Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la peur)
Based on George Arnaud’s novel, four men, desperate for money and a way out of town, take on the risky job of driving truck-loads of nitroglycerin to an oil fire.
On a hot day Mario (Yves Montand) talks with pretty Linda (Vera Clouzot) while she is washing the floor, but Hernandez (Daraio Moreno) gets angry. Jo (Charles Vanel) arrives on a plane, and Mario gives him a ride. Luigi (Folco Lulli) welcomes him. Mario shaves and tells Jo that no one has work there; but they cannot afford to leave. He says that Bill O’Brien (William Tubbs) checks up. Jo knows him and asks about jobs. Mario says the oil stopped. Linda shows Mario her new dress, and he goes with her. Jo’s suit gets splattered with mud, and Mario loans him a suit of Luigi’s. Bernardo (Luis de Lima) asks Jo for money. Luigi comes into the saloon and treats the gang to champagne. Linda dances witih Luigi, but Jo pulls out the plug on the music. Jo splatters Luigi and others with champagne. Jo has a gun and hands it to Luigi. Jo slaps Luigi, but he gives the gun back.
A woman gives a speech to a crowd about the oil wells being on fire. Police arrive and make arrests. On the phone O’Brien learns that four were killed with nine more injured. At a meeting O’Brien says explosives can put out the fires, but they need to move the nitroglycerin by trucks. They say the drivers have a 50-50 chance. They offer the drivers good pay for the dangerous work. Mario tells Jo he can make $2,000 in one week. O’Brien shows the drivers what a drop of nitro can do. An American says he has seen what happens, and he refuses and leaves. O’Brien wants two drivers in each of two trucks. They must prove they can drive, and O’Brien tests them on the road. He hires Bimba (Peter Van Eyck), Luigi, Mario, and Smerloff (Jo Dest). Jo talks with O’Brien alone. O’Brien says he is too old but could replace one who drops out.
At night Bernardo asks Linda to mail a letter. Linda prays, screams, and says Bernardo hanged himself. They are waiting for Smerloff, and Jo comes in. O’Brien hires Jo to replace Smerloff. Mario tells Jo he is scared. Workers load the nitro in the trucks. Mario and Jo go in the first truck. They move slowly with a siren. Linda runs out in the street, climbs up on the truck, cries, and says goodbye to Mario. He pushes her off. It is hot, but Joe says he feels cold. They have 300 miles to go. Jo stops to let the truck cool off. Luigi and Bimba talk. Jo stops the truck, gets out, and throws up. Bimba and Luigi catch up to them. Luigi says they are too slow, and they go ahead of them. Bimba suggests they go faster over the cement. Jo is smoking a cigarette and delays continuing. On the road Mario tells Jo to speed up, but he stops the truck. Bimba is working on the engine while Luigi complains. Mario drives faster. He almost runs into the others, but they speed up.
In the morning they are moving slowly. Luigi looks over a construction site and gives directions. Boards break, and Luigi uses a lever to get the wheel out of the hole. Mario and Jo arrive and see the hole. Jo says to turn back. Mario wants to do it and backs up the truck to the edge. Mario looks for Jo, who is climbing up the mountain. Mario spins the wheels on the muddy boards, but he puts branches under them. A wire comes apart, and the structure collapses behind the truck. Mario makes Jo run to get in the truck. Mario says Jo has the jitters. Jo says he has imagination.
Bimba and Luigi find a boulder in the road. Bimba says they could blow it up with nitro. He asks Luigi to drill a hole in the rock. Bimba siphons nitro into a thermos. Mario and Jo arrive. They back up the trucks. Bimba pours the nitro through a reed, and then he lights the fuse and runs back to the others. The explosion goes off, but no rocks land on the trucks. They find Luigi laying on the road, but he is alive. They see the boulder is gone and piss in the hole.
Bimba shaves while Luigi drives. Mario and Jo see an explosion ahead and figure it was Luigi. Jo gets out of the truck. Mario runs after him and hits him. Mario tells Jo that he needs him. Jo says he is old. Mario and Jo see truck tracks up to the place of the explosion. A broken pipe is making a pool of oil. Joe in the pool tells Mario not to stop. Joe tries to move a branch, and Mario keeps going. Joe gets out of the way, but Mario can’t get the truck out of the pond. Jo says he ran over his leg, and Mario drags him out of the pond. Mario pounds metal stakes into the ground and ties a cable to the axle of the truck. The stake bends over, but the truck makes it out.
Mario drives, and Jo says his leg smells like a corpse. Jo says he is tired, and Mario asks him where he lives. They drive slowly at night. Jo says there is nothing. Mario sees their destination and the oil fires. Jo has died, and Mario cries.
Workers clear wreckage by the fires. They welcome Mario, and the Camp Chief asks about the others. Mario says they are dead. Mario walks toward the fire and collapses. The next day the Camp Chief gives Mario a check for $4,000. Mario leaves in an empty truck. Hernandez tells Linda that three died, but Mario is alive. Linda dances as Mario drives. Linda faints, and Mario goes off a mountain road and is killed.
This existentialist drama depicts the limitations of life with an emphasis on the inevitability of death. An American businessman exploits workers who have no union and are expendable in order to solve a problem and keep the oil business flowing.