In Vera Cruz, Nilo (Francisco Rabal) enters a hotel room with a gun drawn and proceeds to shoot the occupant; now he needs somewhere to hide. In Jerusalem, Kassem (Amidou) and his partners drop off a bag in a building which contains a bomb, and when it goes off they return to their base in an apartment to see about escaping; however, only he is able to get away from the authorities and now he needs somewhere to hide. In Paris, Victor (Bruno Cremer) is a wealthy businessman whose dealings have led his company to the brink of ruin; when his partner kills himself, he has to flee - now he needs somewhere to hide. And Scanlon (Roy Scheider) is the sole survivor of a botched robbery in America...
And, you guessed it, now he needs somewhere to hide. These four men from various points around the globe wind up in South America in much the same way that the characters did in director Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic thriller The Wages of Fear. That was because this was a remake of that, or at least a new adaptation of the original novel by Georges Arnaud, and when this information reached the tastemakers, critics and general movie buffs, the reaction was, shall we say, rather negative; the culprit was William Friedkin and he might as well have announced he was going to remake Citizen Kane or Le Règle de Jeu for all the goodwill he fostered in his potential audence. Nevertheless, he was coming off two of the biggest movies of the decade.
So he must have known what he was doing, right? Well, not exactly, as the actual shoot was so fraught with disaster that the cost of the obscurely-titled Sorcerer spiralled completely out of control, with various mishaps in the locations they chose contributing to such blood pressure raising events that everyone was delighted to put the whole business behind them. However, the film still had to be released, so slapping some Tangerine Dream music on it Friedkin presented a work he was actually as pleased as punch with, and the studios (there were two involved, the production was that big) thought he was on to something. Ah, never mind, because a space adventure named Star Wars promptly opened at the same time, and the poor critical reaction mixed with nobody wanting their nose rubbed in the jungle grime for two hours meant audiences flocked to the sci-fi.
Ever since there have been grumblings that Sorcerer was shamefully overlooked in 1977 and was - whisper it - actually an improvement over the Clouzot favourite. Naturally, common consensus had it that a turkey was a turkey and those champions of this were simply contrarians resentful that George Lucas had succeeded in light of him blotting his copybook from Return of the Jedi onwards. However, if you gave this a try, a strange thing happened: the further it went on, the more it drew its themes together, the clearer its big idea became of every little thing being connected to everything else to feed into a vast experience, the better the setpieces grew, and the conclusion was a substantial bonus compared to the manner in which Clouzot ended his original. The idea that these four men had ended up in Hell was there, but this time they were doing their damnedest not to stay damned, and the chance they get to better their lot is a certain trip.
In the first film, it's one of the most famous danger rides in cinema history as a cargo of nitroglycerine must be hauled across perilous jungle tracks to reach an oil well fire that has to be stopped with it, bringing the chance of making a meagre living back to the locals, and more importantly for the quartet, winning them a small fortune to make their grim existence far more comfortable. The trouble being, jolt the sticks of explosive too hard and they will go up in a huge fireball, so they have to drive extremely carefully or, there's no nice way of putting it, they will be obliterated. This results in some unexpectedly (an odd way of putting it, sure) tense sequences, from the journey over the rickety rope bridge which looks as if it wlll collapse at any moment to the impediment of a huge tree fallen across the road: the solution to that is a fascinating engineering feat that arriving when it does reveals how absorbed you now are. With its bleak, nihilistic mood, visuals of a green purgatory closing in on all sides and dramatic refusal to back down, it was true, Sorcerer was genuinely underrated.
American writer/director who has struggled throughout his career to escape the legacy of two of his earliest films. Debuted in 1967 with the Sonny & Cher flick Good Times, but it was the gripping French Connection (1971) and phenomenonally popular The Exorcist (1973) that made Friedkin's name and influenced a whole decade of police and horror films. Since then, some of Friedkin's films have been pretty good (Sorcerer, the controversial Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., Blue Chips, Bug, Killer Joe), but many more (The Guardian, Jade, Rules of Engagement) have shown little of the director's undoubtable talent.