Made for $2 million, the 1972 canoe-trip-gone-wrong film Deliverance not only became a huge hit upon release, but its images, music, and lines have become fully embedded in pop culture since then. Anyone who has seen the film, especially any man, will shudder with horror at the infamous line, “Squeal like a pig!” And when you hear the tune “Dueling Banjos,” you don’t think of something benign like smiling performer on an old-timey variety show. You think, instead, of a creepy, seemingly inbred redneck kid sitting on a porch, playing a duel-off with a city guy named Drew (Ronny cox), just before Drew and his buddies begin their doomed canoe trip down river, deep into the remote Georgian wilderness.
Drew and his buddies Louis (Burt Reynolds), Bobby (Ned Beatty), and Ed (Jon Voight), are city slickers from Atlanta who have a grand plan of a boys’ weekend camping trip down the river. They are patronizing toward the redneck locals, who, in turn, regard the city boys with suspicion. You know things aren’t going to go well when they pass under a pedestrian bridge, and the inbred banjo kid is swinging his banjo ominously, staring dead-eyed.
Deliverance kicks into full horror mode with the infamous rape scene (poor Ned Beatty), some nasty rapids, broken limbs, and… well… don’t want to give it away. This is a formula (violent rednecks vs. over-their-heads city slickers) that has since been oft-repeated in popular cinema, yet Deliverance still packs chilling power. I had seen it maybe 20 years ago, and was shocked enough that I didn’t feel like I could see it again. But the second time around, at least I knew what was coming and could appreciate the film more as a whole.
The cast is all-around excellent. The four leads have a great chemistry, and it is interesting to note that it was Beatty and Cox’s film debut. Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight already were famous, but Burt was not only pre-Smokey and the Bandit, but he was pre-moustache. Like any man who was most famous sporting a ‘stache, it originally took me a little getting used to. But I got over it really fast when I realize how HOT Burt Reynolds is in this film! Macho Louis is the swaggery, take-charge guy of the bunch. He is the only only who really seems confident in the wilderness. But where Louis is dominant in the first half or so of the film, the story pulls an interesting trick when you realize that softie Ed (Voight) may end up being the one to buck up and get them out of there. Cox, the one with the most morals, quickly loses a grip on the situation, and Beatty goes from obnoxious to broken to pathetic. Deliverance is ultimately a well-crafted thriller that is both savvy and terrifying, and is a great showcase for the talents of the four stars.
With this 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray Book release, Deliverance gets the full treatment. The packaging includes a 42-page book with nice behind the scenes photos and information (like the trick of making it look like Banjo Boy was playing the banjo when he actually couldn’t). There is an excellent series of four mini-documentaries (totaling an hour) about the making of the film. There is a commentary by director John Boorman, as well as an original theatrical trailer. But best of all, there is a brand-new half-hour interview with Reynolds, Voight, Beatty, and Cox. Sure they say some of the same things that are covered in the older docs, but this is just the sort of thing that fans want to see. The men, who all seem to pick up as friends where they left off, reminisce about their experiences making the film, and their surprise and pride that it made such a cultural, lasting impact over the last decades.