I have something of a cinematic fetish for films with a Tangerine Dream Soundtrack. That’s how I initially learned of Sorcerer, it was the first film that they scored. I managed to acquire a copy of the soundtrack and had listened to it a few times before I really started to investigate the film.
Once I finally started my research, the movie wasn’t at all what I was expecting. For a 1970’s film with the title Sorcerer, I was half expecting a sub-par Dragonslayer or Excalibur, not an existential drama centered around the desperation of evil men.
As I dug deeper, I learned of the film’s legendary history. A troubled production, multiple casting changes and director meltdown gave this an almost Apocalypse Now kind of vibe and I knew I definitely had to track this one down. That quest became something of an exercise in frustration though. With it’s poor showing at the box office and critical drubbing, the film seemed to have all but disappeared for years. I couldn’t locate a copy for a reasonable price or in high enough quality to make it worth my effort, so I finally just added that to the “someday” list and wrote it off.
In the Fall of 2013, word finally started to hit the internet that a lot of the rights issues had been cleared up and that the director, William Friedkin, had begun working on a restoration that we would see get a blu-ray release in the Spring of 2014. I kept an early eye out for the pre-order and when the day arrived I immediately added it to my shopping cart.
I finally got my hands on a copy this week and it was well worth the wait.
If you’ve followed the links to IMDB or Wikipedia, you’ve got the general sense of what this film is about, but truly that’s only scratching the surface and Sorcerer is a film that really needs to be seen to get a full appreciation for how brilliant it is.
As is the case with a lot of 1970’s cinema, the film starts with a kind of slow burn and I think a modern audience may feel a little impatient as we glimpse the opening vignettes which introduce us to our cast of despicable men. It’s all very Quentin Tarantino-like, especially the last tale where we get introduced to Roy Scheider’s character, Jackie Scanlon, and I was not at all surprised to discover he was a fan of the film.
Once the film transitions to the jungles of South America and the plot begins to unfold, the film picks up and the tension starts to mount. Friedkin is no stranger to creating exciting suspense and dramatic tension having directed both The French Connection and The Exorcist, and he definitely works his magic here.
What follows is a harrowing journey through the jungles as our cast fights nature and their own inner nature in a desperate battle to escape the circumstances of their past.
There are at least three edge of your seat set pieces as the trucks make their way, each a unique master class in the art of building tension.
The final act kind of veers a little toward the experimental with some interesting camera effects used to emphasize the desperate state of mind of Scanlon as he finds himself so close to his goal and yet ever so short. Even the haunting location chosen for the backdrop to this scene is a wonder to behold and it’s hard to believe this place really exists.
There is something of a controversial epilogue to the film as well, which you will either love or hate. Personally, I thought it was a great way to put an emphasis on the story, but for those who would prefer a less dour tale of redemption, you may feel cheated.
If you have the opportunity and enjoy films that are not by the numbers fluff, give Sorcerer a try, it’s one of the great overlooked films of the 1970’s.