By Robin E. Simmons

Sorcerer Art   SORCERER

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly four decades since director William Friedkin’s commercially disappointing follow-up to his blockbuster hits THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST. It’s equally hard to believe there’s never been a properly formatted home theater release of this intense reboot of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s undisputedly great, and magnificently titled, 1953 film THE WAGES OF FEAR based on the novel by George Arnaud. (Friedkin’s film is dedicated to Clouzot, who died shortly before the film was released.)

The desperate story about four outcasts, led by Roy Scheider, who must transport two trucks carrying six crates of decaying, volatile dynamite across 200 miles of treacherous mountain and jungle roads in order to stop a South American oil fire is probably more visceral and memorable in Clouzot’s stark, black and white, original. But the jungle action sequences, especially crossing a rope bridge over a flooding river during a storm, remain a standout, nail-biting set piece in Friedkin’s film. Even more so when we recognize it was created without the help of computer graphics! The film also stars Francisco Rabal, Bruno Cremer, Ramon Bieri and Joe Spinell. The once fresh sound of Tangerine Dream’s terrific score seems at times a tad dated today, but is still highly effective.


The two-hour film takes more than half its time in setting up the drama and introducing us to the protagonists who are trapped by the whims of existential fate into a collective act of redemption and an opportunity to buy their way out of the hellish place in which they find themselves But they must first survive and the odds of not getting blown up in the process are not on their side.

Much time is spent getting to know the four men who will soon be thrown together in a squalid SA oil company town. Cremer, the most relatable of the four, is a French banker fleeing the collapse of his dirty business dealings; Amadou is a Palestinian terrorist, not a generic Muslim, running from the Mossad after a Jerusalem bombing; Scheider is the sole surviving New Jersey mobster hiding out after a church robbery in a powerful gangster’s parish; and then there’s Francisco Rabal’s hit man whom we assume is in this Latin American hell-hole to knock off one of the other three. But Rabal kills a fourth man, a German, in order to make himself a part of the truck driving team. But it is this elaborate conceit that lessens the emotional impact of the drama it is supposed to enhance.

The long delay in getting this restored print to home video has been blamed on “complicated licensing” issues as well as finding the best source material.Sorcerer Truck Bridge (1977)

On it’s initial Hollywood release, the film followed a two-week run of STAR WARS at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (as it was then called). But after a week or so of poor attendance and weak reviews, STAR WARS was brought back for it’s historic, mostly sold-out, tenure.

Most people who saw the posters and ads for Friedkin’s film naturally assumed it was some kind of follow-up or sequel to the supernatural hit THE EXORCIST. The poorly conceived and misunderstood title (it’s one of the dilapidated truck’s names) was probably the main reason the film failed to find traction with the movie-going public. The often sparse audiences who sat through the film generally liked it and there grew a kind of cult following in spite of the cropped and bad looking VHS transfer. So the new, vivid Blu-ray release is hugely anticipated and welcome. Once again, the evocative production design by the brilliant John Box can be fully appreciated.

The restoration is sometimes ultra vivid and very controlled — the sunlight in Jerusalem burns bright and the lush jungle greens quiver with a neon glow. There’s a strong grainy feel to the texture of the canvas that does not detract from the coarse, noir story of men fighting their dark destiny in a doomed, meaningless existential wasteland. The last image of Scheider stumbling into a raging inferno carrying a box of unstable nitro is not the most upbeat of endings but is somehow satisfying in this fatalistic fable.

For interested technophiles, the surprisingly low bit rate for this long anticipated film averages 17.99. But I saw no compression problems on a 60” screen. I was startled to find the disc to be bare bones. It’s devoid of the most basic extras including a Friedkin commentary. (Perhaps a response to the harsh criticism of his initial THE EXORCIST commentary that is merely a description of the action on screen as if intended for the blind!) To make up for this loss, the disc is a 40-page book that is well written and revealing. SORCERER is a visually rich and often thrilling adventure that deserves to be seen anew. Fighting fate is a dangerous business. Warner Home Video. Blu-ray.

Strange Woman (1946)THE STRANGE WOMAN

Edward G. Ulmer’s lurid melodrama, in many ways a movie ahead of its time, is all about cheating and its consequences. Beautiful Hedy Lamarr, her Viennese accent intact, plays a native of Bangor, Maine, personally picked Ulmer to direct this bigger budget thriller in an attempt to change her image from sexy starlet to legitimate actor.

Set in the logging and timber world. Hedy plays Jenny Hager, who has grown up in Bangor. She has long attracted the eye of wealthy Isaiah Poster (Gene Lockhart), at least 20 years her senior. Finally out of her teens, the superficially sweet but cunning and shrewd Jenny accepts Poster’s proposal. While she makes a cushy lifer for herself, she obviously does not like Poster. However, when Ephraim, Poster’s college age son, visits from university, Jenny is immediately attracted to him. However, unknown to naïve Ephraim, Jenny is also scheming to seduce businessman John Evered (a terrific George Sanders), even though he’s already engaged to her best friend Meg (Hillary Brooke)! Well, without going any further and revealing any spoilers, you can see the delicious complications. With this film, Hedy Lamarr’s acting chops were widely acknowledged, even though he best known performance was in 1933’s ECSTASY, mainly due to her notorious on screen nude swim — mild by any of today’s standards (I use “standards” loosely).Strange Woman

By the way, Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was not just a pretty face, but also an inventor whose co-patented electronic jamming signal device was used during the Cuban missile crisis and currently applied to cell phones. Her first marriage in 1937 was to an Austrian Fascist weapons manufacturer. Film Chest Media Group. DVD