In one of the most nerve-racking thrillers ever made, Henry-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear is like a full frontal assault on a viewers senses with its heart pounding suspense and unrelenting tension. Four men drive two trucks of nitroglycerin three hundred miles across a hellish landscape full of potholes, rock-stewn passes, rickety bridges and dangerously tight turns to put out an oil fire that is raging on the other side of the mountain. Any slight shake or rattle could detonate the nitroglycerin and kill everyone near its blast. The director Henri-Georges Clouzot has been labeled as 'The French Hitchcock' and his style of films have been considered some of the most thrilling and scariest films of the French cinema. The film stands alone as the purest exercise in cinematic tension ever carved into celluloid, a work of art so viscerally nerve-racking that one fears a misplaced whisper from the audience could cause the screen to explode.
Clouzot's themes in The Wages of Fear are quite bleak on the primitive behavior of men, nature and society which is made brilliantly clear by the opening first frame. (Which is later appropriated once again in the opening of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch). With a single stroke, Clouzot has already set in motion his primary theme—that the world is a primitive, cruel and animalistic place, and that men are constantly 'goal oriented', addicted in the quest to become heroic and adrenaline junkies, to competitively win gold or fortune no matter what the sacrifice is. Not only does The Wages of Fear brilliantly depict the primitive nature of arrogant macho mentality but it is also a savage commentary on greedy corporate imperialism, the rape of the land, the ridiculous folly of man, and how Americans exploit the use of poor foreign cultures.