9/10 | 6.May.12
Le salaire de la peur | The Wages of Fear
DIRECTOR: Henri-Georges Clouzot | WRITERS: Georges Arnaud, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jérôme Géronimi | CAST: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter van Eyck, Véra Clouzot, William Tubbs, Darío Moreno, Jo Dest | France
I try to approach movies with the idea that they’ve got a 5/10 rating from me right off the bat and it’s up to them to improve on that rating or not. Le salaire de la peur is an almost perfect movie of its type and I could easily imagine myself rating it a big old 10 out of 10 were it not for a few things. The first hour, for starters. Clouzot does have to introduce the major characters and provide a setting for the real action of the plot to come — men with nowhere to go, nothing to lose, transporting nitroglycerin over treacherous mountain roads in rickety old trucks for peanuts because it’s the only employment available and they’re desperate to get out and this will make them just enough money to make their escape; that part of the movie is gripping and thrilling and doesn’t at all feel like it’s hokum nonsense, even though it is — but that first hour is way, way too long to accomplish what needed to be done, or at least it’s too long given how he uses it and the actors that he had to work with, excepting Yves Montand. Second is the matter of Véra Clouzot. Mrs. Clouzot also manages single-handedly to diminish my enjoyment of Les diaboliques. I find her unbearable. It’s not (just) that she’s a bad actress; there’s something else about her that gets under my skin and makes me want to shut the movie off or to look away and sing la-la-la-la-la with my fingers in my ears whenever she’s on screen. Irrational, I know, but my visceral reaction to her makes most of the first hour of Le salaire de la peur unpleasant and difficult to sit through. Perhaps Clouzot decided to cast his wife as Linda, for all intents and purposes the only woman in town and a character that serves no real purpose in the plot otherwise, to explain the strong homoerotic undercurrent in the movie? If that wasn’t the reason, I don’t know what it could have been.
After that deadly first hour Clouzot gives us 75 utterly superb minutes that almost erase what came before from mind. So superb that I was willing to overlook that first hour, but then Clouzot had to muck everything up with the final 6 or 7 minutes of sheer awfulness. I’ve had to mull this one over quite a bit. That first hour filled with Véra Clouzot, Véra Clouzot, and more Véra Clouzot (all but a minute or so of her screen time is in that hour) and the cheesy, obvious, godawful dreadful ending each knock off a point so I’m dealing with a 3/10 flick. But can I say that Le salaire de la peur as a whole is a really bad film when it has that 75 minutes of greatness? And what about Yves Montand? He’s one of those actors who can do no wrong in my book even when he’s not very good, but in this he is absolutely superb from beginning to end. So, anyway, I think it’s a 9/10, but it could easily have been a 10/10 with a re-written, re-cast first hour.