« Music Box | Main | CITIZEN KANE — CLASSIC FILM PICK »

January 17, 2009

SORCERER — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Sorcerer-movie-poster-1977

William Friedkin leveraged the influence he accrued with the enormous box office successes of "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist" — both films also won Oscars — to live out his dream of remaking Henri-Georges Clouzot's trailblazing 1955 thriller "Le Salaire de la Peur" ("Wages of Fear"), albeit with a sharper socio-political-corporate commentary and an even tougher visual style. The director’s decision to use an outré electronic music score by Tangerine Dream adds considerably to creating a volatile vibe that complements screenwriter Walon Green's perceptive adaptation of Georges Arnaud's anti-capitalist 1950 novel.

During its finely crafted first act, Friedkin skillfully sets up the back-stories of four criminals from around the globe who end up in the same backwater oil town in Venezuela where a well fire burns out of control some 200 miles away. The manmade disaster gives the hard-up refugees an opportunity to make a sizable sum of money — if they can successfully deliver cases of nitro-sweating dynamite to the site to stanch the out-of-control blaze.

Sorcerer

Despite Friedkin's public grousing about Roy Scheider being the “wrong actor” for the film’s leading man role of Jackie Scanlon — the director originally wanted to cast Steve McQueen — the reliably wholehearted Scheider delivers a gutsy performance that is every bit as solid as his work on "Jaws," if not better. Indeed, Scheider is the only name actor in the film.

Infamous battles between the then ego-bloated Friedkin and the film’s production companies (Paramount and Universal) — over casting and budgetary concerns — were exacerbated by costly set disasters. One such crisis involved an expensive rope suspension bridge used in one of the film's most gripping sequences. A specially created hydraulic-controlled bridge extended over a shallow riverbed in an area that never flooded — at least not until shooting was scheduled to begin. A still image from the nail-biting scene was used in the film’s extraordinary poster. It remains one of the most anxiety-inducing scenes in the history of cinema.

"Sorcerer" had the misfortune of being released at the same time as "Star Wars." As such, it flopped at the box office in the blink of an eye — not that the powers that be didn’t set it up to bomb. After bleeding money during the film’s far over-budget production, Universal and Paramount wrote the picture off as a loss and put no effort into distribution or publicity. For the first time in his career William Friedkin failed as a filmmaker — not because of the superb product he delivered, but rather the way he played the system. His outsized pride caught up with him just when he thought he was above it all.

It's rare that a remake lives up to the original upon which it was based, much less exceeds it, but William Friedkin’s "Sorcerer" is that exceptional movie. It remains one of the most overlooked cinematic masterpieces of all time.

Sorcerer-truck-bridge

Rated PG. 121 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Video

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series