Not unlike the South American town that holds captive the film's heroes, Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear grabs onto its audience and refuses to let go. The story of a group of desperate men who enlist in a suicide mission driving nitrogycerine across unpaved and highly volatile terrain, the film is a case study in suspense thanks not only to its set-up but the shockingly complete and effective performances of its stars, who seem to literally endure what their characters go through en route to a great reward – be it in this world or the next.
Yves Montand and Charles Vanel play Mario and Jo, two schemers who attach themselves to one another only to discover that both are equally without prospects. After exhausting the commercial possibilities of the dusty border town they are otherwise unable to escape, they stumble across a dangerous but profitable opportunity: drive two trucks filled with unstable explosives through the mountains to a remote oil fire for a greedy American corporation. The experience not only tests their resolve as drivers, but as friends, and the two men soon find that their tenuous partnership may come at the expense of their very lives.