Monday, November 24, 2014

Sorcerer, From The Exorcist and Jaws to the Cesspool

This shouldn't be a B movie....but discontent foiled a would-be blockbuster.  William Friedkin, the director and producer, had just done "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection."  The star, Roy Scheider, fresh from "Jaws" would be cast in Bob Fosse's, "All That Jazz."  Success should have been easy for 1977's "Sorcerer."  Not so.  Mr. Friedkin, not an easy man to get along with, feuded with the studios prior to this film's release.  Both Universal and Paramount had joined forces to make this can't-miss epic.  When the finished product was delivered to them, these studio's were aghast, and cut a half hour off the final product, releasing a 90 minute B movie.  Mr. Friedkin was furious, but today we have the 121 minute epic, available on DVD.  A remake of 1953's "Wages of Fear," this is one of the dirtiest movies ever made (literally).
The plot: Three evil schmucks.  1) Jackie (Scheider) is a small time Irish hood who rips off a big time Italian mob boss in a New Jersey poker game.  He has to leave town. 2) An Arab terrorist has just blown up innocents at a Jerusalem bus stop.  The Israeli police pursue and kill his cohorts.  He has to leave town.  3)  Victor is a banker at one of Paris' most prestigious banks.  He has just embezzled 15 million Francs from them and is about to be arrested.  He has to leave town.  Where do these bozos go?  A cesspool of a banana republic in central America.  The only country in existence that not even the lowliest of the low will visit.  Muddy streets, tropical rains, naked kids, ugly prostitutes, and a dictator seeking to quell any potential for revolution highlight this Hell hole.

Our three protagonists hold menial jobs, and scheme on getting new identities and escaping their cursed new home.  Lucky for them an oil well explodes and catches fire.  As long as the well isn't producing capital, no one works...making the atmosphere ripe for civil war.  Our trio then are offered lots of dinero to transport some unstable dynamite 217 miles through the jungle.  This dynamite will blow out the oil well fire, restoring production.  Desperate and grizzled, the three are joined by a couple more shady characters and piece together rickety old trucks for the trek.  If the ride gets too bumpy...BOOM!  No one expects them to succeed.  What follows is a harrowing ride through storms, jungle growth, rivers, unstable bridges, homicidal rebels, and eroding roads.  The scene when Jackie maneuvers his truck across a rope bridge has been termed by some critics as the most tense three minutes ever put on film (see above picture).
Mr. Friedken successfully captures the desperation of his characters, and the grittiness of this fictional country.  Can these three losers really escape their past?  Do they have any chance at delivering the dynamite without being blown to bits?  Would more effective conflict resolution strategies have helped Mr. Friedkin negotiate a more positive release for his film?  There is so much mud, rain, sweat, oil, dirt, dust, and whatever else in this film that you will want to jump in the shower after it ends.  Ignored by the public and critics in the 1970s, this is actually a terrific movie.  See "Sorcerer," and treat yourself to a well-acted, finely directed near-miss masterpiece.

1 comment:

  1. Great minds think alike my friend. Wonderful to see someone else giving this masterpiece the credit it so richly deserves. I swear, I barely breathed for the last forty-five minutes.