What is in a name? William Shakespeare asked that question in Romeo and Juliet. The tale about star-crossed lovers that everyone thinks they know (but probably never actually read) wrestles with the notion of bringing together opposing forces and whether or not it could ever work. Doing so involves a certain kind of magic, not one necessarily involving sorcery, but with the stuff that makes us feel those other worldly feelings that seem conjured from forces beyond our understanding. Can love truly conquer all? Can a Montague be with a Capulet? If these ideas ever occurred to the makers of the film Sorcerer (1977), I will jump off a cliff.
The first twenty minutes or so of Sorcerer are some of the most confusing moments in cinematic history. There are four locations that are jumped between without any stated connection between them. I kept waiting for one, but it never arrived. And they are all over the world, which adds to the disconnectedness. The one I will focus on since it seems to involve what I will resignedly call the main character takes place in New Jersey. Scanlon (Roy Scheider), later Dominguez (be patient, I beg you), is part of a gang that decides to rob the collection at a local Catholic Church. Yep, the priests are depicted as basically being mafiosos, sitting around, smoking, and fingering piles of cash in a church basement. Scanlon and his bunch burst in, shoot one of the clergymen, and make off with the “loot.” Any annoyance I had up to this point with the randomness of events is now compounded by the film basically saying the Church is in cahoots the mob. Scanlon is the getaway driver, but in the process of their escape he gets into an accident. He is the only one who survives, and a friend arranges for him to get out of the country. Now, despite being very explicit as to where everything had taken place thus far, the film then shifts to some no-name Latin American village in the middle of nowhere. Is it Venezuela? Nicaragua? Who knows? There are two things it does identify: there is some military dictator who wants four more years, and indeterminately near (or far, depending on what the plot needs from moment-to-moment) oil field. The four characters from our four plots thus far all end up here after doing things that broke laws in the countries from which they fled. A bit of nothing happens until one day an accident at the oil deposit result in a never ending plume of fire à la the Gulf War. The solution to this conflagration (which I had trouble believing was actually a thing) is to use explosives. The American company that owns the well has the necessary dynamite, but in their infinite wisdom they decided to store it in a shack in the jungle. Thus the sticks of TNT degraded, leaving puddles of extremely volatile nitroglycerin in the containers. Their next genius solution is two cobble together two trucks from a graveyard of automobiles that look like they helped win the war in the Pacific in order to transport the explosives to the burning well. They recruit four drivers to man the vehicles, promising large sums of cash for completing the job. Of course, Dominguez (Scanlon’s Latin American alias) and the three other criminals laying low in the village, are the ones who take the assignment. This is where the film really gets goofy, but I will explain more about that in the next paragraph. Anyway, Dominguez is the only one to make it through the bafflingly treacherous (once more, patience) journey, stumbling out of the jungle at his destination clutching the one remaining container of explosives . . . which miraculously does not explode when he falls to the ground with it. He is rewarded handsomely for his services, but then is apparently shot dead at the end of the film when the New Jersey mob finally catches up with him in whatever country in which this all takes place.
So why is Sorcerer called Sorcerer? I think it is because one of the trucks, for no apparent reason, had that word written on one of its doors. You might think, with one of the vehicles bearing the title and given its age and state of repair, it is sort of magical that it made it to the end? But, no, they are just old trucks with all the concomitant problems, and neither of them finish the trek. One blows up spectacularly when it slips off the road and the other simply breaks down, or runs out of gas, or something. It is with the journey they attempt that makes the biggest plot hole in the film, and had me laughing uproariously at the absurdity involved. When the well goes up in flames, we see a truck load of injured and mangled bodies pull up to this same village where our main characters are hiding. It would seem to suggest that they live in this town. As Dominguez and company transport the dynamite, they traverse barely discernible roads. They have to contend with rain and muddy embankments. At different moments, both trucks (and, by the way, these are not your dad’s pick up trucks that he brings flowers home from Home Depot in) must cross a wooden suspension bridge with fewer slats and less strength than the one Indiana Jones cut in half with a sword in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). At one point, Dominguez’s vehicle is waylaid by your run-of-the-mill Latin American paramilitary members. And they have to find a way to remove a tree truck that fell across their path seemingly some time around the Mesozoic Era. While I watched them deal with obstacle after incredulous obstacle, I could not help but think, “Did the truck carrying the bodies from the well explosion have to deal with all this nonsense?” Seeing their struggles made for intense cinema. The problem for this reviewer is that it made little sense. And given that they were all fugitives, my desire to see them succeed was diminished. Yet, never mind any real redemption for Dominguez that my Catholic heart always likes to see in cinematic characters, for he apparently is assassinated in the end.
I guess the saving grace of Sorcerer is that there is no sorcery. As a Catholic and a fan of Harry Potter, I have to contend at times with enjoying films where the protagonists practice witchcraft and wizardry. If you head to The Legionnaire‘s Facebook page, you can see a video of Cameron and me talking about this subject. As for today’s film, I will at least appreciate the fact that I have now seen an obscure title that is now the better part of fifty years old. There is an incredible thought. I will never watch it again, and I see no reason why anyone else would want to either.