The Wages of Fear (<---Just Hit Play review), 1958's Violent Road is an interesting, mostly entertaining and tense story. There's a slight problem though. If you've seen the French version, this is almost a cookie-cutter remake albeit for American audiences. That's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it sure hamstrings the movie from the start.
Just days removed from getting fired as a truck driver, Mitch Barton (Brian Keith) stumbles into a dying western town and quickly finds a job. After a launch went severely wrong, the Cyclone Rocket Company is relocating, but there's an issue. To get started at their new location, three truckloads of explosive, corrosive and sensitive chemicals must be transported across bumpy, dangerous desert roads, and there's a short window to do it. Never one to shirk a dangerous job, Mitch takes the job offer and recruits five other men -- two more drivers, three back-up driver/mechanics -- to help him pull it off. Working against the clock and the elements, it looks like a suicide mission with little chance at succeeding.
The threat with any remake is that it won't be nearly as good as the original. My question though with this 1958 flick is simple. Were they counting on a majority of American audiences not having seen 'Wages,' if they'd even heard of it? I'm not sure how much of a release the original French classic received in the U.S. Regardless, director Howard W. Koch transports the story from South America and moves it to the American southwest. It borrows liberally from Wages, tweaking a few things here and there (three trucks instead of two, six men on the mission and not just four) while also not going to quite the dark depths of the original. Not a bad thing, it just finds a different way to be dark.
Not as good as the original, 'Violent' is still a very watchable if derivative movie. It's worth a watch for sure. The black and white shooting looks great, giving that big open expansive desert a larger than life feel. Koch filmed his story in the Alabama Hills in California so we get some great footage of a time long since past, and as well, a pretty cool amount of footage of these three trucks gunning it across the desert. The story -- regardless of if you've seen the original -- is one you watch anxiously waiting something to go wrong. What is it? You're never sure. You watch from the edge of your seat waiting for anything; a wrong bump in the road, an explosion that will kill all involved. Not particularly original, you bet, but entertaining just the same.
Similar to why 'Wages' was successful, 'Violent' works because of the dynamic that grows among Mitch's crew. They're all chosen for this desperate, possibly suicidal job, and they all have their personal reasons for doing so. Yes, you guessed it. This is a men-on-a-mission movie in disguise. Keith gives a fine performance as Mitch, the no-nonsense leader of the desperate mission. It becomes almost an obsession to get the job done and get his men the money they're owed. His destined for hell group includes Sarge (Dick Foran), an ex-Marine who missed his glory days, Lawrence (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), the company rep dealing wit the death of his family in the previous rocket accident, Ken (Sean Garrison), the fearless kid trying to earn the money to help care for his drunken brother, Manuelo (Perry Lopez), the mechanic who wants to go to school to become an engineer, and Ben (Arthur Batanides), the gambler always ready and willing to let his fate be decided on a roll of the dice. Nothing flashy, but all six are solid in bringing their characters to life, avoiding become just cardboard cutouts of real people.
Not a ton else to add to this review so I'll keep it a little shorter than usual. If you enjoyed 'Wages,' you'll no doubt get some enjoyment from this movie. If you haven't, it's a clean slate and a win-win. Nothing flashy at 86 minutes long, but a well-told story and an interesting bunch of characters. Worth a watch.
Violent Road (1958): ** 1/2 /****