The preamble hopscotches from Vera Cruz to Jerusalem to Paris to New Jersey, with raw material drawn from Criss Cross, Sabotage and Topaz, among others. The existential theme is stated by way of a soldierís poem about the ease of killing ("In seconds my gesture would remove her from this world / And me? Whose gesture would remove me?"), to illustrate it you have the marked robber (Roy Scheider), the disgraced banker (Bruno Cremer), the bomber (Amidou), and the natty crypto-hitman (Francisco Rabal) toiling in the mud. The squalid pueblo is governed by a U.S.-funded oil company (its spread-winged emblem evokes the Nazi eagle); local rebels detonate the well, the nitroglycerin needed to quell the flames is stashed 200 miles away, "suicide jockeys" are recruited. Even before getting to the jungle, the world according to William Friedkin is a brutish one: The camera zooms into a brideís shiner while a holdup takes place beneath a church, death comes brusquely and meaninglessly in a wide variety of terrains. The procession of explosive trucks muscles through sudden tropical downpours and bridges that come undone under the wheels; the clearing of a blocked patch of swamp is a robust set-piece (spiky cutting, slow-mo fallout, the cackling of the jungle), eventually the road becomes a lunar surface under bluish dusk light for Scheiderís desintegrating psyche. Friedkinís maldit analysis of The Wages of Fear retains Clouzotís perverse punchline and adds plenty of its own -- the contrast between the glazed escargot inside a fancy restaurant and the brains splattered outside it, the effect a shovel has on a guerilla fighterís jugular, the ineffable eroticizing of the villageís only woman, a toothless crone. The title is linked to a key image, the stone magus who grimaces at the fools who die for a dollar and expect happy endings (the extent of tragedy: Chet Baker yields to Tangerine Dream). This was deemed "self-indulgent" and a "folly," the Seventies were already over and nobody realized it. With Ramon Bieri, Peter Capell, Karl John, Friedrich von Ledebur, and Joe Spinell.
--- Fernando F. Croce