The Wages of Fear [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (17th February 2024).
The Film

"The Wages of Fear" ("Le salaire de la peur") (1953)

In a rural South American town, the Southern Oil Company employs the locals as well as European and American expats who are looking for work. Frenchman Jo (played by Charles Vanel) arrives new into town looking to work together with his old American pal O'Brien (played by William Tubbs) who is the boss of the oil company branch, though he finds that getting a good opportunity with his friend does not go accordingly. Fellow Frenchman Mario (played by Yves Montand) who has been in town for some time helps out Jo in getting settled and finding work, but with one more person looking for work means limited amount of work for the rest of the people. Tragedy and opportunity strikes when an explosion occurs in one of the oil fields and thirteen local workers were killed. Before anyone can go back to the site for work the fire must be put out, but water is not enough. O'Brien needs to recruit four workers to make a dangerous delivery - canisters of nitroglycerin to deliver to the site for the firefighters to extinguish the oiled flames. The eventual four that are chosen are Mario and Jo who drive one truck and Italian Luigi (played by Folco Lulli) and German Bimba (played by Peter Van Eyck) driving the other. Through rocky terrain, unstable bridges and other dangerous obstacles that challenge their lives.

"The Wages of Fear" was based on the French novel "Le salaire de la peur" first published in 1950, and went through two years of development with director Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose previous film "Miquette et Sa Mère" from 1950 was a commercial and critical flop. A comedy that was not comedic, the director and screenwriter went back to the dramatic table and to create something very different from the rest of French cinema at the time. Along with his brother and frequent screenwriting partner Jérôme Géronimi, the production was a post-war drama about corporate greed, racism, Americanization, and how far man would go to seek true happiness no matter how distant it may seem.

Looking at the characters of Mario, Jo, Bimba, Luigi, and other expats in town, they are not necessarily there because they want to but because of circumstances all differing. Mario dreams of going back to France and keeps a metro ticket with him as a good luck charm and as a reminder of home. Each character has a personality, from the ex-gangster Jo and his path downwards, or the carefree and loud Luigi, or the quiet danger that lurks in Bimba's mind. The interactions between the characters and their environment raises the tension from the opening expository scenes to the latter half where they are on a tightrope of life and death. The character of Mario is the lead, as we see his playboy charm towards Linda (played by Véra Clouzot and his later transformation into a near soulless madman with disregard for human life while driving the truck. The actors do a phenomenal job in giving life to each with not a missed beat to be heard.

With the haphazard attitude and careless regard for human life that the fictional Southern Oil Company shows toward both the local workers and the white workers does reflect poorly on corporate policies and how disasters are handled, and that could be something normal in either 1953 or in 2017. Large oil companies still try to control people and marketplaces, disregard safety regulations and make up wild claims about climate change being a hoax in order to further their production without caps, and how their rich get richer while the poor continue to roll around in the mud begging for pennies and scraps. If the original novel and the film of "The Wages of Fear" was a wake-up call, it did not do much to change things, but that may also have been because of cuts done to the original American theatrical release. Nearly a half hour was removed, with many of the scenes being the attitudes of the fictional American oil company, so most Americans were not able to see the full version until much later.

The film is labeled a thriller yet it is not a conventional thriller in textbook sense. There is no particular "bad guy" or a chase. There is no mystery to be solved or any large hidden secrets. The tension comes from both within - the racial and social divide between the characters, and also from the dangerous nitroglycerin that could explode if not handled with proper care. There are a number of scenes that are truly heartpounding. The argument at the cantina, the truck backing up on the wooden ledge that is weakened, the giant boulder that blocks the path. The scenes are sometimes longer than they should be but that only strengthens the edge and master of suspense Clouzot was critical on how the particular scenes were shot and edited. Shots of ropes about to snap, a gun barrel slowly revolving, the small cracks in rotting wood unable to sustain weight, truck tires right on the edge of a cliff. But why are these desperate men risking their lives for a mere $2000? What the hell else are they going to do?

"The Wages of Fear" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on April 15th, 1953 where it took the Grand Prix. It also won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Best Film at the BAFTA awards, and Best Film at the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics. Not only was it a critical favorite restoring Clouzot's reputation, but also a massive hit with audiences which in France was the fourth highest grossing movie of the year, and rolling out across Europe and America to high praises, even if it was a truncated version. In 1958 the book was made into the English language film "Violent Road" directed by Howard W. Koch and in 1977 in "Sorcerer" directed by William Friedkin. The 1958 film went relatively unnoticed. The 1977 film was scathingly received critically and commercially although in more recent years the film has been reappraised as one of Friedkin's masterpieces.

The original 152 minute French theatrical version of "The Wages of Fear" has rarely been seen since its original run, with even the supposedly restored version released by The Criterion Collection in America was a slightly shorter 148 minute version. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, a 4K restoration of the original 152 minute version was premiered to rave reviews. Later that year, the BFI released the restored version on Blu-ray. And now in 2024, they have given the film its worldwide premiere on the 4K UltraHD Blu-ray format with upgraded resolution plus some additional extras.

Note this is a region All 4K UltraHD Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in 2160p in the HEVC codec with HDR10 and Dolby Vision, in the original theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The film was restored in 4K by TF1 Studio and the Cinémathèque Française from the original 35mm nitrate negative. This restoration is the most complete version of the film, restoring four minutes of footage that had been unseen for years, and restoring the length of the original French theatrical release in 1953. The transfer is from the 2017 restoration which was also utilized for the previously released BFI Blu-ray, which was a stunning looking release at the time and still holds up today. As stated in our Blu-ray review from 2017, the results are absolutely stunning. The black and white image is pristine with deep blacks and bright whites with a healthy looking greyscale in between. Scratches, dust, and other damage has been removed completely with almost no defects in the image, while still leaving the film grain intact. There are a few moments here and there that become grainier than others due to the way the scenes were shot, though not too distracting from the rest of the film. The film is framed at the correct original aspect ratio with no issues of bad framing or wobbliness to the image. The upgrade to native 4K resolution is excellent, with detail looking exceptional from the dusty desert roads to the sweaty pores of the dirty faces of the protagonists. It is graded with HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and the greyscale looks wonderful throughout. The film along with all the extras are housed on a single triple layer 100GB disc. Even with the fairly lengthy runtime and the generous amount of extras included, there are no issues of compression to speak of with the film's image quality. While the 2017 Blu-ray looked spectacular, the 2024 4K release is a wonderful upgrade. It is not a huge boost in quality as they come from the same restoration, it's easily the definitive choice for the film on a home video format. Excellent job on the restoration by TF1 and a great transfer to disc from the BFI.

This is the restored original French theatrical version and the runtime on disc is 153:02, which includes a modern and colorful TF1 logo at the start which was not included on the standard Blu-ray release, accounting for the slightly longer runtime.


French/English/Spanish/German/Italian/Russian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
The original multilingual language track is presented in lossless 2.0 mono sound. French is the predominant language with about 50% of the dialogue, followed by Spanish and English at around 20% each and the other languages taking up the remaining 10%. The audio has also been restored from the original materials and sounds fairly good, though not particularly remarkable. With many location shoots the audio can get slightly distorted due to the conditions they were recorded in, and some of the indoor location audio can also sound flat from time to time. On positive notes, the dialogue is always clear, music sounds good, and there are no issues with hisses, pops, or cracks in the audio. On the 2017 BFI Blu-ray the soundtrack was presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 while it is in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 on this release, and there doesn't seem to be any difference with the two tracks in terms of quality.

There are optional English subtitles for the non-English portions in a white font. Like the 2017 Blu-ray, there are no English subtitles or an English HoH track for the English portions of the film. The subtitles are easy to read, well-timed, and no issues in spelling or grammar to speak of.


Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin (2017)
Film critic Adrian Martin gives a full length discussion on the film, on Clouzot, and the impact the film had. Topics include the lengthy exposition, the casting of Vera Clouzot, the cuts the film had for the original American release, the issues of racism and corporate greed, comparisons with the later remakes, and pointing out the restored scenes. It's long but never boring and commentary veteran Martin gives another great one here. Note this was originally recorded and included on the 2017 BFI Blu-ray release.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"A Road Trip Out of Hell? Or Into It? Purgatory and The Wages of Fear" 2024 video essay by Nic Wassell (14:31)
This new and exclusive video essay looks at the film and its relationships and metaphors with religion, capitalism, American globalism, and more with clips of film to illustrate the opinions.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.37:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Lucy Mazdon on The Wages of Fear" 2017 featurette (34:59)
Professor Lucy Mazdon of the University of Southampton gives a brief overview of Clouzot's career, the actors in the film and their biographies, relationships of the characters, the success of the film commercially and with critics worldwide, and more. Some clips of the film are also shown, in which it is in the original aspect ratio with burned-in English subtitles. Note this was originally included on the 2017 BFI Blu-ray release.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Interview with assistant director Michel Romanoff (22:26)
Romanoff was only 27 years old when he first met Clouzot and work with him two years later on "Wages of Fear" and on the director's subsequent films. Romanoff, or Prince Michael Feodorovich of Russia was actually a great nephew of Nicholas II - the last Russian Tsar, born and raised in France following the Russian revolution. He recalls the first time working with Clouzot and being the youngest kid on set, the actors, the extremely challenging shoot, and much more. This interview was produced by the Criterion Collection and was previously released on their 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray releases and also included on the 2017 Blu-ray Blu-ray release.
in 1080i60 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Interview with Henri-Georges Clouzot biographer Marc Godin (10:10)
Biographer Marc Godin discusses Clouzot's life in a basic overview. He mentions the collaborations with his brother Jérôme Géronimi on screenwriting, the controversy of the director's 1943 film "Le Corbeau", as well as the restored reputation with the films "Wages of Fear" and "Diabolique". He also interestingly mentions that Clouzot was not a humorous man, and that does seem obvious by looking at his works. This interview was produced by the Criterion Collection and was previously released on their 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray releases and also included on the 2017 Blu-ray Blu-ray release.
in 1080i60 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in French Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"The Guardian Lecture" Yves Montand in conservation with Don Allan (98:50)
This audio-only extra was conducted at the National Film Theatre on July 25th, 1989 with Yves Montand and moderator Don Allan. Montand talks about his childhood growing up in Marseilles with an Italian family, how he had a passion for singing, his rise to fame in France and internationally, working with Clouzot, Costa-Gavras, Marilyn Monroe, and more. He apologizes in advance for sometimes not knowing English words and having to revert to French at times, in which Don Allan helps with. Though the amount of French being spoken is very little and when he does, it is translated soonafter for most of the time. Note this was originally included on the 2017 BFI Blu-ray release.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Treasures from the BFI National Archive (with Play All) (29:59)
- "They Take the High Road" 1960 documentary short (24:25)
- "Fire Checked by Explosives!" 1928 newsreel (0:32)
- "Transporting Loads - With or Without Roads" 1920 advertisement (5:02)

Three shorts are included. The first is "They Take the High Road", a 1960 British Transport Films short that looks at the lives of truck drivers in Scotland dedicating two years of their lives for a dam's construction as they make dangerous drives across uneven terrain for their work. Note this short was previously released on Blu-ray by the BFI in the 2-disc "The Best of the British Transport Films" set and on DVD in the 2-disc "British Transport Films Collection Volume 5: Off the Beaten Track" set. The image looks beautiful with the restoration giving new life to the colors of the Scottish highlands in the documentary. There are some minor speckles and flicker to be seen, though it is very minor at best, and the narration is always clean and clear. "Fire Checked by Explosives!" is a 1928 newsreel that is fully explained by the opening intertitle stating, "Nitroglycerine used to disperse oil from seething crater of roaring volcano." The short newsreel has some very dangerous and scary looking shots, and the black and white, while sharp has a lot of damage marks throughout with weaving, water damage, speckles and more, though still in a watchable state. "Transporting Loads - With or Without Roads" looks at lorries traveling across uneven grounds without proper roads in an advertising reel. The image is sepia tinted except for the intertitles which are presented in white. There is minor flickering and damage marks to be found, yet it is quite sharp and fairly clean throughout. The two silent shorts are presented with music accompaniment, with "Fire Checked by Explosives!" having "Danse Macabre – Isolated Harp" by Kevin MacLeod and "Transporting Loads - With or Without Roads" having "Readers! Do You Read?" by Chris Zabriskie.
Note "They Take the High Road" is available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono without subtitles (They Take the High Road) / Music Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with English intertitles (Fire Checked by Explosives! & Transporting Loads - With or Without Roads”)

Original theatrical trailer (3:20)
The original trailer has been restored as well. Though not as clean as the full film, the picture and sound quality are quite good. The trailer has also been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.37:1, in French Dolby Digital 1.0 with optional English subtitles

A 24 page booklet includes essays, credits, photos, transfer information, and acknowledgements. The first is simply "The Wages of Fear" by author and critic Andy Miller who breaks down the film and its release. Next is a positive 1954 review of the film by Karel Reisz for Sight and Sound magazine. This is followed by a positive yet an awful spoiler filled review by an unnamed critic which was first published in Monthly Film Bulletin in April 1954. Since it completely gives away the climax and the tragic ending here, it's questionable why this was ever printed, even if it was a positive notice. Next is a reprint of the 2003 article "Henri-Georges Clouzot: Master of Suspense" by critic Paul Ryan, which discusses Clouzot's career and suspense films in brief. There are also notes on the special features. The 2017 Blu-ray release had a 20 page booklet, with the 2024 release having all the content from that booklet and adds the spoiler-filled 1954 review and the additional notes on the newly included extras.

A clip from the film, courtesy of the BFI.

BFI's promo for the 2017 restored release of the film.

Mark Kermode's BFI Player introduction.

A clip from "Sorcerer" (1977)

A trailer for the 2024 remake, which is looking to be a more action packed retelling.


"The Wages of Fear" immediately placed veteran director Henri-Georges Clouzot to the top of international recognition with its uniquely tense and bleak atmosphere. Seventy-one years after its debut, the film continues to inspire, provoke, and amaze audiences worldwide, never losing its stride and never forgotten as one of the cinematic greats. The BFI's 4K UHD release is excellent with the stellar presentation of the restored version of the film which includes all the extras from the 2017 release and adds a few new exclusives for a comprehensive release. It's wonderful to see the film in its worldwide debut on the UHD format and it will surely be one of the best releases of the year for 2014.

Amazon UK link

BFI Shop link

The Film: A Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A


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