Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Maltese Falcon: From Book To Film



With Dashiell Hammett’s novel serving as a literary prototype for the hard-boiled detective genre, and the film adaptation arguably considered a model—if not the very first—of the film noir genre, both versions of The Maltese Falcon deserve examination for their consideration and influence within their respective mediums. Starring Private Eye Sam Spade at the center of this byzantine narrative, the almost comically convoluted plot revolves around the eponymous statuette of The Maltese Falcon—a bejeweled figure worth a significant sum of money that fuels the motives of each character. More importantly, the Falcon functions as an archetypal MacGuffin—a plot device term famously popularized by Hitchcock—as an object whose inherent nature bears little importance, so much as it catalyzes the characters’ pursuit of this object to reveal their true nature.

Nonetheless, as in so many of the film noirs to come, the story begins with a mysterious woman asking for help. The woman—Brigid O’Shaughnessy—enters the investigate offices of Archer & Spade for their assistance in apparently tracking down her sister. Though the two are suspicious of her story, Archer trails the man in question—only to be later shot dead. With the police now fingering Spade as a possible suspect, he begins his journey into both proving his innocence and avenging his partner’s death.

But first, he must contend with the peculiar character of Joe Cairo (Peter Lorre). While the book’s descriptions make the character’s homoerotic undertones undisguisably clear, the film must hint much more subtly toward such controversial character ideas for a film produced in 1941. Instead, Peter Lorre’s performance of Joe Cairo emphasizes such affects through his high-pitched voice, extremely polished attire, and scented handkerchief. That aside, Cairo first introduces information regarding the bird while searching Spade at gunpoint. Though Sam outmaneuvers him, he soon realizes that he is being trailed by a companion of Cairo named Willet—commonly referred to as the kid in the book—who doggedly trails the private eye throughout San Francisco in his search to reconnect with Brigid and determine her connection between his partner’s death and this strange statue of the Maltese Falcon.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Maltese Falcon, The)_12

Eventually, Spade locates the looming figure operating behind the scenes of both Brigid and Cairo in the form of “The Fat Man” aka Gutman. Played to marvelous, memorable effect by Sydney Greenstreet, the perpetually jovial crime figure attempts to manipulate Spade in finding the valuable Falcon. As can be found in similar, heavily-plotted noirs of the time, the narrative from this point forward mostly allows for a series of tense dialogue exchanges, double-crossings, and a climactic confrontation for all parties in which their object of desire—The Falcon—serves to illuminate the true intentions of each character and challenge those aspects of their personality formerly considered resolute.

Besides these genre precedents, the film also helped initiate the careers of both director John Huston and star Humphrey Bogart into those iconic roles which would later cement their legacies. Having collaborated with Bogart as a writer on the early heist film High Sierra (1941), where the young Bogie owned his first true staring role as the leader of the heist, Huston and Bogart would use the successful reception of this first partnership to ascend both their careers in The Maltese Falcon. After the critical and box office success of this picture, Huston would pursue similar movies that would define his career, mostly in the crime genre; specifically: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, and The Asphalt Jungle. Meanwhile, Bogart would grow into an actor of legend just a year later when starring in the most famous film of his career: Casablanca.

Though two previous, failed adaptations of Hammett’s novel had already come to fruition, Huston managed to convince Warner Brothers into financing another by meticulously mapping out each shot beforehand in detailed storyboards and keeping the budget down to $300,000 on an eight-week-schedule. Perhaps more importantly, he also remained extremely faithful to the source material—reducing the already lean narrative of the novel into an almost word-for-word transformation from prose to picture.

Still, the single filmmaking aspect most worthy of praise that exalted the picture into a detective mystery far more compelling than its predecessors can be pinpointed to the cinematography. Roger Ebert and others have argued that cinematographer Arthur Edeson’s work deserves praise on par with that of Welles and Gregg Toland in Citizen Kane for its use of deep-focus, long takes, and low-angle shots. These low-angles are noteworthy for their inclusion of ceilings within interior rooms—a major achievement for the field since lighting and equipment were normally kept above this region of the frame to hide equipment. While also praiseworthy for their invention in this regard, these shots also work to thematic effect in visually enhancing many ideas about character. Most notably, these are utilized in shots of Sydney Greenstreet’s Mr. G, wherein the massive man of wealth and influence is continually framed from low-angle shots that emphasize his power and domineering influence upon the frame.


Likewise, he and Edeson employ deep focus shots that ensure each detail in the foreground and background act in unison to highlight deeper thematic ideas—ensuring many long dialogue scenes are able to both convey necessary plot exposition and retain the viewer’s attention from a visual standpoint. Moreover, the use of a long take in a nearly seven-minute-long shot between Spade and Gutman deserves exceptional praise. Though the take does not call attention to itself in the manner that has made so many other long takes famous, the unbroken shot observes Gutman slowly waiting for Spade to pass out from his drugged drink. The viewer wallows in both the tension and patience of the scene, and Huston wisely never interrupts the shot to pander down to audiences as to the why this scene deserves to play out for such an extended time. Though this exact parallel between Toland and Edeson may be a bit of a stretch, the cinematography on display still deserves its reputable acclaim.

Still, though the film’s technical achievements are worthy of all the esteemed praise accumulated over the decades, the film’s genre and character precedents remain its most relevant legacy. Bogart inhabits the smug, cold, yet oddly charismatic character of Spade with confident swagger and delineates a portrait of the hardened detective that would inhabit the noir genre to the point of cliché. What separates Spade from the imitators, however, can be found in the stirring sense of pathos—one which will soon be starkly illuminated in the climax.

Like the novel, the final scene plays out as one long dialogue scene that begins as a negotiation and concludes in a cold arrest. The nearly twenty-minute long scene plays out almost identically to that of the novel, though the book includes a scene of Spade strip-searching O’Shaughnessy in an act of humiliation that truly reveals Spade’s hard heart—foreshadowing the dark aspect of this character to be crystallized within the climax.


After the Falcon has been revealed as an imitation, and the original “Fall Guy” of the Kid has escaped, Gutman and Spade mutually agree to depart with no harm to the other (though Spade manages to take a few hundred dollars from him “for his troubles”). Left alone with his love interest O’Shaughnessy, the woman who originally entangled Spade within the affairs of the Falcon, she appeals to Spade no longer as an ally or client—but as a lover. She raises questions of their relationship, of love, but Spade’s true nature finally reveals itself when he bluntly explains that he will be handing her over to the police. Though apparent true tears emerge from the woman’s eyes, begging him for mercy and for him to escape with her for a new life, Sam can only explain in his famous last lines:

“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it…I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck…The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”

Despite Sam’s brutal message and Brigid’s look of absolute horror, the speech gives the best indication yet into Spade’s character and what separates this species of investigator from the others: a code.

While Brigid may have actually loved Sam, her ambiguous nature left little in the way for a man like Sam to love her back. Even though he may not have even liked Archer (and was holding an affair with his wife, as well), and though he may have liked Brigid in some other circumstance, his code dictates that he has a certain duty to fulfill—one that he has accomplished by the end of the story—and one that, for better or worse, leaves him back where he began.

The one major, final difference between the book and movie lies in the film’s famous last line. After a cop asks Spade as to what exactly the Maltese Falcon is, he replies: “The stuff that dreams are made of”. Though reports vary in crediting this line to either Bogart or Huston, the line works as a variation of dialogue from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” The line does not need much analysis in the way of deciphering its symbolic significance in relation to what the Falcon has represented: a device that fueled the dreams for those seeking greater glories, riches, and a happier life…only to come away with nothing but an imitation.


Although the film is almost a word-for-word adaptation of a novel, it does leave out one chapter of significance that highlights this idea of chasing something better only to return to a similar life as that which came before. In the chapter titled “Flitcraft”, Spade relates the story of a case from early in his career, which involved a man named Charles Flitcraft. Spade had been assigned to track down this Charles Flitcraft—a successful businessman from Tacoma—who had seemingly abandoned his family. Following his private investigation, Spade discovers that Flitcraft was nearly killed by a falling beam from a construction site, and though the nearly fatal beam just missed him to spare his life, the businessman remained deeply shaken from the experience. As a result, he decided to leave this life behind in search of a new one. His new life, however, came to find Flitcraft as a man in charge of a new business, with a new wife, not far from his original town of Tacoma—clearly unaware how closely his new life resembled the old one.

The point of Flitcraft’s story—and one that makes Spade’s own ending with the Falcon all the more haunting—relates to the this theme of a man being unable to change his true nature, arguably due to the code which so defines Spade’s character. With the Falcon acting as The MacGuffin in this case—a thing that dreams are made of, whatever that may—each character comes to chase this idol of hope only to return to that original life from which they started their doomed journey. Cairo, Gutman, and Willet return to their worldwide search of the actual Falcon, Brigid remains a woman in fear for her life (now under a pending death penalty), and Spade returns back to his office—ready for the next case.

Now having experienced an episode in the career of Sam Spade, the viewer can better understand and contextualize the cynical weariness that has turned this private investigator into a shell of a human being. A man who understands the importance of a code above all else, and who’s able to recognize the futility of chasing a better life that will only return the pursuer back to a life not too dissimilar from the start. Ultimately, Spade recognizes that all these things under the umbrella of “stuff that dreams are made of” represented by the Falcon – a new life, a better woman, untold riches, the solving of a case—are only ever just that for men of a certain nature: ephemeral goals capable of casting the illusion of change, only to crumble over time when a man must return to his true nature and follow the law of his own code.

While the weary, detached detective would become a defining element of noir in the ensuing years, Spade’s sad fate as a man forced to return to a lonely lifestyle defined by a rigid code serves as a significant example of how this noir archetypes and his function within the larger narrative recontextualizes such ideas with profound thematic meaning that relates to dark ideas of both man and the mirage of dreams. As downbeat as such ideas may be, they represent the subversive tropes that came to define the film noir and detective genres at large—themes and characters represented in classic, captivating fashion as best found in the case of Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon.

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The Wages of Fear and The Existential Thriller


In her review of The Wages of Fear (1953), Paul Kael defined the film as an “existential thriller”. This perfect description of the premise’s spin on the thriller genre encapsulates why this film remains so compelling, so dramatic, and so provocative after so many years. Moreover, the fact that The Wages of Fear inhabits this singular space within the genre warrants further examination into how this distinctive film manages to expand this simple premise into a complex, spellbinding study into the nature of man’s relationship to fate, as seen through some of the most thrilling sequences to ever be engraved upon the silver screen.

Opening with a shot that would be reappropriated by Sam Peckinpah for his opening of The Wild Bunch, Cluzot’s The Wages of Fear begins with the stark image of a child toying with four scorpions within the poverty-stricken South American town of Las Piedras. When the boy becomes momentarily distracted by the promise of an iced treat that he can’t afford, a vulture swoops down to steal the scorpions—instantly establishing this savage setting to which these characters and premise must survive. Those characters are found in four men of different nationalities, who share the bond of being men crushed by the cruel hand of fate and now imprisoned within this inescapable town to bleak lives of despair.

The “protagonist” and first man to be introduced is Mario (Yves Montand). Though few details of his backstory are revealed (an enormous distinction in comparison to William Friedkin’s adaptation of the same source material in 1977’s Sorcerer), his fate as a cold, condemned man becomes quickly evident. He treats the cantina girl—Linda—with zero respect, and though clearly a capable man, seems resigned to the disastrous turn his life has taken.

His Italian roommate—Luigi—stars as the second of the four. An honest and hardworking man with a more optimistic outlook, though his lung cancer diagnosis quickly changes his perspective. The third and most intriguing backstory is found in the German—Bimba—a hardened man forced to work the Salt Mines during the Nazi occupation of his country. The final of the four men is introduced in an ex-gangster—Jo—who bribes his way into town and quickly becomes aware of the fatalistic undercurrent that permeates the province and transforms its citizens into prisoners.


Ruling over the village and advertising a chance for escape is the Southern Oil Company. When an inferno erupts over distant oil fields, the Oil Company offers a glimmer of hope in the form of a near suicidal mission. This job entails the employment of four men—two in each truck due to the low odds of survival—that must deliver packages of highly explosive nitroglycerine that will extinguish the inferno consuming a distant oil field.

Knowing that they may very well die but realizing that this opportunity may be their only chance for survival from the arguably worse fate of continuing their interminable lives in town, the four set out on their quest filled with a constant sense of danger in the most literal sense imaginable. With the nitroglycerin onboard the truck, the slightest bump or impact of the volatile substance means instantaneous death. Still, the men accept their job and the consequences of failure, then begin their long drive through the rocky terrain.

The second half of the film depicts this arduous journey in excruciating, powerful cinematic display. The four men are divided into two teams tasked with driving their separate trucks: Mario and Jo in the first, Bimba and Luigi in the second. Though Jo has initially presented himself as a man of bravado and confidence, his disposition alters immediately upon the start of this fatalistic trip. He complains of sickness, weariness, hunger…all things that Mario recognizes as telltales signs of a rattled man, though he knows that they must persist forward and keep to schedule at all costs.

The first obstacle that the two trucks encounter appears in a rocky stretch with recently laid concrete that necessitates their needing to accelerate to top speeds in order to clear. Though Bimba and Luigi are able to successfully speed over this stretch, Jo again reveals his insecurities and brakes just before he has been instructed to drive at a top speed in order to clear the pavement —a move that nearly costs the lives of both him and Mario in this very early stage. Mario takes over the wheel from his fearful friend and manages to navigate them over this volatile ground.

Cluzot modulates the tension of this scene to masterful effect—a skill that will be demonstrated throughout the second half to even more remarkable power. Their needing to clear this road at a maximum speed despite the explosives in their trunk causes the viewer to grow uneasy with every shot that fixates over the speedometer and Jo’s reaction shots of nervous anxiety that mirror the audience’s own anticipation for disaster— creating a scene that serves as a model for cinematic tension at its best.

And it’s worth noting that this is only the first obstacle of the very long journey.

Luigi and Bimba soon encounter the second obstacle: a construction barricade that requires the truck to be gently steered across a flimsy, wooden platform that borders a precipice overlooking a cliff. Though again, the two are able to cohesively work together in order to cross this second sure sign of certain doom, their success has come at the cost of destroying the wobbly planks that allowed their first truck to clear the pass.

While the first set piece creates a feeling of fast anxiety, this second obstacle conjures that of subtle, mounting dread. As Jo directs Mario in his steering the wheels over the most dangerous three-point-turn that has ever been dared, the latter eventually realizes that the former may have fallen off the cliff. With the truck standing on creaking boards that hint at collapsing from the truck’s heavy weight at a moment’s notice, Mario hops out the truck and searches for Jo—only to find his companion hiding amongst the bluffs and fleeing the site.

Throughout this sequence, Cluzot wrings the viewer through a heightened level of anxiety that seems nearly impossible to top. As the audience has already watched Bimba and Luigi barely surmount this wobbly platform, the task seems all but impossible for Jo and Mario to successfully cross these already moldering boards that threaten to collapse under the slightest weight. Nonetheless, the viewer must sit and suffer through this dreaded set piece of merciless tension—a secondary model for cinematic tension materialized through one of escalating dread that contrasts from that of the extreme exhilaration seen in the first obstacle.


Yet, the two still manage to somehow conquer this second perilous stretch. Incensed by Jo’s betrayal, however, Mario drives away—leaving Jo stranded in the cliffs, until the cowardly gangster finally relents. Jo runs along the side of the truck, begging for Mario’s help, which the driver agrees to—having now humiliated the former gangster of bravado into admitting his cowardice.

The four drivers finally reconvene at their third, most immobilizing obstacle—an enormous boulder in the middle of the road that brings their convoy to a standstill. Though the group grows despondent in figuring out how to surpass this boulder, Bimba cleverly realizes that they may be able to use the nitroglycerin itself to detonate the rock and clear the path. Though they succeed in doing just that, another moment of acute, much more extreme tension arises when they realize that they may not have backed up the trucks far enough from any flying debris that would cause certain explosion upon impact. Luckily, the falling debris manages to miss the trucks and the quartet survives.


Still, this is yet another example of Cluzot expertly finding ways to differentiate the existential fear at the heart of the premise and find innovative ways of reworking this anxiety into various obstacles which arise along this journey in the form of plot. While the former two obstacles were ones in which the protagonists could somewhat calculate the danger—meticulously navigating their ways across landscapes that warned of the terror ahead—the flying debris represents the first instance of unknowable danger that arrives before the characters may be able to combat or avoid the consequences of their fate.

Of course, this alludes to the larger metaphor for death that saturates the entire film—the idea that man may be able to avoid avoid certain dangers, but an awareness that there are various agents of fate over which a man can have no control and may only escape through sheer luck—as these characters do.

This idea is further outlined to even more haunting effect in the ensuing scene. After driving past the boulder, Luigi commends Bimba on his heroics and so fearlessly confronting the problem through the use ofthe nitroglycerin. Bimba chuckles, then hints toward the horrors found in his backstory of working in the salt mines while living under Nazi regime. This then sets up Luigi’s next question, as to why Bimba continually shaves every day, to which the latter further explains that before his father’s hanging, he asked to take a shower. Finishing the explanation with: “If I’ve gotta be a corpse, I want to be…presentable”.

Moments later, back in Jo and Mario’s truck, the former has begun rolling a cigarette, when the tobacco suddenly rolls away. A blinding white light blazes in the aftermath, and the two slowly realize in horror as to the source of the searing light:

That Bimba and Luigi’s truck has exploded.

Despite their working together, despite their overcoming obstacles in their path, a sudden bump in the road has now caused their companions’ instant incineration. While the flying debris of the boulder represented a new manifestation of existential terror, the tension charging every inch forward on their journey after this deathly detonation perhaps best outlines the true terror found in this allegory of unforeseeable tragedy that lies at the heart of this intense odyssey.

Now the only drivers left to finish the job, Jo and Mario arrive upon the wreck to find that the explosion has severed an oil line, slowly trapping all in its path, and creating an uncrossable abyss for the truck to pass. Still, Jo walks out to test the boundaries of the oil pit. During the excursion, however, Mario realizes that the truck has started sinking into the oil bog—and realizing that this means either to drive or lose everything—accelerates forward. As Joe himself has become bogged down within the oily mire, Mario faces no option but to drive over his legs—mortally wounding and crippling his partner.


More than any other sequence so far, this sequence exemplifies the suffocating anxiety so perfectly realized through the powerful cinematic storytelling of Cluzot’s capabilities. Having just witnessed that the wrong bump on an otherwise clear road has sent the others to their deaths, the visibly rocky path formed by the oil bog creates an overwhelmingly uncomfortable experience—one that tests the viewer’s ability to remain still within these moments of unyielding suspense.

As Jo shrieks in primal screams while his legs are crushed beneath the tires, while Mario must still march the truck forward at the cost of crippling his companion, both know that this entire excursion may literally blow up in their face at any moment. As a result, these men can no longer carry an appearance of being civilized, ration beings; but instead, they transform into desperate beasts clawing and shouting for survival in the middle of a Mexican desert.

Though both the truck and Jo manage to survive this final obstacle, the latter clearly does not have much left to keep going. In an effort to comfort him, Mario relates an old story about a cigar shop in Paris, one in which both he and Jo are familiar. As Jo asks for more details about the location, and what lied behind a fence that he had never seen beyond, Mario can only tearfully answer that there was nothing. With death imminent, Jo repeats these words in his dying breath to haunting effect, muttering “There’s nothing” just as they finally arrive upon the object of their journey’s quest. Appearing almost like a mirage within this desert as he finally arrives, Mario—now the only surviving member of the four hired drivers—collapses before the blazing inferno having successfully delivered the nitroglycerin.


In the epilogue of this harrowing journey, Mario prepares to drive back home to Las Piedras—now a wealthy man with means of escape. Though the workers offer him a driver, Mario insists on navigating the road back himself: “When someone else is driving…I’m scared”. Simultaneously, Cluzot intercuts a dance scene back at the Cantina, where Linda and the other villagers celebrate the good news that Mario has survived and begun his return journey home.

However, during this travel back, Mario steers down the rocky mountain pass with reckless abandon—arrogantly turning the wheels beside the pratfalls after having just managed to navigate this same terrain with the nitroglycerin—but which he feels he can now fishtail around with arrogant zeal. As the music crescendos, Linda feels a sudden, internal pain and appears to faint or die. Cluzot juxtaposes this against Mario attempting a dangerous turn that proves too much for his vehicle to correct. In the film’s final moment, he tries to swerve back to safety—instantly realizing the error of his arrogant display—and tumbles over the rocks to death.

All four men succumb to the hand of fate in specific, insightful fashion that demonstrates its inevitable power from which no man can escape. While Bimba has escaped the horrors of the Nazi regime and utilizes his intellect to the group’s collective reward, he is struck down by a random bump in the road that sends him to death without ceremony. Even as he knows that this day is coming and shaves everyday to prepare to face it with pride, the fact that this almost spontaneous combustion occurs just after delivering this speech feels as though the writing almost intends to mock his reverence for the grave and trying to preserve his dignity while in the presence of the specter of death.

His companion—Luigi—receives a similar, arguably derisive death, in light of the information that even if this good-natured fellow survives the trip, he will have to face the fact that death is not too far around the corner due to his lung cancer diagnosis caused by years of hard work for the Oil Company. Though Cluzot remains firmly objective in his portrayal of the characters and this brutal world, his story feels the most heartbreaking, perhaps due to the sheer jovial nature of the actor that portrays him.

While the three others are clearly men of a dark past who have found some refuge in Las Piedras, Luigi appears to be a genuinely good-natured man trapped by ugly circumstances—though this would also appear to be Cluzot’s point: that there is no difference between a good and a bad man in a world where fate makes no distinction.

The fates of Mario and Jo represent this idea in similar fashion through their character arcs that reveal the reactions of these two men when confronting death. Mario initially presents himself as a man of sheer bravado—a gangster capable of handling any obstacle with money or an intimidating will. He even wiggles his way into the job by apparently killing the man first employed (or perhaps intimidated him enough to cow down, the details are left cleverly ambiguous)—but nonetheless demonstrating a ruthless man ready to tackle these obstacles.


But almost from the get-go, his cowardice in comprehending the consequences of this task becomes quickly evident. He feigns sickness, delays progress, begs for breaks, and finally quits when confronted with the first obstacle. The second obstacle of the rickety concrete overlooking the precipice finally breaks his initial facade, when he attempts to hide and flee from Mario. Jo’s behavior is not without some merit, however, when he yells back in defense:

“Cause I know what risk is. You just plunge ahead. You think you’re invincible. You can’t see 10 feet ahead of you. I see every pebble, every hole that could send us sky-high. I’ve died 50 times since last night. I can see the explosion up here. I see myself blown to bits. Cause I’ve got brains in my head!

Logically speaking, Jo is right. The entire endeavor is suicidal and irrational, but the fact that he had previously agreed to completing the job—one in which his help may save the life of his partners—produces a problem. While the others try to reconcile the constant danger by acting both cautiously and brave, Jo recognizes their arrogance in any attempts whatsoever—one proved correct when Bimba and Jo are promptly killed after a mere bump in the road.

Mario, however, refuses to yield these insecurities. Compelled to complete the job, with poignant memories of a Parisian past to keep him motivated, the protagonist plunges forward when faced against each obstacle—knowing that persistence may be the only virtue capable of surmounting their survival. Throughout the entirety of the job, Mario embodies this quality—refusing to deter the mission, even at the cost of crippling and then killing his partner Jo.

His return journey home, however, presents a stirring statement about the consequences of ignoring this virtue. Having remained dutiful and persistent throughout the task, he drives with reckless abandon throughout the formerly fatal mountainside—steering the vehicle as though challenging the terrain just conquered. Fate proves the ultimate victor, and through his own human fault, causes his own death.

More importantly and to the point, all of these ideas are embedded in a film that demonstrates these concepts through some of the most thrilling, tension-filled sequences ever conceived for cinema. While this this premise deserves due credit for its genius in establishing such a heightened circumstance for these themes to be examined, the filmmaking on display deserves the highest praise for elevating the narrative to one that delivers an exceptional cinematic experience.

The narrative work of the first half establishes these distinct characters whose lives will be in perpetual danger, along with the psychogeography of the grim setting that traps them, before beginning the slow descent to madness when traversing into the uninhabited Mexican desert that brings out their most barbaric nature. Cluzot sustains an observing, often unsympathetic eye through the entirety of the endeavor in a manner that evokes Kubrick—as his filmmaking style only amplifies the thematic ideas on display and never favors plotting or style that distract from the existential premise on display.

Cleverly, he disguises this fact through the obstacles of the plot and the relentless tension that engulfs each moment. With the threat of annihilation always looming behind each second of film, the viewer must situate themselves within the shoes of these characters and experience each moment of intensified suspense without choice. Every obstacle, therefore, becomes as much of a weight upon the audience as the characters, and the writing always manifest various versions of these existential terror through the forms of different obstacles: the high-speed exhilaration of the first road stretch, the mounting dread of the rickety bridge confronted in the second obstacle, the chaotic frenzy of mistake found in the explosive third, and a mixture of all three found in the final oily bog.

In doing so, the narrative works to magnificent cinematic effect in a manner that elicits its power for utilizing those qualities that are so unique to the medium of film. Cluzot has crafted one of the finest and most distinct thrillers—a movie that occupies a very unique space within the spectrum that Kael so perfectly described as an “existential thriller”—and one that weaves those themes of fate and the folly of man within heightened sequences of suspense that still stand as some of the most exciting ever offered upon the silver screen.