Transporting gallons of nitroglycerin through the jungle, Roy Scheider and his crew drive to the very edge of survival – a bit like Jaws, except this 1977 existential thriller was a box office flop due to opening the same week as Star Wars. Talk about misfortuna.
The second big-screen adaptation of Georges Arnaud’s 1950 novel Le Salaire de la peur, the incongruously named Sorcerer deserves to be seen on its 40th anniversary re-release. William Friedkin combines the virtuosity of his two previous award-winning features; the dark brutality of The Exorcist meets the white-knuckle driving of The French Connection. A sequence in which a truck navigates a rope bridge gives whole new meaning to the word “suspense.”
As you might expect when trying to start a truck in a quagmire, Sorcerer takes a while to get moving. The first half is spent introducing our characters in great detail. This makes everything feel completely real, from the enduring, intense stunt driving to the desperate men behind the wheel. Imagine Deliverance with trucks instead of canoes; humans scrambling around in the dirt, dragged out of city life to do battle with the elements.
Friedkin exorcises the violence that modern society can do to people and to the planet. He depicts a Latin America ravaged by the oil industry, with stark echoes of Vietnam. But instead of using Creedence Clearwater Revival like everyone else, Friedkin employs the electronic music of German band Tangerine Dream; a wonderfully proggy choice from the guy who put ‘Tubular Bells’ in The Exorcist.
The four main characters are also international, putting everyone on equal footing with the rest of humanity and the rest of nature. The lack of dialogue adds to this breakdown of civilisation, letting the nail-biting action speak for itself. Like Duel in a swamp, this is an ingenious piece of 1970s nihilism.