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William Friedkin’s Misunderstood 1977 ‘Sorcerer’ Getting Re-Release (Exclusive)

The "Wages of Fear" remake nearly sank Friedkin's career when it hit theaters


William Friedkin's "Sorcerer" — a film that fell victim to shifting tastes when it opened more than three decades ago – will be remastered and released in theaters and for the first time on Blu-ray, the director told TheWrap.

The film, a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear," nearly sank Friedkin's career when it hit theaters in 1977. He was riding high on the success of "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection," but as he recounts in his upcoming memoir "The Friedkin Connection," the release of "Star Wars" that same year made it a film out of time and place.

"The zeitgeist had changed by the time it came out," Friedkin said.

The director told TheWrap that a "major studio" has gotten involved in creating a new recolored, digital print and that he hopes it will be ready in time for the Venice Film Festival this August. He said he will have a formal announcement within roughly a week and that the re-release will include all media.

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"We’re working off the original negative, which is in pretty good shape, but without changing the original concept we have to bring it back in terms of color saturation, sharpness and all the stuff," he said.

The film cost the then enormous sum of $22 million to produce but grossed $12 million and failed to make back its production budget. Along with "Heaven's Gate" and "One From the Heart," it is sometimes brought up as an example of the directorial hubris that ended the period of personal and challenging filmmaking that characterized 1970s Hollywood.

Yet the picture and, in particular a bravura sequence of a truck carrying "sweating" nitroglycerin while crossing a rickety wooden bridge, has grown in the estimation of critics. Stephen King went so far as to write in an Entertainment Weekly column that "Sorcerer" was superior to "Wages of Fear."

But it hasn't been released on DVD since the late 1990s, and Friedkin said the rights have been tangled up for roughly 30 years between Paramount and Universal, which co-distributed the picture. He sued the two studios in 2012 to try to clarify who owned the picture.

Friedkin said he dropped the suit, but that the discovery process was essential to discovering who controlled the rights.

"It's been in a legal whirlpool for 30 or 35 years," Friedkin said "And a lot of people have come and gone from the studios during that time, so it just takes awhile to unravel everything, but we're very close to announcing a premiere date."

A 35 MM print of the film will be shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 2 as part of a retrospective of Friedkin's work. He will answer questions as part of the event. The same print will be shown on May 9 at American Cinematheque Los Angeles.

"I screened it recently and it hasn't dated," Friedkin said. "It's set in a kind of limbo and neither the haircuts nor the wardrobes nor the sets have aged poorly."

"The Friedkin Connection" will be released on April 16.