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Film Review: Sorcerer (Wages of Fear, 1977) A Critical Revaluation

Updated: May 17

🎞 American cinema; Hollywood film

Film Review: Sorcerer (Wages of Fear, 1977) A Critical Revaluation
FILE PHOTO: Sorcerer (1977) © Warner Bros.

❗️Non-escapist Cinéma vérité

In this all-star, yet Cinéma vérité, full location shooting blockbuster had been or still has been underscored by many since 1977. The first time I saw this film was at a film school as part of a lecture, yet at the time, this film was screened in VHS-transferred DVD format in the class. Thus, when I recently watched this film, it’s already familiar and got some kind of "déjà vu." A U.S. oil company hires four fugitives from Mexico, the Middle East (Israel), Europe (France), and the U.S. in the Dominican Republic - fictionalized as a Latin American country - to transport unstable nitro-glycerine separately by two trucks to put fire off in savaged oil well that 351 km away from a village, Porvenir. Although this film is seen as an art film, its story is simple enough. The subject involves figures of transnational criminal organizations who are the main exploiters of the politics / political conflicts of today. For instance, when China- U.S. conflicts escalate and get fueled, the most beneficiaries and benefactors are inevitably TCOs operating between the two regions. This is also why they tend to exploit or pretend to be ‘political players’ of either side to deteriorate the conflict, even if they have no concern about the political impact on the social totality of both warring camps. Instead, what TCOs want is avoidance of law enforcement on both sides.

▪️ On The Fate of Sorcerer (1977)

In Sorcerer (1977), the entire village, Porvenir becomes a nest of various kinds of fugitives and corrupt officials, like The Lower Depths (1902) by Maxim Gorky or The House of 72 Tenants (1973) by Chor Yuen. Moreover, under the right-wing dictatorship, the U.S. oil company was stuck between corrupt and inept dictatorship and inactive diplomacy, and the company was forced to solely face leftist terrorism in the near civil war status of the country. This political background of the hosting country for shooting this film was not far from the context of the film world itself, because the successor of generalissimo, Ramfis Trujillo, Joaquín Antonio Balaguer Ricardo was the U.S. installed president at that time as a result of the civil war and U.S. peace-keeping intervention against pro-Castro leftists. Thus, it perfectly fits the filming of this film in terms of the historical situation in both fiction and reality. In other words, this film doesn’t suit socially and historically immature audiences who only seek entertainment from cinema, while it’s more satisfactory to intellectual interests than it. This inner feature of this film corresponds to the overwhelmingly Star Wars (1977) dominant film distribution of that time. The era of pure escapism resumed in the late 1970s, and there has been no return to the non-escapist approach in history as today still belongs to the long or permanent period of pure cinematic escapism disguised in various ways. Aesthetically, all actions are done by the actual lead actors themselves and there is zero involvement of computer-generated imagery at all. This pure and adamant actuality by true workmanship of one of the greatest filmmakers, an American Jewish intellectual, Dir. William Friedkin maintained and insisted throughout the film, including the extremely challenging M211-Korean War military trucks passing over the suspended bridge on an original drought river during completely unrainy days in Mexico. The artificial tropical storm and flood are felt as real due to its unusual level of strength that can’t be seen in any sound stage. And sound designs by Jean-Louis Ducarme and Robert Knudson created the organic truck sounds and other natural sounds by enhancing animal – tiger and cougar - sounds like the last scene of the mad tanker truck in Duel (1971). The entire image in totality is a living jungle in which four fugitives are forced to collaborate to get rewards from the oil company. Another remarkable sound design is the endless laugh of Nilo in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness sequence after his death from hemorrhage caused by a bullet wound by a leftist guerrilla. This obsessed sound in the mind of the protagonist as a sign of madness or mental meltdown is like a ghost in the eyes of Macbeth or blood on his wife’s hands, as both are caused by greedy obsession. A cinematic expression.


▪️The Fate of the Protagonist Jackie Scanlon

The title Sorcerer, inspired by the success of The Exorcist (1973) and four backstories, three of which foreign languages are used, are minor factors in the box office failure of this film. For the title, the evil wizard is the fate of the leading characters. Villains like Macbeth can’t escape their own fate. Furthermore, the uncontrollability of our own fate is one of the themes alongside of inevitable mutual collaboration for survival in this film, as a film can only deal with the moral aspect. For the backstories, this is a good example of what a backstory is. A backstory is to introduce a character from their background. The first backstory is about an assassin from Veracruz, Mexico, Nilo (played by Francisco Rabal); the second is about a Palestinian Arab terrorist (now beautified by anti-Semitics around the world), Kassem / Martinez (played by Amidou). This part is important to show Dir. William Friedkin’s understanding of the Israeli-Arab/Iranian/Palestinian conflict. In which anti-Semitic genocide is usually ignored, the intifada is depicted in cinema verité. Total ignorance and deliberate unrecognition of both live and dead Palestinian terrorists is an ongoing anti-Sematic act by pro-Palestinians. Moreover, their aim is total annihilation of the Jewish State, thus those anti-Semitic ideologues of the Hong Kong media are all racist criminals and brain-dead. This is why the second backstory about Kassem is imperative and on time. Yet, the most remarkable thing is that Dir. William Friedkin depicted Kassem humanly and multilaterally as a man to develop his humanity during the journey of the entire story, in contrast to any hostile propaganda. This holistic approach is what art must take. The gem of his storytelling. The third backstory is about a fraudster, Victor Manzon (played by Bruno Cremer) in Paris, France; the fourth backstory is about Irish gangsters. One of them is the protagonist, Jackie Scanlon / Juan Dominguez (played by Roy Scheider) robbing a church, which is controlled by their rival Italian mafia, Carlo Ricci (played by Cosmo Allegretti). At the end of the film, Jackie Scanlon’s fate is unknown because there are authorities defending the U.S. company and its representative, Corlette (played by Ramon Bieri), who have just rewarded him before the assassins (all appeared earlier like the traitor Vinnie) come into the bar.   

📌 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Sorcerer (1977)

In contrast to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Fred C. Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) ’s fate is deliberately reversed in the fate of Jackie Scanlon, while the former is killed in the same way the latter kills the leftist guerrilla on the road. Moreover, Jackie Scanlon wants to get away from the greedy individual competition after the journey. This is why Jackie Scanlon and the entire Sorcerer (1977) are likable. Undoubtedly, Roy Scheider is the best cast.


I prefer Sorcerer (1977) to any contemporary movie because Sorcerer (1977) is really contemporary in quality. 


In memory of Dir. William Friedkin



Film Review: Sorcerer (Wages of Fear, 1977) A Critical Revaluation

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