AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Director: John Boorman (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 1972
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 30 Jul 1972; Atlanta, GA opening: 11 Aug 1972; Los Angeles opening: 16 Aug 1972
Production Date:   mid-May--late Aug 1971 in Clayton, GA
Duration (in mins):   109-110
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Cast:   Jon Voight (Ed [Gentry])  
    Burt Reynolds (Lewis [Medlock])  
    Ned Beatty (Bobby [Trippe])  
    Ronny Cox (Drew [Ballinger])  
    Ed Ramey (Old man)  
    Billy Redden (Lonnie)  
    Seamon Glass (First Griner)  
    Randall Deal (Second Griner)  
    Bill McKinney (Mountain man)  
    Herbert "Cowboy" Coward (Toothless man)  
    Lewis Crone (First deputy)  
    Ken Keener (Second deputy)  
    Johnny Popwell (Ambulance driver)  
    John Fowler (Doctor)  
    Kathy Rickman (Nurse)  
    Louise Coldren (Mrs. Biddiford)  
    Pete Ware (Taxi driver)  
  And James Dickey (Sheriff Bullard)  
    Macon McCalman (Deputy Queen)  
    Hoyt Pollard (Boy at gas station)  
    Belinha Beatty (Martha Gentry)  
    Charlie Boorman (Ed's boy)  
    Wallace Brooks (Red Tucker)  
    Charlie Dodgins (Hillbilly)  
    Mae C. Maddalena    
    Nell Norton    

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. 

Production Company: Elmer Enterprises, Inc.  
  Warner Bros., Inc. (Warner Communications, Inc.)
Production Text: A John Boorman Film
A John Borman Film
Distribution Company: Warner Bros., Inc. (Warner Communications, 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)
Photography: Vilmos Zsigmond (Dir of photog)
  Bill Butler (2d unit photog)
  Sven Walnum (Cam op)
  George Boulette (Cam op)
  Earl Clark (Asst cam)
  John Connors (Asst cam)
  Al Klein (Cam mechanic)
  Art Brooker (Key grip)
  Don Schmitz (Grip)
  Robert Moore (Grip)
  Danny R. Jordan (Grip)
  Bob Farnsworth (Grip best boy)
  Jim Blair (Elec supv)
  Alan Heather (Elec)
  Paul J. Caven (Elec)
  James Schori (Generator op)
  Aaron Pazanti (Elec best boy)
  James Coe (Stills)
Art Direction: Fred Harpman (Art dir)
Film Editor: Tom Priestley (Ed)
  Ian Rakoff (Asst ed)
  William Neel (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: Morris Hoffman (Set dec)
  Syd Greenwood (Prop master)
  Jerry Kobold (Prop asst)
  James Van de Vort (Painter)
  Don Pringle (Greensman)
Costumes: Bucky Rous (Ward master)
  Pat Kelly (Ward asst)
Sound: Walter Goss (Sd mixer)
  Jim Atkinson (Sd ed)
  Doug Turner (Dubbing mixer)
  Jerry Smith (Boom man)
  Gary Stahl (Cable man)
Special Effects: Marcel Vercoutere (Spec eff)
  Joe Day (Spec eff asst)
Make Up: Michael Hancock (Makeup)
  Donoene McKay (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Ray Quiroz (Scr supv)
  Charles Wiggin (Tech adv)
  E. Lewis King (Tech adv)
  Wallace Worsely (Prod supv)
  Rospo Pallenberg (Creative assoc)
  Lynn Stalmaster (Casting)
  Vernon White (Pub)
  Ken Ryan (Loc auditor)
  Sue Dwiggins (Prod secy)
  Barbara Pallenberg (Secy to dir)
  Hershey Cohen (Timekeeper)
  Pat Miller (Transportation capt)
  Ed Dutton (Transportation gaffer)
  Pat Desmond Jr. (Driver, studio van)
  James Cross (Driver)
  Frank J. Ayre (Craft service)
  Dr. John Fowler (Loc doctor)
  Dr. George C. King (Loc doctor)
  Janey Lampros (First aid)
Stand In: Eris Weissberg (Banjo double for "Duelling Banjos" duet)
  Steve Mandel (Guitar double for "Duelling Banjos" duet)
  Claude Terry (Stunt double for Jon Voight)
  Bill Couch (Stunts)
  Ralph L. Garrett (Stunts)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Duelling Banjos," an arrangement of the song "Feudin' Banjos," copyright owner Combine Music Corp., arranged and played by Eric Weissberg with Steve Mandel.
Composer: Steve Mandel
  Eric Weissberg
Source Text: Based on the novel Deliverance by James Dickey (Boston, 1970).
Authors: James Dickey

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Brothers, Inc. 30/7/1972 dd/mm/yyyy LP41826

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: Panavision

Genre: Adventure
Subjects (Major): Cultural elitism
Subjects (Minor): Archers and archery
  Canoes and canoeing
  Gas stations
  Justifiable homicide

Note: The opening credits are presented over shots of picturesque Appalachian countryside and waterways, intercut with shots of earthmovers and dynamite blasts flattening a hillside into lots. As the credits roll, voices of the four principal actors, Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, as their respective characters,"Ed Gentry," "Lewis Medlock," "Bobby Trippe" and "Drew Ballinger," are heard discussing plans for their weekend trip from Atlanta to canoe down the Cahulawassee River before the area is dammed off to create a resort lake. Makeup man Michael Hancock's surname is misspelled as "Handcock" in the opening credits. The end credits include the following written statement: "Made on location on the Chattooga River in the Appalachian Mountains. Thanks to the people of Rabun County, Georgia, the U.S. Forest Service, the Georgia Power Company, Earl 'Preach' Parsons, and Frank Rickman." Editor Tom Priestley's surname is misspelled "Priestly" in the onscreen credits.
       The film contains very little background music, and none is heard until the "Duelling Banjos" duet. After that, there are infrequent strains of the melody heard on the soundtrack, and a few short bursts of music at dramatic points within the action. Cox also sings a few bars of an unnamed folksong as he plays his guitar around the campfire on the first night of the trip.
       As pointed out by many contemporary and modern critics, there are a number of ambiguous plot points within the story. For example, the audience, like Ed, Bobby and Lewis, is never certain that Drew was shot, and it is not clear whether or not Ed killed the right "Toothless man." The staging of the scene in which Drew lunges forward into the water could suggest that he was shot but, alternatively could indicate that he deliberately jumped into the water. Similarly, when Ed shoots the man on the ridge, neither he nor the audience can determine with certainty that the man is the same as the one who held Ed at gunpoint during Bobby's rape.
       James Dickey's best-selling, first novel Deliverance , on which the film was based, was told as a first person narrative by Ed, and contains additional scenes both before and after the river trip. Critics of both the novel and the film have postulated that the meaning of the title signifies the characters' "deliverance" from the danger of their rafting trip, or a spiritual deliverance from evil within themselves.
       According to a 14 Jan 1970 Var news item, Warner Bros. purchased screen rights to Dickey's novel in Jan 1970, prior to an excerpt appearing in the Feb issue of Atlantic magazine, and the book's publication in Apr 1970. In addition to writing the screen adaptation of his novel, Dickey (1923--1997), who was a well-known regional poet, also played the small role of "Sheriff Bullard," his only film performance.
       According to an 8 Feb 1971 item in HR 's "Rambling Reporter" column, Warner Bros. initially wanted Steve McQueen for the Lewis role but he turned them down. The film was shot entirely on location, in and around Clayton, GA, the county seat of Rabun County, and on the Chattooga River, which forms the border between northern Georgia and the Southwestern Carolinas. Although the Chattooga was the inspiration for the river in Dickey's story, within the novel and film, it is called the Cahulawassee River. News items and reviews noted that many of the minor characters were portrayed by locals with no previous acting experience.
       Although the film first opened in New York on 30 Jul 1972, it had a premiere showing at the 5th Atlantic International Film and Television Festival on 11 Aug and won the festival's Golden Phoenix Award as Best Film. Deliverance became a huge box-office hit, the second-highest grossing film of 1973 [when the film was still playing throughout must of the U.S.], taking in more than $18,000,000 in box-office rentals, according to Var . The picture received many laudatory reviews, including one from SatRev critic Arthur Knight, who stated that the film "leaves the viewer haunted and unresolved in his own mind. What would I have done if I had been there." However, some critics did not appreciate the film's "macho" survivalist theme.
       The picture received Academy Award nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Director (John Boorman) and Film Editor (Tom Priestley), and was included in numerous "top ten" lists. Although Vilmos Zsigmond did not receive an Academy Award nomination for his cinematography, most reviews singled out his work for its excellence. In a New Yorker feature article on 13 Jul 1988, Dickey's son Christopher wrote that Boorman had inserted many lines of dialogue into his father's screenplay, including the "squeal like a pig" line and had wanted to receive co-screenwriting credit. James Dickey won an arbitration over the credits, and his is the only name listed in the onscreen writing credits.
       Cox and Beatty both made their film debuts in Deliverance . Beatty's then-wife Belinha had a small role in the film as "Martha Gentry," Ed's wife, as did Boorman's son Charlie, who portrayed "Ed's boy." Deliverance was one of two 1972 films made by Reynolds that propelled him to international stardom. The picture went into production at around the time that Reynolds' famous nude centerfold appeared in the Apr 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. For information on his career, please consult the entry below for his other 1972 hit, Fuzz .
       According to a DV news item on 7 Nov 1972, Warner Bros. refused to cut the rape sequence prior to the film's release in Italy, thus delaying the film's opening there. The male rape scene was controversial at the time of the film's release, with some critics praising its stark realism, while others abhored its violence. Decades after the film's release, it has remained controversial.
       "Duelling Banjos," the melody arranged and played by Eric Weissberg with Steve Mandel, became a hit record. Weissberg, who was one of the country's leading banjo players, won a Grammy and two gold records for "Duelling Banjos" and the sporadic bluegrass score for the picture. A 15 Mar 1973 Rolling Stone news item erroneously reported that Weissberg played the guitar and Marshall Brickman played the banjo during the duet. Despite the song's title, within the film, the "duel" is actually between a guitar and a banjo.
       "Duelling Banjos" has become an iconic piece of film music, frequently parodied in motion pictures and on television, often used as a brief musical background to evoke a sense of male competitiveness. Since the release of the picture, the expression "the people from Deliverance " has become a popular, negative metaphor for anyone like the hill people depicted in the film.
       On the heels of the film's success, the Chattooga River became a popular tourist destination, particularly for men wishing to recreate the film's trip down-the-rapids theme. According to a number of news items from 1972 through 1975, as many as nineteen people had drowned on the river during such excursions. In a 3 Sep 1973 Box article, Dickey was quoted as expressing his sadness over the deaths, stating, "They wouldn't have gone up there if I hadn't written the book...there's nothing I can do about it. I can't patrol the river. But it just makes me feel awful." By 1975, according to a Box news item, the high number of deaths led to the imposition of strict regulations on river usage by the U.S. Forest Service. New restrictions included the use of protective helmets and lifejackets to prevent additional loss of life if kayaks and canoes tipped over in the rapids. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   24 Jul 1972   p. 4508.
Box Office   3 Sep 1973.   
Box Office   21 Apr 1975.   
Cosmopolitan   Oct 1972.   
Daily Variety   12 Jul 1972   p. 3, 8.
Daily Variety   14 Jul 1972.   
Daily Variety   7 Nov 1972.   
Esquire   Dec 1973   pp. 227-33.
Filmfacts   1972   pp. 213-17.
Films & Filming   Oct 1972.   
Hollywood Reporter   18 May 1970.   
Hollywood Reporter   8 Feb 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   14 May 1971   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Aug 1971   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Jul 1972   p. 3, 7.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   17 Aug 1972.   
Los Angeles Times   13 Aug 1972.   
Los Angeles Times   23 Aug 1972.   
Life   18 Aug 1972.   
Motion Picture Herald   Aug 1972.   
New Republic   5 & 8 Aug 1972.   
New Times   30 Nov 1973   pp. 55-60.
New York Times   31 Jul 1972   p. 21.
New York Times   20 Aug 1972   Section II, p. 9.
New Yorker   13 Jul 1988   pp. 38-51.
Newsweek   7 Aug 1972.   
Playboy   Oct 1972.   
Playboy   Apr 1976   p. 34.
Rolling Stone   15 Mar 1973.   
Saturday Review   5 Aug 1972   p. 61.
Time   7 Aug 1972.   
Variety   14 Jun 1970.   
Variety   19 Jul 1972   p. 14.

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