A harrowing odyssey of four derelicts inching two trucks loaded with nitro-glycerine over a tortuous terrain puts this in the strong meat department with a downbeat theme of fear and its manifestations.
Early portion showing a group of outcasts in a torrid Central American outpost could be tightened a bit and some of the truck scenes could be trimmed, as they heap too much suspense on an already taut situation.
Story [from the novel by Georges Arnaud] shows a group of foreign tramps huddled in a small tropical village suffering from heat and boredom, and plotting some means of getting out. Into this comes an ex-gangster who is immediately lackeyed by Mario (Yves Montand), a young Frenchman. A chance to get away offers itself because an American oil company wants two trucks loaded with explosives driven to a well-fire.
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Director Henri-Georges Clouzot has given this rhythm and pacing that makes it seem shorter than it is. He catches the feeling of a dank tropic town and the attitude of the men in crisis. Montand is good as the young Frenchman who sees his idol’s clay feet, while Charles Vanel etches an excellent portrait of an aging man feeling fear and resignation.