Deliverance (1972)

Canoe trip nightmare

movie poster Four businessmen from the city (Atlanta) decide to make a canoe trip in remote Arkansas, what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, plenty. Billy McKinney and Herbert “Cowboy” Coward play the unforgettable villains; and just about everyone remembers the Dueling Banjos scene.
Rated R for language and a scene in which Ned Beatty (his film debut) is tied, naked, to a tree while the bad guys have their way with him. Joe Bob Briggs called it the “squeal like a pig scene.” The movie ends with the canoe slowly floating down the river upside-down, and a human hand in the water . . .

James Dickey adapted his novel for this suspense-thriller, and appears in the movie as a sheriff. Look fast and you’ll see Ed O’Neill (Married, With Children) near the end as a highway patrolman. This was also Ronny Cox’s film debut (as one of the 4 businessmen), though he went on to play mostly villains like his role in RoboCop. The film was directed by John Boorman, whose son Charley appears as son of Jon Voight (the third businessman). Voight had already made 6 movies including “Midnight Cowboy” (the first movie to ever get an X rating, though Jack Valenti says it would only get an R rating today). Charley Boorman went on to star in “The Emerald Forest.” Rounding out the main cast is Burt Reynolds, who was born and raised there.

In fact, Joe Bob Briggs said on MonsterVision that Ned Beatty was so traumatized by the movie, especially the simulated rape scene, that Burt invited him to make another canoe trip on that same river in Georgia that the movie was filmed on, just to show him that there’s nothing wrong with it. Well, everything went ok until they went around a bend and came within sight of the scene of the crime. A local man had put up a sign for tourists reading, “Sodomy Creek.”

Please note: Arkansas is known for its crystals, as noted in the Joe Bob Briggs movie review of Galaxis.

It was also the location of Mystery Science Theater 3000 feature #1006, Boggy Creek 2: The Legend Continues

"Deliverance" availability on video and on DVD

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Trivia (courtesy the Internet Movie Database)

* Director Boorman's son appears near the end of the movie as Ed's little boy.

* To minimize costs, the production wasn't insured -- and the actors did their own stunts. (For instance, Jon Voight actually climbed the cliff.)

* To save costs and add to the realism, local residents were cast in the roles of the hill people.

* Author of the novel and screenplay Dickey appears at the end of the film as the sheriff.

* Burt Reynolds broke his coccyx while going down the rapids when the canoe capsizes. Originally, a cloth dummy was used, but it looked too much "like a dummy going over a waterfall". After Burt Reynolds was injured and recuperating, he asked, "How did it look?" The director replied, 'Like a dummy going over a waterfall."

* Director John Boorman originally wanted Jack Nicholson (Little Shop Of Horrors) as the part of Ed. Jack agreed to do it only if his good friend Marlon Brando appeared as Lewis. Brando agreed to do it but as their combined fee came to $1 million, half the movie's budget would have spent on them and so Boorman went for relative unknowns instead.

* "Dueling Banjos" hit #70 on the Billboard chart for 1973.
* An alternate ending was shot, but cut from the final version. This other ending apparently takes place a few weeks (or perhaps months) after the events of the movie, since it shows Lewis (Burt Reynolds) walking with a crutch. The ending has Ed (Jon Voight), Lewis (Burt Reynolds) and Bobby (Ned Beatty) meet Sheriff Bullard (James Dickey) near the dam in Aintry. The sheriff shows them a body placed on a stretcher and uncovers it, so that they can look at its face. No identifiable details of the body are shown, which was a deliberate choice, to make the audience uncertain whether the dead man is Drew (Ronny Cox), Don Job (Bill McKinney) or the Toothless Man (Herbert Coward). The body was played by Christopher Dickey (James Dickey's son) who writes about the scene in his memoir, "Summer of Deliverance" - and even "he" doesn't know whose body it was supposed to be.

* When John Boorman was looking for an actor to play the toothless man, Burt Reynolds suggested 'Herbert 'Cowboy Coward who had no front teeth, stuttered, and was illiterate with whom he had worked in a Wild West show in Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

* Billy Redden (the boy with the banjo) was not simply playing a mentally handicapped person - he really was one. Christopher Dickey writes in his memoir (which is also James Dickey's biography) that Billy Redden was incapable of faking the playing sequence convincingly, and eventually another youngster was hidden behind his chair, with the sole task of providing the hand movements on the banjo.

* Originally, Sam Peckinpah wanted to direct the movie. When Boorman secured the rights, Peckinpah directed Straw Dogs (1971) instead. Ned Beatty was the only one of the four main actors to ever have paddled a canoe prior to shooting the movie. The others learned on set. "Dueling Banjos" was the first scene shot. The rest of the movie was almost entirely shot in sequence.

* Billy Redden, the boy with the banjo, liked Ronny Cox and disliked Ned Beatty. When at the end of the dueling banjos scene, the script called for Billy to harden his expression towards Drew Ballinger, Cox's character, he was unable to fake dislike for Cox. To solve the problem, they got Beatty to step towards Billy at the close of the shot. As Beatty approached, Billy hardened his expression and looked away - exactly as intended. He never appeared in another movie until, as a grown up, he was in the cast of Tim Burton's "Big Fish."

* The movie was shot on the Chattoga River, dividing South Carolina and Georgia. The year following the release of the movie, 31 people drowned attempting to travel the stretch of river where the movie was shot.

"To deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake."
Carlo M. Cipolla, Professor of Economics, UC Berkeley
© Bill Laidlaw. All Rights Reserved.