A look back at Sorcerer

Sorcerer was William Friedkin’s follow up to The Exorcist. The film suffered from a bad rap for many years  simply because it received negative reviews in 1977.

However, I recently checked out the movie on a friend’s recommendation and have loved it ever since.

Many other people have also discovered Sorcerer, and feel it’s Friedkin’s greatest film. He’s best known for his two big hits, The French Connection and The Exorcist, but Sorcerer is a hell of a film in its own right, and its reputation has only grown in recent years.


Sorcerer is a remake of the classic foreign film The Wages of Fear, helmed by French director Henri-Georges Clouzout, who also directed the horror thriller Les Diaboliques, which was a big inspiration on Psycho. It’s the story of desperate men in hiding who end up on a dangerous mission to transport nitroglycerine through the jungles of the Dominican Republic. Like much of Friedkin’s work, it’s gritty, dark, and intense, and technically it’s very well made.


Looking back, Sorcerer had a lot working against it. There was confusion over the title, people thought it was another supernatural thriller like The Exorcist, but Sorcerer was the name of the truck that transported the nitro. The first fifteen minutes or so are in foreign languages with subtitles, which confused some people into thinking it was a foreign film. Sorcerer also cost $22 million, a huge budget for the time, and two studios, Paramount and Universal, partnered on it. (This may have been the first time two studios co-financed a movie, which became common place in the late seventies – early eighties).


But the biggest factor working against Sorcerer was it came out on the heels of Star Wars in 1977. Star Wars hit theaters on Memorial Day, Sorcerer on June 24, and was slaughtered. Where there were a lot of darker movies released during the 70’s, by the time of Rocky and Star Wars audiences wanted movies that were more “up,” and Sorcerer, like just about all of Friedkin’s work, wasn’t that kind of film.


There was also a lengthy gap between movies for Friedkin, and I’ve often wondered how Sorcerer would do if it had been released earlier. I’m still of the belief if it was a new movie today, or if it got re-released on a big scale, it would probably find an audience that would judge the film on its own merits, and not the reports of its out of control budget, or how difficult the shoot was. (Just from watching Sorcerer, you can tell it wasn’t an easy movie to make, and that it would have been a Herculean task for any director).


Quite a lot of directors who broke through in the 70’s like Friedkin had flops they never recovered from, and his career indeed nose-dived after the failure of Sorcerer, although his latest film, Killer Joe, has received very positive reviews.