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Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Wages of Fear (4K UHD Review)


The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements


Four men in an impoverished Central American village take a dangerous job to transport nitroglycerin through dangerous terrain for the big oil company that controls the town.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 thriller The Wages of Fear was so feared by American distributors that they needed a 27-minute edit be done before the film could be screened in theaters. The first half of the film’s political leanings, subversive discourse against neoliberalism, neocolonialism, and capitalism, plus a healthy dose of nudity was too threatening for audiences and the powers that be.

Set in a small impoverished Central American village called Las Piedras under the oppressive control of the U.S. Southern Oil Company, a motley group of mostly male European migrants scrounging for work mingle with indigenous people, and the Black and Latino locals. When Southern Oil Company puts out a call for a dangerous trucking job paying $2,000 per man for transporting nitroglycerin over some of the most dangerous terrain on the planet, the competition heats up to get the work and four men finally shake out as the team to get the work, Corsican Mario Livi (Yves Montand), Italian Luigi (Folco Lulli), German Bimba (Peter Van Eyck), and Frenchman Jo (Charles Vanel).

Clouzot sets up the interaction and backstory of the characters, both in the slow-build first hour of the film through flashbacks, lots of exposition, and tight-knuckled confrontations in the local watering hole. Moving into the second half of the film we get the most intense and thrilling action sequences that are brilliantly sustained. There is probably no more suspenseful and thrilling sequence other than the jewelry heist scene from Melville’s Le cercle rouge.

Yves Montand puts in a marvelously gritty performance while Clouzot’s wife Véra Clouzot (who also starred in Les Diaboliques) is charming and sexy as the half-indigenous Linda. The film won international acclaim for Clouzot, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Purchase The Wages of Fear 4K Ultra HD from Amazon UK

  • Véra Clouzot and Yves Montand in The Wages of Fear (1953)
  • Yves Montand and Charles Vanel in The Wages of Fear (1953)
  • The Wages of Fear (1953)
  • The Wages of Fear (1953)
  • Yves Montand and Charles Vanel in The Wages of Fear (1953)
  • The Wages of Fear 4K Ultra HD (BFI)

The Video

The Wages of Fear is presented in a stunning restoration in a 1.37:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision encodement from the BFI. The stark black and white cinematography has beautiful contrast with a very natural and crispy layer of grain that yields palpable textural information from beads of sweat on crackly faces to etched rocks, dirt roads, and timber-strewn passes on the journey for the travelers.  Some scenes show a bit of film softness given the cameras and possible issues in the source but mostly this is a consistently good and richly detailed transfer. The Dolby Vision grading brings excellent contrast with inky blacks and bright whites with just the right pop in highlights.

The Audio

The mono sound mix for The Wages of Fear is provided in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. It is a more than acceptable audio track with little noise and intelligible dialogue. The sound effects do not hit with the same impact of a contemporary mix but one cannot and should not expect them to.

The Supplements

BFI includes a strong collection of bonus features on disc and a quality booklet with essays.

Bonus Features:

  •  (First pressing only) Illustrated booklet with an essay by Andy Miller, original reviews from Sight & Sound and Monthly Film Bulletin, an appreciation of Clouzot by Paul Ryan, notes on the special features and credits
  • Commentary by Film Critic and Writer Adrian Martin. Recorded in 2017.
  • A Road Trip Out of Hell? Or Into It? – Purgatory and The Wages of Fear (1080p; 00:14:31) – A new video essay by filmmaker and photographer Nic Wassell. (NEW)
  • Interview with Professor Lucy Mazdon (1080p; 00:34:59) – Professor Lucy Mazdon discusses the life and legacy of Henri-Georges Clouzot and The Wages of Fear.
  • Interview with Assistant Director Michel Romanoff (1080p; 00:22:26) – The assistant director discusses his work during the two-year The Wages of Fear shoot in Camargue.
  • Interview with Clouzot Biographer Marc Godin (1080p; 00:10:10) – Writer Mrc Godin discusses Clouzot’s career and the evolution of his style.
  • The Guardian Lecture: Yves Montand in Conversation with Don Allen (4K; 02:33:02) – The actor discusses his illustrious career with Don Allen in this audio interview recorded at the BFI’s National Film Theatre in July 1989.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:03:20)
  • Treasures from the BFI National Archive – A selection of archive gems, exploring some of the themes and iconography featured in The Wages of Fear.:
    • They Take the High Road
    • Fire Checked by Explosives!
    • Transporting Loads – With or without Roads

The Final Assessment

A masterpiece of cinema from Clouzot that looks sumptuous in this new 4K release from the BFI. This is a film that any cinephile should own and would surely enjoy. Highly recommended.

The Wages of Fear is out on 4K Ultra HD in the UK February 19, 2024 from the BFI

Purchase The Wages of Fear 4K Ultra HD on Amazon UK

  • Rating Certificate: UK: 12
  • Studios & Distributors: Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale Cinématographique | Filmsonor | Vera Films | Fono Roma | BFI
  • Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
  • Written By: Georges Arnaud | Henri-Georges Clouzot | Jérôme Géronimi
  • Run Time: 153 Mins.
  • Street Date: 19 February 2024
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
    • Max. Luminance: 1000 nits
    • Min. Luminance: 0.0001 nits
  • Primary Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
  • Subtitles: English

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Four men in an impoverished Central American village take a dangerous job to transport nitroglycerin through dangerous terrain for the big oil company that controls the town.The Wages of Fear (4K UHD Review)