fear takes a while to get to the tension as it sets the stage in a destitute Latin American village full of folks who would much rather be somewhere else, not unlike me while watching it. Mario (Yves Montand) mistreats his girlfriend, Jo (Charles Vanel) rubs established bar patrons the wrong way, and the two get along well; but it’s all rather boring. It’s not surprising when a film opens with cockroaches and a half-naked child, but the forty minutes or so of dullness that followed made me seriously consider turning it off early. Luckily, the thrilling moments of the plot and the character development of the journey itself make up for the beginning, though they don’t quite make up for the end. I have a problem with films that dangle a happy ending in your face, only to yank it away at the last second, and putting an artsy FIN at the end doesn’t really help.
What then of Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s bomb of a remake that struggled to find an audience coming out about a month after a little movie called Star Wars? It’s actually quite a respectable reworking of the same plot; it just had everything working against it, from the timing of its release to the stigma of copying a classic to its highly misleading title, which refers to the name of one of the trucks. One thing that Sorcerer vastly improves on from the very start is its introduction of the characters. Globe-hopping vignettes show exactly what brought each man to his self-imposed exile in the jungle, one an assassin (Francisco Rabal), one a terrorist (Amidou), one wanted for fraud (Bruno Cremer), and one a gangster with a price on his head (Roy Scheider). The disparate scenarios create intrigue for each character, which is good because they’re then plopped into the same dirty, stagnant existence with which Wages of Fear started. This middle part drags down the pacing and serves as a reminder of something both filmmakers didn’t care to realize: no one likes to watch miserable people in miserable conditions. I suppose it’s necessary to the story, showing the reason why the men would risk their lives to earn enough money to improve their situation, but still….
Luckily, the explosive element (here, leaking dynamite rather than liquid nitroglycerin in canisters) ratchets up the tension to marvelous heights. I actually think Sorcerer nailed the tension even better than the original, most notably with a white-knuckle scene of the trucks crossing a rope bridge over a stormy river. That scene alone was worth the watch, but I was also impressed by the explosions, which I’d rank among the best fiery detonations cinema has to offer. There were clear echoes of the original film’s obstacles, such as the method used to clear a roadblock (a tree trunk in Sorcerer vs. a boulder in Wages), but I liked that Sorcerer tried to make a few of its own “classic” moments, like the rope bridge, rather than just copying the first movie’s iconic scenes, such as the lake of oil.
One thing that Wages had over Sorcerer, though, was character development. Even though Sorcerer introduced the men in brilliant fashion, there wasn’t much to their interactions. All of them were unlikable for the most part so there wasn’t much reason to care for any of them. Wages still had unlikable sorts, such as Mario and his total disregard for girlfriend Linda, but we got to know them better and, most importantly, glimpse how the stress of their journey affected them differently. For example, arrogant Jo takes another man’s spot on the trek but quickly devolves into a coward, completely ruining Mario’s opinion of him. The other two drivers get along well, and it was interesting watching the contrast between men working together and men lacking respect for each other. I guess you could say that Sorcerer succeeds at showing what the men have done, while The Wages of Fear reveals who they are. One telling difference is in the men’s reactions after they’ve worked together to overcome a barrier: In Sorcerer, they just stand there before continuing on their way, while in Wages, there’s cheering and celebration of the accomplishment, which is a far more believable reaction.
So which one is better? I honestly can’t decide. Both nailed the suspense, yet both also shared that boring stretch of waiting for the thrills to start. Sorcerer had a much better beginning, but Wages had better characters. Sorcerer did make some good improvements, like showing the cause of a key accident left unexplained in the original, and even if its ending is still depressing, it felt more fitting than the fakeout that Wages pulled. They are both films with great concepts and memorably classic scenes that could bear some improvements in the surrounding incidentals. Who knows? Maybe one day Hollywood will try yet another remake and see if they can do any better.
Best line from Wages of Fear: (Dick, a potential driver who quits) “When I was a kid, I used to see men go off on this kind of job… and not come back. When they did, they were wrecks. Their hair had turned white, and their hands were shaking like palsy! You don’t know what fear is. But you’ll see. It’s catching, it’s catching like smallpox! And once you get it, it’s for life! So long, boys, and good luck.”
Best line from Sorcerer: (Scanlon, played by Scheider) “Where am I going?” (Vinnie, who’s getting him out of the country) “All I can say is it’s a good place to lay low.” (Scanlon) “Why?” (Vinnie) “It’s the kind of place nobody wants to go looking.”
Rank for both: Honorable Mention
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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