Combustible Celluloid
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With: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri, Peter Capell, Karl John, Friedrich von Ledebur, Chico Martinez, Joe Spinell, Rosario Almontes, Richard Holley, Anne-Marie Deschodt, Jean-Luc Bideau, Jacques Francois
Written by: Walon Green, based on a novel by Georges Arnaud
Directed by: William Friedkin
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 121
Date: 06/24/1977

Sorcerer (1977)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Day and Nitro

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just after seeing William Friedkin's Killer Joe, I went back to fill a couple of holes in his filmography, films of his I hadn't yet seen. One of them was Sorcerer, his follow-up to The Exorcist. Following up that massive hit, and multiple Oscar-nominee, was an impossible task for anyone, and no matter what Friedkin made, it was unlikely to be as well-received. It probably didn't help that Friedkin worked on Sorcerer for years, apparently insisting on the most minute details, and that it was a remake of a beloved French classic, The Wages of Fear (1953). It also didn't help that it opened just a few weeks after Star Wars, and it reportedly grossed about $9 million on its $21 million budget.

Nonetheless, Sorcerer is a masterpiece, and one of Friedkin's best. It's an existential suspense movie. Like the original, the story focuses on several souls living in a remote South American village. They take on the only job that can pay them enough money to get out: transporting nitro glycerin across an unpredictable jungle terrain in order to put out an oil fire. Unlike the original, Friedkin spends a good long time establishing the stories of the men, four outcasts from different countries, who are hiding from crimes or other troubles: Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider), Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer), Nilo (Francisco Rabal), and Kassem (Amidou).

The movie's highlight is a harrowing scene in which the trucks must cross a teetering rope bridge, as well as another scene in which the men work together to blow up a giant tree that has fallen across the road. Both of these scenes focus on the process, rather than on suspense; it becomes a matter of breathing, rather than being breathless. Another famous factor is the electronic score by Tangerine Dream; its success led to a career of notable 1980s scores for the group. Friedkin memorably juxtaposes the ethereal music with a Charlie Parker tune ("I'll Remember April").

Sadly, sources say that Sorcerer is in a bad state of disrepair and that lawyers are bickering over who owns it and who stands to make the most money on it. As of now, there's a 1998 DVD -- released by Universal Home Video -- that is mastered in the wrong aspect ratio (1:1.33 rather than 1:1.85), but it remains the only way for fans to see it. But hopefully, if the demand is great enough, we will be able to see a fully-restored theatrical release someday.

Note: In 2014, Warner Home Video provided a restored, remastered Blu-ray release.

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