BU Film School

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

FT 540 Reading: Wages of Fear

Screenplay info
Written by: Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi, based on the novel by Georges Arnaud
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0046268

Synopsis
The opening sets up the poverty and idleness of the village. Smerloff, Mario, and Bernardo, who are among the jobless, are hanging out on the porch of Hernandez's cafe. Hernandez tells them to leave. Instead of doing so, Mario goes inside, where he looks down at Linda washing the floor. When Hernanez confronts him, Mario warns him to leave Linda alone. He leaves, followed by Hernandez hurling abuse. Mario looks up, sees Linda at window. They exchange smiles. Then she disappears, Hernandez appears and spits.

Bimba goes to the airport to pick up mail. Bernardo hitches a ride, and follows a pilot, pleading with him and saying he has a passport.

Jo arrives. He seems confident and street-smart, slipping a banknote into his passport for the official, and taking a taxi. The taxi encounters a "traffic jam". Mario, suspicious, whistles "Valentine" (M. Chevalier), which Jo picks up. They're delighted to be compatriots. Jo and Mario take the taxi to Hernandez's. Jo acts the big shot, Hernandez bows and scrapes. Mario and Jo drink. Mario speaks rudely to Linda. Jo explains why he came (where can I go for 50 bucks?)

Mario goes home for lunch. He tells Luigi that he has a date with a real man. Mario returns to Hernandez's, offers cigar to Jo. The others try to interfere, taking Mario's cigar and turning up music. Jo orders Hernandez to turn it off, and the proprietor does so. The others leave. Mario and Jo discuss the lack of jobs.

Jo talks to O'Brien at oil company, who says there are no jobs available. Jo obliquely threatens damage to the pipelines, but O'Brien points out security. As Mario and Jo leave, they see Luigi, who's working. Luigi complains about being neglected.

Jo asks Mario to come to the barber with him, but Mario says he has a date with Linda, who happens to show up right then in a new dress. Mario says he'll follow, but Jo says it's too late and takes off. Mario is mean to Linda. As Jo is finishing up at the barber, Mario and Linda appears. Mario slaps her, and she runs off. A SOC jeep splashes Jo's white suit, so Mario gives him Luigi's trousers. Mario shows him a Metro ticket. Luigi discovers them, is angry about his trousers. Mario and Jo leave -- Mario goes back for his ticket.

Several people are in the cafe, soon joined by Luigi. They and Mario/Jo vie for Hernandez's attention. Luigi and Linda dance to the music. Various shots here of Mario, Jo, etc. on edge. Jo takes champagne, shakes it up, pours it on Luigi and others. Luigi goes to hit him with bottle, but Jo pulls out gun, then dares Luigi to shoot. Luigi can't.

There's a disaster at one of the wells. Villagers are angry, complaining that the Yanks are never the ones who get killed. O'Brien is cold when dealing with relatives. Must get explosives to well. No time to wait for safe trucks. Plan: hire drifters, put on trucks, keep sending until one gets through.

A long line of people apply for job. O'Brien illustrates nitroglycerine's explosiveness. He tests drivers. Truck tampered with while Bernardo drives. O'Brien picks Bimba, Luigi, Mario, Smerloff. Jo confronts O'Brien. First one to give up, Jo gets his place.

Bernardo writes letter. Linda sad about Mario, who pushes her away. Linda discovers Bernardo's body. O'Brien's first casualty.

Early morning, Bimba, Mario and Luigi are in O'Brien's office. Jo shows up, was last to see Smerloff, O'Brien gives him place. Mario is scared, but Jo reassures him. Trucks are being loaded. Shots of worker with jerrycan, foot slipping. Coin flipped, Jo and Mario get front truck, Jo drives out slowly. Mario gives Jo his metro ticket. Linda gets on lorry, pleads with Mario, he knocks her off. She says all will die. Jo is ill, says it's his malaria coming back.

Moving through bamboo grove. They stop to let radiator cool. Jo takes a leak, wants to eat, but other truck is on their trail. Shot of Luigi and Bimba chatting. Jo drives, but says for Mario to take wheel, throws up, they stop. Luigi and Bimba, impatient, drive on ahead. Each pair talks about the dangerous washboard. To avoid vibrations, must drive about 40 mph or really slow. Jo wants to go slow, but Mario says would take too long.

Luigi and Bimba accelerate, get on the washboard. Their engine starts backfiring. Mario and Jo start driving. Luigi and Bimba's engine is still backfiring, stops completely. Luigi and Bimba see the pump 200 yards ahead. Mario and Jo says to accelerate. Jo suddenly declutches and brakes, Mario checks engine (Jo tries to hold him back). Mario says must back along the tracks.

Luigi and Bimba fix the engine. Luigi leaves handkerchief on road as a signal, but a half-caste picks it up. Mario (having gotten truck successfully backed up), drives, relaxed. Shots of two speedometers -- Mario's fast, Luigi's slow. Jo spots the other truck, blows his horn. Bimba accelerates. Mario accelerates. Quick shots back and forth. Jo tries to grab the brake, Mario knocks him aside. Luigi/Bimba have ten seconds to pull away -- just barely make it.

Luigi, Bimba on mountain with hairpin bend. Platform is rotten wood, they drive over it slowly, then get out and look. Luigi falls but Bimba grabs him. They hear other truck coming, try to wave them down. Mario and Bimba come to platform, notice hole. They argue. Mario gets back in to drive, Jo serves as lookout. Mario backs up, Jo hides as Mario pushes parked truck over edge, is close to precipice himself. Mario thinks Jo's dead (finds cap), but notices him sneaking away.

Shot of wheels, Mario, as Mario edges away from precipice. Platform collapses behind him. Jo runs after Mario, who eventually stops to let him in.

Luigi, Bimba are coming around a bed, relaxed. They see a big rock blocking the road. Bimba: blow it up. Luigi makes hole in rock. Mario, Jo come up. Mario helps, Jo has shakes. Bimba slowly drips nitroglycerine into rock. (Lots of close-ups of thermos, Mario's hands, Luigi's cigar -- tense sequence.) Bimba lights fuse, runs. Luigi panics, runs toward fuse. Rock blows up. One fragment heads toward forgotten jerrycan, but is stopped by another rock. Luigi OK, just had wind knocked out of him. Bimba, Mario, Luigi happy, take leak over roadside. Jo takes one separate from others.

Luigi, Bimba roll along, Bimba shaves. Mario drives, Jo's still nervous. They see flash of light, hear explosion, see smoke. Jo turns off ignition, Mario turns it back on. Jo runs, threatens Mario with stick. Mario picks up stone. Jo drops stick, Mario throws stone. Mario gets Jo to walk back to truck.

Mario, Jo come to place of explosion. Pipeline broken -- crater of oil. Jo gets in to measure depth, Mario drives through. Jo falls. Mario shouts at him to get out of the way, but Jo's stuck. Mario drives over his leg. Mario stops, examines scene, finally goes and lifts Jo out. "Pal or no pal, I had to get by."

Mario drives, uses a crowbar to pull out the truck. Mario drives, Jo is dying. Mario arrives at well. Jo's dead. Next morning, Mario gets $4000 (Jo's share too). He refuses driver -- says scared if someone else is at wheel. Hernandez reports that Luigi, Bimba, Jo dead, but Mario on his way back. Doc and Linda dance to Blue Danube. Mario turns wheel in time to Blue Danube on radio. Linda faints. Mario jerks wheel, truck turning to and fro, plunges over parapet. Last shot: metro ticket in Mario's hand.

My notes
-- literally a do-or-die scenario.
-- very little character background -- plot-driven.
-- flawed characters. Faults magnified under pressure.
-- lots of suspense, tension.
-- environment presents all sorts of obstacles.

FT 540 notes (from 06/03/03)
-- form turned on its head -- adventure story, but everyone dies.

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