Sorcerer (1977): Narrative Structure and Characters

The narrative is roughly divided into four parts, which are asymmetrical.

The prologue consists of four segments, showing the social background of each of the four principal characters in different parts of the world.

Part I: Prologue

Veracruz, Mexico

An elegantly dressed man, Nilo, enters an apartment and executes its tenant quietly, with a silenced gun, after which he walks out onto the square.

Francisco Rabal plays Nilo, a Mexican professional assassin, skilled in using firearms. Initially, he planned to be in Porvenir in transit. He is the last-minute replacement for ‘Marquez’ and disliked by Kassem and Scanlon.

Jerusalem, Israel

Arab terrorists, disguised as Jews, cause an explosion in Jerusalem and then flee to their hideout, to plan their escape.  Surrounded by the military, two are killed and one apprehended. The only one to escape is Kassem.

Paris, France

While discussing a book his wife is editing, Victor Manzon discovers a gift, a dedicated watch. In a meeting at the Stock Exchange, he is accused of fraud and given 24 hours to make amends. Victor meets his business partner, Pascal, and insists that Pascal seeks help from father.   Victor later learns that Pascal’s father has refused to help, they try again. Pascal shocks Victor by committing suicide, and the depressed Victor leaves his wife and Paris.

Bruno Cremer plays Manzon (‘Serrano’): a Parisian investment banker from Paris whose firm, Preville & Fils, is accused of false representation of collateral. Multi-lingual, he assumes a take-charge attitude and stands for a “voice of discipline and reason,” capably negotiating the pays with Corlette (he demands double of what was offered, along with legal residence.

Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA

An Irish gang robs a church that organizes bingo games, killing a priest. The members have a violent argument that causes Jackie Scanlon, the driver, to collide with a truck. Everyone is killed but Scanlon, who is badly wounded. The wounded priest turns out to be the brother of Carlo Ricci, a mafioso who controlled the flow of money in the church and now wants to kill Scanlon. Jackie meets with Vinnie, who finds him a place to escape.

Jackie Scanlon (passing as ‘Juan Dominguez’) is played by Roy Scheider, a driver who is marked for execution after his gang robbed a church and fatally wounded a priest, the brother of Carlo Ricci, a powerful criminal who now seeks vengeance. In Porvenir, local authorities prove that he is using a forged ID, and doesn’t speak Spanish. As punishment, they take major portion of his daily wage.

His appearance as an “everyman,” with a “battered hat, unshaven face and tough guy stance.” Screenwriter Walon Green described him as “believable, gutsy, and desperately human” His characteristics are mean to “reflect the self-image of the spectator.”

Scheider, who had also appeared in Friedkin’s 1971 Oscar-winning The French Connection, was one of the hottest actors in the 1970s, starring in Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and Bob Fosse’s great musical, All That Jazz (1979), for which he received Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Part II: Porvenir

Kassem, Victor, and Jackie assume fake identities in Porvenir, a remote village in Latin America. The village’s economy is heavily reliant on an American oil company. The men live in poverty and earn meager salaries,lacking money to go elsewhere.

Nilo arrives in the village, raising suspicions. An oil well over 200 miles away explodes, and the only way to extinguish the fire is to use dynamite.  The only available dynamite is improperly stored in a remote depot, the nitroglycerin contained inside become unstable; a wrong move could dangerously cause explosion.  The only way to transport it is to use trucks, and the company seeks drivers. Kassem, Victor, Jackie and ‘Marquez’ (a former Nazi) are offered the job, but they have to assemble the trucks using scrap parts.  Before their departure, Nilo kills ‘Marquez’ (to take his place), which angers Kassem.

Part III: Journey

The four drivers embark upon a perilous journey of over 200 miles, facing many hazards and internal conflicts. Despite their personal differences, they are forced to co-operate. Eventually, only Jackie survives, and, towards the end, even he struggles to maintain his rationality, as increasingly he’s haunted by hallucinations and flashbacks. When his truck’s engine dies, just two miles short of the destination, he is forced to carry the nitroglycerin on foot.


At the bar in Porvenir, Scanlon is given legal citizenship and payment for the job by the oil company, as well an offer of another job; before he leaves, he asks a woman for a dance. As the two dance, Carlo Ricci’s henchmen, along with his old friend Vinnie, emerge from a taxi outside. The tale ends on an ambiguous note, as they walk into the bar.