As we’ve documented before on CDL Life, the romance between Hollywood and the trucking industry reached a fever pitch in the 70s. Movie studios and TV networks were grinding out films and shows for the public who had latched onto the freewheeling lifestyle and grew fascinated with the CB radio. But the 1977 film Sorcerer was different from all of them.
Up to that point, Hollywood had based trucking movies around comedy, based the industry in action pictures, and pseudo-westerns, but until Sorcerer came along, there was never a picture made around survivalist drama with truck driving as its main plot device. Not many have been made ever since, and there’s a reason for it.
Sorcerer was the film that almost never was. Director William Friedkin had come off a peak of box office and critical success following The French Connection in 1971 and The Exorcist in 1973. The French Connection features one of the greatest car chases ever filmed, and to this day The Exorcist continues to top critics’ and audience lists as one of the scariest films of all time. Friedkin was now able to literally write his own ticket in Hollywood. So he chose to try something even more ambitious than the previous two films and adapt a novel by Georges Arnaud called “The Wages of Fear.” The project nearly ruined him.
First, Friedkin’s original choice for leading man, Steve McQueen turned down the role because he wanted to remain in the United States with his wife, Ally McGraw (who also starred in a truck driver favorite, Convoy). Friedkin chose to go with the accomplished tough guy actor Roy Scheider, due to the fact that the story involves four men on the run who choose to drive a truck carrying nitro glycerin across the extremely hazardous terrain of Central America for a big paycheck. By most accounts, Friedkin and Scheider didn’t get along. They had very different ideas about what the lead character was about, psychologically. Scheider wanted his character, who was in hiding from the mob and in desperate financial straits to be an emotionally erratic and unhinged lunatic. Freidkin chose to propel a secondary plot line of him befriending a small village boy as protector. The director and actor fought over the character to the bitter final edit. Scheider lost.
The trouble didn’t stop there. Although the crew didn’t have to actually shoot the film in the harsh jungles of Central America, they were still doing work in jungles in Israel. They were shooting in real rivers, on real mud and hastily crafted bridges. It nearly killed a few of the cast and crew. During one pivotal scene where the truckers have to cross a flooding river during a downpour on a rotted rope bridge, the mechanical engines providing the wind effects for the storm nearly turned the truck over the edge for real, stuntmen and all. The scene required hundreds of re-shoots and some crafty editing. By the fifth week of shooting, Sorcerer had gone well over budget, trying the patience of studio executives and actors alike.
Film critic Peter Hanson remarked, “It was one of the most elaborately filmed suspense sequences in cinema history: The precarious crossing of a hand-made bridge across a jungle river in the middle of a horrific rainstorm. Using a staggering number of camera angles, Friedkin drags the scene out to create an excruciating level of tension, and that cinematic commitment carries through to nearly the entire film.” It also dragged the budget over the 20 million mark.
The final insult came during the theatrical release of Sorcerer. Some of you may remember the summer of 1977. A little independent picture called Star Wars was released. The first week during the release of Star Wars, Friedkin’s Sorcerer got attached to it as the lead-in trailer, as it would be released to theaters in the coming weeks. Suffice to say that during the Summer of Star Wars, no one gave a damn about any other movie in theaters for nearly 4 months. It was a cultural phenomenon that laid damage to everything from Hollywood in it’s wake for nearly a year. Sorcerer never had a chance.
Sorcerer was only able to pull back $12 million of the $22 million dollars Friedkin burned through getting a truck load of dynamite across a literal and figurative jungle.
Having said that, we thought you might be interested in seeing the infamous bridge crossing scene from this misunderstood masterpiece. The next time you get angry at the conditions of the highway you’re on, just think back to Sorcerer, and the fact that at least you didn’t have to build the road yourself.
Sorcerer bridge crossing scene pt. 1
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Sorcerer bridge crossing scene pt. 2
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