AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: John Boorman (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 1972
Duration (in mins):  109-110
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Cast: Jon Voight  (Ed [Gentry])
  Burt Reynolds  (Lewis [Medlock])
  Ned Beatty  (Bobby [Trippe])

Summary: On a Friday afternoon, Atlanta men Ed Gentry, Lewis Medlock, Bobby Trippe and Drew Ballinger drive two cars to the top of the Cahulawassee River, planning to canoe through the river's rapids and return home on Sunday. The acerbic, athletic Lewis, who has convinced his more docile friend Ed to come on the trip, mourns the impending loss of the river's wildness, which will be tamed when its waters are dammed to make a recreational lake for newly constructed summer homes. When the group arrives at a ramshackle gas station in the hills, Lewis pays two mountain men to follow them to the edge of the river, then drive their cars down to Aintry, a small town at its base. While insurance salesman Bobby makes jokes about the crude living conditions of the hill people, Drew strums his guitar and enjoys a rousing duet with a boy with odd-looking eyes who plays the banjo like an accomplished professional, but does not speak and will not shake hands with Drew. Lewis refuses to ask for directions to the river from "crackers," preferring to drive wildly through the woods until he finds it. Although Ed is happy with his ordinary, middle-class life, he hero-worships Lewis, who has honed his skills as an outdoorsman and is convinced that in the future, only those with the skill to survive against nature will prevail. When the men put their canoes into the water, Lewis takes the overweight, out-of-shape Bobby, while Ed and Drew, who are similar in temperament, ride together. That afternoon they successfully navigate some rapids, prompting Ed, Bobby and Drew to laugh as they set up camp on the side of the river, and Lewis grudgingly tells the exhilarated Bobby, "You did good, Chubby." After a night of drinking, Ed, who is the first one up on Saturday morning, takes his bow and arrow to go hunting in the woods. Although he has an easy shot to kill a deer, as he draws his bow, his hand shakes so violently that his arrow lands in a tree, alerting the deer, which runs away. Back at camp, Ed lies that he found nothing to shoot, and Drew wonders aloud how anyone could shoot an animal. As they prepare for the day's ride, the men switch partners when Lewis tells Ed that he does not want to have Bobby with him. Following more rapids, as well as long stretches of calm waters, Ed and Bobby, who have passed Lewis and Drew, pull their canoe ashore. Moments later, Ed sees two mountain men, one of whom is toothless and carries a shotgun. Although Ed and Bobby try to avoid confrontation, the mountain men grab the stronger Ed and use his belt to bind his neck to a tree. As the toothless man guards Ed, the other man uses his knife to make a shallow cut along Ed's chest, then forces the terrified Bobby to remove his clothes and squeal like a pig while he sodomizes him. Afterward, while Bobby lies whimpering on the hillside, both of the mountain men lasciviously eye Ed as Ed glimpses Lewis sneaking up from the riverbank. Moments later, Lewis shoots an arrow through the rapist, causing the toothless man to run into the hills. After the rapist dies, Lewis, Ed and Bobby argue with Drew about what to do. While Drew proffers that the killing was justifiable homicide and they must take the body to the sheriff, Lewis argues that, by doing so, they would either be killed by the rapist's friends or would have to come back to the area for a trial by locals, who would certainly convict them of killing one of their own. Although Drew insists that he is right, the others vote to go along with Lewis and bury the body in the woods, which Lewis assures them will be at the bottom of a deep lake after the dam floods the area. When the four go back into their canoes, Lewis continues with Bobby, while Ed takes Drew, who fails to put on his lifejacket. As they encounter a treacherous section of rapids, Ed repeatedly yells to Drew to put on his lifejacket, but he does not respond, then suddenly lunges forward into the water. In their simultaneous attempts to find Drew and forge the fierce rapids, both canoes capsize, and Ed's wooden canoe is broken apart. When they finally reach the end of the rapids, Lewis' leg has been badly broken and Ed can only find Drew's guitar. Huddled in a shelter of rocks, Lewis screams that Drew was shot from above, as both Bobby and Ed ask him what they should do. Convinced by Lewis that Drew has been shot by the toothless man, who is stalking them from the hilltop, Ed waits until nightfall, then climbs the steep cliff with his bow and arrow. Exhausted, Ed falls asleep until morning, when he awakens to see a man carrying a shotgun on the ridge above. Ed's hand shakes so violently as he takes aim with his bow that when the arrow is released, the kickback of the bow wounds Ed in the side. Moments later, the other man advances toward Ed and takes aim with his shotgun, but falls over dead, Ed's arrow having run him through. Unsure if he has killed the right man, Ed opens the corpse's mouth and is startled to see a full set of teeth. Ed then jiggles the front teeth and discovers that the man was wearing a bridge that, when removed, makes him appear toothless. Ed throws the shotgun and his bow into the river below and ties the man's body with his rope, but as they descend the cliff, they both fall and Ed becomes entwined with the corpse under the surface of the water. After freeing himself, Ed swims to Lewis and Bobby, but none of the men know for certain whether or not Ed has killed the right man. When they find Drew's body, they examine it but cannot be sure if he was shot or whether his injuries were the result of being crushed against the rocks. After using heavy stones to sink his body, as well as the man Ed killed, Ed and Bobby place Lewis, who is in excruciating pain, inside the metal canoe, then paddle through the last grueling stretch of rapids. They finally arrive at Aintry, but before reaching the shore, as the men laugh nervously over having survived the trip, Ed insists that they must all stick to the story that Drew drowned when they lost the wooden canoe in the last stretch of rapids. While Bobby stays with Lewis and waits for medical help, Ed walks around the village and sees that their cars are parked safely nearby. After an ambulance takes Lewis to the hospital, a local deputy and Sheriff Bullard question Bobby and Ed. While the deputy is sure that Bobby and Ed are lying, the more restrained Bullard does not assume the worst, even though one of the local men is missing after having gone hunting. That night, as Bobby socializes with guests at an inn, Ed starts to cry, garnering sympathy from the others. The next morning, when Bobby tells Ed that the sheriff's men have found parts of the wooden canoe farther up river than their story suggested, Ed accuses him of talking. When Ed later is questioned by Bullard, he tries to cover their lies by saying that they may have been mistaken about which section of rapids caused the accident. At the hospital, under the watchful eye of a deputy, Ed whispers to Lewis that they had to change their story, prompting the semi-conscious Lewis to proclaim loudly that he does not remember anything that happened in the last set of rapids. Later, as Bullard puts Ed into his car, he wonders why they found four life jackets up river, but lets Ed leave, sternly advising him never to come back again, and saying that the missing hunter will no doubt show up one day. Before leaving Aintry, Ed gazes at the town cemetery, which, like the rest of the town, will soon be buried at the bottom of the newly formed lake. After returning to Atlanta and informing Drew's wife and son of his death, Ed resumes his life but is haunted by nightmares in which the hand of the man they buried bobs up to the surface of the lake. 

Distribution Company: Warner Bros., Inc.
Production Company: Elmer Enterprises, Inc.
Warner Bros., Inc.
Director: John Boorman (Dir)
  Al Jennings (Asst dir)
  Miles Middough (Asst dir)
  Charles Ziarko (2d asst dir)
Producer: John Boorman (Prod)
  Charles Orme (Assoc prod)
Writer: James Dickey (Scr)
  John Boorman (Addl dial)

Subject Major: Cultural elitism
Subject Minor: Archers and archery
  Canoes and canoeing
  Gas stations
  Justifiable homicide

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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