In a poor South American country, four drivers are asked to drive some explosive nitroglycerine across 300 miles of rocky terrain.
Based on a novel by Georges Arnaud and released the year before (but vastly superior to) Les Diaboliques, this superbly structured thriller not only reveals Henri-Georges Clouzot to have been as much a master of audience manipulation as Hitchcock, but also a filmmaker with a strong political conscience.
The hazardous cross-country journey by trucks packed with explosives, in which each pebble could cause conflagration, is justly famous. But equally important is the scene-setting segment, in which Clouzot suggests why a multi-national quartet of ne’er-do-wells would be so willing to risk death simply to escape a relentlessly engulfing Latin American backwater.
With its jaundiced view of American economic imperialism, it’s as fine a piece of sociological cinema as any contemporary offering from neo-realist Italy. But that’s not to devalue the white-knuckle moments — the need to maintain 40mph or kaboom; the sheer bend with its rotting planking; the giant boulder blocking the route; and the oil slick slid in just in case you’ve still not twigged how dangerous it is transporting nitroglycerine in rust buckets across a satanic wilderness. Non-ownership is inexcusable.
A nail-biting drama that's a must-see.