n basis, the story is a simple one. Four friends Lewis Medlock, Ed Gentry, Bobby Trippe and Drew Ballinger head off for the Appalachian wilderness to sample the Cahulawassie river and the final flourish of its natural beauty. The posters tagline "this was the weekend they didn't play golf" is a fitting one, the alternative is a canoe trip that sees them lost in a place where few are seen, only brutal inhabitants in an unforgiving and intimidating rural locale, "the land of the nine fingered people" a terrifying place where one is sodomized at gunpoint, one killed, one is almost crippled and all of them discover natures fury and the necessity to murder.
The suburbanites arrive at remote backwoods town Oree, where the filling station is threatened by woods and weeds growing to its edge, perhaps an old Texaco gas shack forgotten amongst the wilds. Drew stokes up a double act on guitar with a half-wit albino boy seen on a swing bench, the chords answer each other in unison until a launch into bluegrass heaven breaks out, a full on string duel until the boy leaves him behind technically with Drew crying "I'm Lost."
Among the parts of engines, wheels and various junk a deal is then cut securing transportation of their cars to nearest town Aintry via the Griner brothers, two tough looking good ole boys who make Gentry nervous "lets go back,..play golf". Survivalist Medlock however, insists on finding rivers edge but takes a wrong turn "where you goin city boy" but he eventually comes good and they embark in crisp sunlight. Glancing up they see the boy again staring down blankly from a log bridge as if to remind them their intrusion into this Appalachia, a warning almost, banjo dangling at his side.
Conquering the first set of little rapids they reflect and pitch, Lewis makes a speech to Ed whilst fishing with his bow about how the system will fail, only those who have the ability to survive will be privileged. "Survival..that's the game".
At night they crack beers, the six-string is strummed, harking back to the tune earlier that day, but Lewis thinks he hears something in the dark. This is an interesting part of the novel which has an owl perch onto the tent top, sadly here it is just noises in the wood, eradicating the authors symbolism through his masterful poem, The Owl King.
Dawns hazy chill sees Ed arise alone, he takes the bow setting off into the woods to hunt. With a buck in his sights he retracts the bow and draws down but fails to hold his nerve at the moment of truth, nervously shaking he loses composure with the heavy weapon, releasing wide, the deer darts off, lost.
He and Bobby pull away ahead when they resume the waterways, stopping someway up river to let the others catch up they move to the bank where they are approached by two mountain men out of the forest, a tall man wearing filthy overalls and another toothless hillbilly who could be armed, the situation becomes dangerous.
With the others out of sight, further back-stream, they are helpless, cinematographer Zsigmond captures their descent into a dense canopy of trees in more or less one take, entitled "Resting Place" in the original script. Ed is tied up with his own web belt, the taller man then humiliates and sodomises Bobby, while the bearded gaptooth white trash keeps watch with the rifle, Catching glimpse of the other canoe approaching through a curtain of leaves and branches, Ed waits, hoping they will turn toward the bank, and in seconds sees Lewis at the waters edge behind where the action is taking place, rigid and poised, arms outstretched with the weapon pulled back,
his release pierces the larger man as the other escapes with the gun.
The skewered cracker staggers to the only sound of kookaburras in an otherwise cathedral like forest, finally slumping onto a branch, hands twitching with a final pulse of life as drops of crimson filters from wound to arrow tip.
Shocked and confused, a heated discussion begins as they argue as to what to do with the body. The camera pans around the group, surrounded by forest where the survivalist puts across his idea, to bury the man along with the memory of the soon to be flooded river, cover for a corpse under a vast flat lake.. Drew likes events dealt with by other means, his stern family man character insists on contacting the law. Lewis states that this guys relations would be far an wide in this district, even the judge and jury could be of the same ilk, narrowing the odds for a fair trial if they go with the county sheriff.
They take a vote, the outcome is three to one, with Bobby not wanting this to get around and Ed forever the protégé' agreeing. They begin to bury the man, Drew in a trancelike state frantically digs the soil, the body eventually covered sufficiently for concealment. They're plan is to forget the whole incident, paddle on down to Aintry, get the cars and go home, but as they row away Drew seems to be hit by something from above. They panic as he topples in to the water and an aggressive set of rapids has their canoes collide.
They are hurled into the water, one canoe is broken in two, the survivalist rides a slope of rocks beneath the surface, ending up in a gorge where he crawls to safety, a bone protruding from his leg. In the chaos Gentry tries to locate his friend, they have lost him.
With one remaining canoe and the possibility of an attacker above, he must act, this his initiation into survival, questioning his natural instincts as killing machine.
"Now you get to play the game" he is told.
He begins the climb to reach the peak of the cliff, scaling the gorge face the crevices allowing him to moving slowly upward. This is a pivotal scene, for the character conquers any fear and subsequently gains a sterner confidence and belief in his own survival thus belief in his ability to murder. Even finding it within himself to look out over the country setting in stunned wonderment "Christ,..what a view"
With the crossbow still on his back he nears the top as dawn approaches, a weird light surrounds him as he straightens up. First light, we see the gunman armed and prowling the peak area, Ed steadies himself and pulls back the weapon, the man spots him and likewise points the rifle, shaking once more he somehow manages to release, his nerve is held, the man is arrowed through the neck.
He has a moment of horror when he realises the man has teeth, but at closer inspection they are proved to be false, .a sigh then as he cradles the dead mans head.
The body is lowered down the face of the rock by a golden rope, then committed to the river weighed down by rocks. As the three leave the gorge they discover the broken body of Drew, twisted from the accident but not showing any clear signs of gunshot.
With their injured friend lying in the centre of the last canoe they head off in search of waters end after offering Drew to the depths.
Paddling through silent waters, the riverbank mutates, we see domesticated lands, the industrialisation of the environment seems to be a pointer to civilisation approaching as the landscape shifts. A reflective singular banjo on the track for me confirms the sadness and emptiness of the situation.
Car wrecks at the rivers edge confirm their hopes and it is here that they discuss their plan and story. Arriving at Aintry to collect the cars, Lewis is dispatched to hospital, the truth according to them is that they had the accident way back, they hit rapids and the canoe overturned where they lost their friend to the river, there is no mention of the initial incident.
Staying at a local guesthouse they soon realise the county police have found the other canoe, further upstream, but without proof they cannot be held, there is nothing to hold them for, yet!
It is almost over and whilst being driven to their cars we see a strange place around them, a disappearing world, almost out of time, the cab driver in straw hat murmurs about this changing south, the sun beats down and we sense a new beginning for this place amid the strange sight of a mobile church passing them on the road and a quiet resignation in local attitude.
Ed Gentry stops for a reflective glance at the great water, tranquil and serene it lies almost dormant, a mirrored crystal blanket, malevolent and levelling. The River.
He sees bulldozers and tractors excavating a graveyard for the impending flood, a morbid sight and expose of financial greed for smug little suburbia, he prepares to leave but there are a few more questions that need answering.
Months go past...
Ed, Lewis on crutches, and Bobby walk up to an ambulance flanked by officers, Sheriff Bullard motions them toward a sheet that covers a body...the three look at each other as his hand pulls back the sheet, Ed awakes, but his nightmares will continue, this one actually left out of the final cut of the picture, a shame, in any case, the final moments help us to decide, like Ed, to stick to the putting greens next time for sure.
Don't forget that Deliverance is now available to order on Widescreen DVD using our special 70s search device... [See DVD section or click here for more details]
By: Nik Allen
James Dickey the author of the novel was a maverick poet and visionary whose recitals made him the stuff of legend in the 60s and 70s. A large overbearing man he was revered for his poem readings across campuses, with students immersed by his visceral reading performance, his romantic yet confrontational lyrics.
His first novel Deliverance notioned in the early 60s dealt with mans torrid encounter with a natural environment that had become inhospitable, and a search for the instinct within that can transform us as humans into killers, to act when we have to in order to survive.
Dickey was a survivalist like the Reynolds character, he loved the outdoors and guided the actor as to the discipline required to master a crossbow. "Machines are gonna fail, the systems gonna fail" he says in the film, reflecting the authors extreme ethics.
The rape which was even more brutally told in words added a controversial edge, violence had its place here however, the civilised hand of man is seen raping the landscape with the demise of the river and its environment, in turn, the unforgiving landscape had its revenge on the normality of city life. Or it could be argued that his idea with Deliverance concerned the first signs of male sexual paranoia brought to the fore in the steady developing feminism in the 70s, whatever food for thought it is strong stuff indeed.
When John Boorman became director we were surely blessed, because usually when a British man is behind the lens we have a strange undiluted view of Americana, as in Schlesingers Midnight Cowboy it makes for a place that is somewhat unforgiving yet romantic. Here the move from page to screen seemed as natural as its rural locations thanks to Boormans images and Dickeys screenplay, brutal and unflinching and at times elegiac it has the 70s hallmark of wicked realism mixed in a cocktail of style and grain.
Jon Voight played central character and narrator in the book, Ed, his was a basis of sorts on Dickey, the actor who still resembled Joe Buck but later grew a moustache for a look of maturity recorded hours lingo for voice coaching.
Burt Reynolds gave his best screen performance and his favourite as Lewis, this was the actor trying to prove himself in a serious role having previously only harked from TV movies.
Backed up by Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, they made up a believable quartet of buddies who were ready to go for it here, the material was just too important to wing.
Dickey himself played Sheriff Bullard and gave an honest angle to the role, the cinematography from "the" 70s man Vilmos Zsigmond was masterfull, a truly awesome film to look at, even the features of the extras who were on leave from their jail terms to stand in...like Randall Deal who played one half of the Griner Brothers, recently out of jail for "un concsiousing" a police officer, the simple fifteen year old Billy Redden who played the banjo picker, and bad vibes surrounding the rape which had Bill McKinney playing the redneck rumoured to have gone a little too far, Beatty never the same throughout filming here since. Dramatically I could offer the river itself as the star of the piece, for nature must play the dominant role in the films lasting appeal and success, the southerner would have wanted it that way, he saw his beloved landscape eroding around him and wanted someplace to go from the "man world" before it was too late.
The seventies gave us some truly great films that seem lost on us now, budgets are there for sure, as moneymaking movies pull in the crowds. Box office gains measure success so speeding down rapids, attempting to climb cliffs and heading off into the forest with a crew of only four guys is a heavy, no insurance risk. This though is the defining raw edge to the power of performances in the film, it brings out a quality that makes it work, a virtue sometimes lacking in modern cinema.
What was definite and crucial to the heart of the novel and hopefully encapsulated on screen was the feeling of an identity laid bare, a remote Appalachia needed to be authentic. Clayton Georgia was the stomping ground of the authors grandaddy so it was like an ancestral homecoming for son Chris Dickey. His poignant view that on set "as the lights went up and cameras rolled, you couldn't help feeling that souls were being stolen" seems validated for the place resembled some kind of borderline between movie fantasy and redneck reality, "local hires hung around, trailer park girls, good ol boys who thought they'd had a fun night out if they witnessed a knifing at the roadhouse" then there was Randall Deal who'd sooner kill you as look at you.
And what of the haunting face of Billy Redden, bumming cigarettes, proud to smoke them in the presence of the film crew, unable even to fake the left hand on the fret bar on the instrument so an extras arm was used.
Described in the screenplay as "probably a half wit, as back-country as they come, likely from a family or community inbred to the point of imbecility and albinism but with a sweet expectant smile",
From the heart of corn liquor country his lidless eyes "are" James Dickeys Deliverance, as serious as a neck on new blade, a cold eyed evocation fundamental to these haunting splinters of southern ethics. This then is the premise of brutal self discovery in the story, spiritually cleansing but hard edged, and as confrontational and brilliant as its creators life and words of poetry.
Christopher Dickeys recent memoir to his father "Summer of Deliverance" is an engaging book, a heartbreaking account of the life of a gifted but troubled man and his relationship with a loyal son.
Reynolds had some problems with the opinionated southerner, as did Boorman, who saw it as a blessing to go toe to toe verbally with the man. The actor didn't agree, he found him too overblown.
Gene Hackman was offered the part of Ed but wanted the part of the survivalist and Sam Peckinpah was the preferred director but after a promising meeting with Dickey he failed to come good, never heard of again with regards to the project.
Deliverance was one of the first movies to be totally "looped". All of the River sounds were a synthetic creation, and although the actors performed their roles on site, director Boorman was adamant in having all dialogue fully re-created in his sound studios. At first this intimidated the actors, but they quickly realized the ability to perfect their performances. The end result was a film with excellent sound. I can remember being struck by the audio quality in 1972-1973, one of the more attractive elements in the film.
Worthy of mention are the laboratory mistakes made by the film labs in processing Zsigmonds night cinematography as Jon Voight climbs the cliff.
In an annoying distraction, the screen direction changes as Burt Reynolds glances upward the cliffs as the four heroes are about to be devoured by the river. How could the sniper be on the left side of the river? The viewer needed to know.
The voice of James Dickey's sherrif was not his own! [Thanks to Chris Szwedo]
"Married With Children" star Ed O'Neil has a cameo part at the end of the film. He plays the police officer standing in Burt Reynolds hospital room.
[Thanks to Mark]
Herbert "Cowboy" Coward the "toothless man" could not read or write. He learned his lines by listening to tape recordings. He also spoke with a stutter and some lines were cut. When he got to the location to shoot the scene, he said he was "shocked" that people actually lived this way. In one scene, there was a dummy(Coward's character) hanging from a 200 foot cliff. The director didn't think it look realistic and asked Coward to do the scene. He took a look down the 200 foot cliff,at dummy and the thin rope, shook his head, took a swig of Blue Ribbon and said "I guess if he can do it, so can I." (This was in Chris Dickey's book) Billy Redden has a role in Tim Burton's "Big Fish" and works at the present time washing dishes in a diner. I don't know if Coward is still alive but most of the information came from a radio interview in 1989 with some DJ called the "Greaseman". At that time, Coward was working at a thread factory. Coward got the job because he and Reynolds worked together in a western theme park call "Ghost Town" or something like that. Bill McKinney, the other mountain man, claims that stuff that Reynolds said about him is pure fiction and Burt is "telling stories". According to Maxim magazine, Coward and McKinney were rated the number one movie villains of all time. [Thanks to Harry Farley]
As students 4 of us went to visit the set of Deliverance. The day we were there they were filming a 4 wheel drive vehicle crossing the river. When the cameras rolled for this scene, the vehicle left the bank of the river and tried to cross at a fairly wide part. It was not very deep, but it stalled about mid river and they towed it out. I guess it was a scene they hoped would work, but never made the final cut. [Thanks to David Tillery]
The cast and crew were housed primarily at The Dillard House during filming. This homestyle restaurant/motel is located in Dillard, GA on the Dillard family farm. Burt Reynolds is said to have fallen in love with the area, and with Dillard House in particular. Burt would travel to the mountains and stay for a few days for years afterward. It was a fairly common sight to see him and Loni Anderson in the area. [Thanks to Ken Carter]
Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.
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Featured Location: Cahulawassee River
Wanna see the real life location used for Cahulawassee River in the movie? It was actually filmed at Chatooga River, located in Clayton, Georgia. [Show me a Map/Directions]
While the Chatooga River is credited as the location for the movie, the majority of the river scenes were shot on the Chauga river in Long Creek/Westminster, SC. The cliff scenes were also shot at a different locale, the Tallulah River/Tallulah Gorge in Tallulah Gorge, GA.
« Featured Link: Tallulah Gorge State Park
See any errors? Something we've missed? [Let us know]
|Trailer, Commentary, Featurette|
New deluxe edition due September 18th 2007 |
The author had heard some music written by Mike Russo and Ron Brentano back in the sixties called "Duelling Banjos", he frequently played the tune on his guitar and had this piece in mind for the film even when he had just begun writing the novel. Other soundtrack used were variations on this piece, slower more thought provoking picking that summed up the characters and real people involved in the tale. Hand in glove.
The LP is available and has the song played by Eric Weissburg and Steve Mandel, the other tunes on the album are not from the film.
City born and musically educated at the University of Wisconsin and Juilliard, Weissberg was a seminal banjo picker who combined the power and taste of Earl Scruggs along with the progressive melodic banjo stylings of the 1960s.
Soundtrack Available: On CD
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"What did happen on the Cahulawassee River?"
|A warning to those who do not belong?|
|Instinct to kill?|
|The point of no return...|
|The warrior's code|| |