Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cramer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou
Directed by: William Friedkin
Running time: 2 hrs 1 min
Our score: 5 out of 5 Stars
Pop quiz: In 1977, 20th Century Fox announced plans to release one of the most anticipated films of the past few years. What was it?
Four men. Each of them running from something that will consume them. There’s Jackie Scanlon (Scheider). A small time gangster, he and some of his pals have just made the mistake of robbing a New Jersey church whose priest happens to be the brother of a BIG time gangster. Victor (Cramer) is a Frenchman running away from a certain prison sentence in his native country. Kassem (Amidou) is running from his past as a wanted terrorist in Jerusalem, whlle Nilo (Rabal) is a mystery man. They find themselves deep in the South American jungles where they are recruited to drive trucks loaded down with highly volatile explosives. Their reward: freedom at best. At worse: BOOM!
William Friedkin’s follow-up to “The Exorcist,” “Sorcerer” is a loose remake of the French film “The Wages of Fear.” For various reasons, none that I couldn’t understand as a 16 year old boy, it was not greeted well by the public or film critics. Was it the symbolism? The fact that the first 15 minutes of the film are mostly in a foreign language? Heck, was it the “Exorcist” curse? I have no idea but I can tell you today what I thought 40 years ago: “Sorcerer” is a masterpiece of filmmaking.
Friedkin took his cameras on-location to various locales across the world and captured the colors and emotions of each one brilliantly. In the South American jungles, the beauty of the trees and wildlife contrasts against the dreary, constantly rain-filled skies. As the trucks begin on their journey, you are white knuckled with the drivers, as each roadside cliff, rock-strewn road and badly dis-repaired bridge constantly puts the men one bad bump away from death. As the road gets more treacherous, the men learn that, if they can’t trust each other, there will be no one left to complete their mission.
The cast is top notch, with Scheider coming across as a modern day Fred C. Dobbs. The rest of the cast are equally strong. Even when there are no words being spoken, the four men communicate plenty. Visually the film is stunning. The restoration makes the film look brand new. And the score, by German band Tangerine Dream, is outstanding. If I have one quibble, it is that I remember seeing the film opening night with a short four-minute overture while the screen stayed black. The creepy music and black screen really helped prepare you for what you were about to see.
OK, do you know the answer to my question? If you said “Star Wars” you are…WRONG! No, the big movie from Fox that year was supposed to be “The Other Side of Midnight,” based on the steamy novel by Sidney Sheldon. Very few theatre owners had even heard of “Star Wars.” That film’s prospects were so low that Fox mandated that any theatre that wanted to play “The Other Side of Midnight” had to agree to play “Star Wars,” which was bad news for “Sorcerer,” which opened in many cities the week after “Star Wars.” Mann’s Chinese Theatre, which had played “Star Wars,” dropped it after a week to play “Sorcerer.” This was May 1977. Soon, “Star Wars” returned, where it played through June 1978. Not bad for a movie nobody wanted.
“Sorcerer” is now back on the big screen at many Alamo Drafthouse Theatres. To see if it’s playing in your city, head here.