Sorcerer is a 1977 American thriller film directed and produced by William Friedkin and starring Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou. The second adaptation of Georges Arnaud’s 1950 French novel Le Salaire de la peur, it has been widely considered a remake of the 1953 film The Wages of Fear, although Friedkin disagreed with this assessment. The plot depicts four outcasts from varied backgrounds meeting in a South American village, where they are assigned to transport cargoes of aged, poorly kept dynamite that is so unstable that it is ‘sweating’ its dangerous basic ingredient, nitroglycerin.
William David Friedkin (August 29, 1935 – August 7, 2023) was an American film and television director, producer, and screenwriter closely identified with the “New Hollywood” movement of the 1970s. Beginning his career in documentaries in the early 1960s, he directed the crime thriller film The French Connection (1971), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director for himself, and the supernatural horror film The Exorcist (1973), which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director.
His other films included the drama The Boys in the Band (1970), the thriller Sorcerer (1977), the crime comedy drama The Brink’s Job (1978), the crime thriller Cruising (1980), the neo-noir thriller To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), the psychological horror film Bug (2006), and the black comedy Killer Joe (2011)
Sorcerer was originally conceived as a side-project to Friedkin’s next major film, The Devil’s Triangle, with a modest US$2.5 million budget. The director later opted for a bigger production, which he thought would become his legacy. The cost of Sorcerer was earmarked at $15 million, escalating to $22 million following a troubled production with various filming locations—primarily in the Dominican Republic—and conflicts between Friedkin and his crew. The mounting expenses required the involvement of two major film studios, Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures, with both studios sharing the U.S. distribution and Cinema International Corporation being responsible for the international release.
The film received generally negative reviews upon its release. Its domestic (including rentals) and worldwide gross of $5.9 million and $9 million respectively did not recoup its costs. A considerable number of critics, as well as Friedkin himself, attributed the film’s commercial failure to its release at roughly the same time as Star Wars, which instantly became a pop-culture phenomenon.
The film has enjoyed a critical re-evaluation and some critics have lauded it as an overlooked masterpiece, perhaps “the last undeclared [one] of the American ’70s”. Friedkin considered Sorcerer among his favorite works, and the most personal and difficult film he ever made. Tangerine Dream’s electronic music score was also acclaimed, leading the band to become popular soundtrack composers in the 1980s. After a lengthy lawsuit filed against Universal Studios and Paramount, Friedkin supervised a digital restoration of Sorcerer, with the new print premiering at the 70th Venice International Film Festival on August 29, 2013. Warner Home Video released the film remastered on Blu-ray on April 22, 2014
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