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Olive Films turns to Gaumont International for a little-known but surprisingly entertaining French action film from 1964. Director Henri Verneuil's Greed in the Sun (100,000 Dollars au Soleil) is a mainstream thriller shot on location in Morocco. A crime story about devious doings among a close-knit group of tough-guy long distance truck drivers, it works up an enviable atmosphere of realistic highway adventure. Verneuil's producers nabbed a top cast as well. French superstar Jean-Paul Belmondo was popular in everything from art films to low comedy and just beginning to tap his potential as an action star. Unequalled tough guy hero Lino Ventura earned his stripes in Jean-Pierre Melville crime tales, and brings to his gritty part exactly the right air of world-weariness. Soon to be elevated to international star status in Goldfinger, the talented Gert Frobe has an important supporting role.
The story benefits from excellent use of North African locations. Castigliano (Gert Frobe) runs his Trans-Saharan trucking service with an iron fist. The experienced drivers Rocco, Hervé and Mitch-Mitch (Jean-Paul Belmondo, Lino Ventura & Bernard Blier) are old drinking and working buddies from assignments around the world, and make do working with Castigliano's worn-out rolling stock. When a beautiful new truck arrives, Castigliano assigns it to his newest hire, John Steiner (Reginald Kernan). But on the morning of departure, Rocco disappears with the new truck, and his girlfriend Pepa (Andréa Parisy, Belmondo's co-star in Marcel Carné's Les tricheurs). Furious, Castigliano can only assume one thing -- Rocco has hijacked the truck and its valuable cargo and intends to make a clean getaway. The boss offers Hervé a big reward to overtake Rocco and recover the goods. He doesn't explain why he won't call the cops, so Hervé ups his price. Hervé and John Steiner roar out in pursuit, to engage Rocco in some dangerous, outright deadly highway games.
Greed in the Sun is an action-crime thriller that puts a premium on dangerous truck-on-truck action and less on direct gunplay. It's more of a buddy movie as well, with friendships broken and loyalties betrayed between the tough-guy heroes. Castigliano shouts at his men, who calmly weather his tantrums and go about their business as best they know how. Old hands Hervé and Rocco are experienced enough to go into business for themselves, so Castigliano doesn't trust them. The theft hinges on a tip on a particular cargo worth a small fortune... and it's implied that Rocco is hijacking Castigliano's crooked deal.
Trucking in North Africa is no picnic, we're assured, and these men need plenty of experience to avoid disasters known nowhere else. Crossing a great salt flat, A truck runs right into a sinkhole called a fech-fech, and the drivers lose hours digging it out. The pursuers can catch up with Rocco because they can drive night and day in shifts, and Rocco's accomplice Pepa can't drive a big rig. The roads are in good condition and used almost exclusively by truckers. We know that we're in for some hairy stunt driving when Rocco's shiny new truck is overtaken on a steep series of switchbacks that must stretch fifteen miles (lots of great wide-angle cinematography here). On the way up, Rocco purposely sideswipes boulders on the side of the road, sending rockslides downward toward Hervés truck. Things quickly get out of control, until both trucks sustain significant damage. From that point on it's a matter of which rig will stay rolling longer, the one with the massive oil leak or the one with a broken radiator. For several miles Pepa sits perched on the hood of Rocco's truck, pouring oil into it as fast as it leaks out below.
The immediate point of comparison is H.G. Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, minus the political criticism. Belmondo and especially Lino Ventura convince us that they're born to this rough life of driving, drinking and whoring. The movie has no soft spot at all for women. Nobody seems to have a steady girl anywhere, and Pepa is really out for herself. The tawdry situation of a one French girl, Angèle (Anne-Marie Coffinet) is turned into a pitiful running gag. The not-too-bright Angèle is stuck at a pit stop, and thinks that the drivers are her friends. She has sex with almost all of them just for the asking. When she asks Hervé for a ride to the city so she can get a real job, he says she's better off where she is -- in the city she'd find herself working in a brothel. This was clearly supposed to be a big laugh in 1964, but it now plays as cruel and cynical.
Fans of Euro genre fare will recognize that the tone and attitude of Greed in the Sun is almost identical to that of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti westerns, which in 1964 were just coming into vogue. The action is realistic but a slightly comic flavor intrudes at all times. The heroes exchange cynical statements and remarks, especially when it comes to the strength of their long-standing association: a little money or a better job tops friendship every time. Considering that they're fighting tooth and nail and pointing guns at each other Herv&e; and Rocco should be bitter enemies. They instead treat everything as a game, each admitting that they'd thought of doing exactly the same dirty tricks the other is pulling. Making haste at a rest stop, Rocco tells the proprietor that Hervé is a mad criminal, and not to give him diesel fuel or food. When Hervé and John Steiner arrive, a regular brawl breaks out. The shifting allegiances make Greed in the Sun play like a trucker's version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
A bit of politics comes in as well. Herv&e; had his own trucking outfit a few years back but lost it in a violent overthrow of a small African country. He's been the butt of jokes ever since. As it turns out, John Steiner is really Peter Frocht, the mercenary who helped burn Hervé's building and trucks. How will this be resolved, out in the middle of an endless desert?
Georges Delerue contributes some exciting adventure music, but also a recurring light cue that recurs for a very Spaghetti western-like running gag. Hervé's truck gets stuck, breaks down or is sabotaged a number of times. Each time the drivers find themselves sitting still on the side of the road, friendly trucker Mitch-Mitch shows up with a shovel, a fix, or a tow. Hervé's too mad to even say thank you. It's pretty charming.
Greed in the Sun's first two acts are so good that it's a disappointment to report that it doesn't have a satisfactory finish. Just like a lower-tier Spaghetti western, the story threads stop without a real resolution. The show wraps up with another brawl and some weak buddy-buddy stuff. It may want to look like Treasure of the Sierra Madre but it plays like the film schedule got chopped off, and things had to be wrapped up in an afternoon. This doesn't mitigate the high-quality fun of the first 4/5ths of the movie, but it does explain why Greed in the Sun is not a well-known classic.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of Greed in the Sun looks really good, in a sharp, beautifully rendered HD copy in widescreen Franscope. There's nothing cheap about the movie. The wide-angle shots of trucks chasing each other down narrow mountain roads are very realistic, looking like American road pictures made a decade later. The feature is in French with removable English subtitles.
Along the way we see a number of Moroccan castles, or walled mini-cities or whatever, including ones that show up in pictures like Sodom and Gomorrah and The Man Who Would Be King. A large bazaar area in the last scene is a dead ringer for the Moroccan bazaar in Alfred Hitchcock's remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Maybe there's a public area like that in every local town, but even the camera angle looks the same.
Gaumont's original trailer is present. It's a winner, edited in a very dynamic style.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Greed in the Sun Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.