Deliverance (1972)

Deliverance (1972), directed by John Boorman.

Four men go canoeing on a remote river just before it is dammed up and have a violent encounter with the locals: assault, rape, and murder. They fight back, but getting out takes some doing.

This is a superior survival story because it is about not just the moments of conflict, but about handling the aftermath, trying to get away with two murders. (Justifiable homicide? Tell it to the judge). After the escape and evasion comes the guilt, seldom seen in this sort of story.

Fascinating character studies. Burt Reynolds gets what he wants: to be a survivor in a state of nature beyond civilization and the law. Jon Voight is forced to be a survivor; it's not what he wanted but having done it, he's not going back. Ned Beatty recovers after being raped and just says "I don't want this getting around."

Beautiful river shots, although the color is desaturated to make it less pretty, more threatening. Unusually, the film was shot more or less in sequence. It was a difficult and dangerous shoot; the cameras had to be repaired every night. A stunt man was used only once.

First film for both Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox. The scene where they find Cox's body with the arm dislocated and bent up behind him: hard to believe, but apparently he could really do that.

James Dickey, author of the novel and screenplay, appears as the sheriff at the end. Earlier they told him to go away because everyone found him too spooky and distracting.

This has the famous scene where Beatty is attacked and sodomized, a degrading and hard to watch segment. Something I've never understood: prison rape is still joke material in Hollywood. You hear it all the time from comedians and in police stories.

Available on Blu-ray. The director's commentary track details his struggles with the studio and the river. The cast and crew were fine, although Jon Voight said "He saved my life [by getting him out of bad roles and into a good one] and then spent three months trying to kill me." They all had a strong bond from making the picture.

Boorman points out that a director really can't "see" his own film until years later, when time has dulled the pain and emotion of the project.

Finally, I used to do technical support for salesmen and I know their folk-ways. Once I was hosting a group of them and one said "It's great getting out of the city and into the country like this." I replied, "Oh, sure. I know you city guys. As soon as you cross the Chicago city limits you start whistling 'Dueling Banjos'". They exchanged guilty looks: How did he know that?