Deliverance is a 1972 American thriller film produced and directed by John Boorman, and starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, with the latter two making their feature film debuts. The screenplay was adapted by James Dickey from his 1970 novel of the same name. The film was a critical and box office success, earning three Academy Award nominations and five Golden Globe Award nominations.

Deliverance poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byJohn Boorman
Produced byJohn Boorman
Screenplay byJames Dickey
Based onDeliverance
by James Dickey
Music byEric Weissberg
CinematographyVilmos Zsigmond
Edited byTom Priestley
Release date
  • July 30, 1972 (1972-07-30)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million
Box office$46.1 million[1]

Widely acclaimed as a landmark picture, the film is noted for a music scene near the beginning, with one of the city men playing "Dueling Banjos" on guitar with a banjo-strumming country boy, and for its notorious rape scene. In 2008, Deliverance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[2][3]


Four Atlanta businessmen—Lewis Medlock, Ed Gentry, Bobby Trippe and Drew Ballinger—decide to canoe down a river in the remote northern Georgia wilderness before it is dammed. Lewis, an experienced outdoorsman, is the leader; his close friend Ed has been on several trips but lacks Lewis' machismo, while Bobby and Drew are novices. En route to their launch site, the men (Bobby in particular) are condescending towards the locals, who are unimpressed by the "city boys". At a local gas station Drew, with his guitar, engages a young banjo-playing boy in a musical duel ("Dueling Banjos"). The duel is mutually enjoyable, and some of the locals break into dance at the sound of it. However, the boy does not acknowledge Drew when prompted for a congratulatory handshake.

Traveling in pairs, the foursome's two canoes are briefly separated. Bobby and Ed land briefly and encounter a pair of mountain men emerging from the woods, one carrying a shotgun and missing two front teeth. Following a verbal altercation, Bobby is forced at gunpoint to strip, his ear twisted to bring him to his hands and knees, and then ordered to "squeal like a pig" before being raped while Ed is bound to a tree and held at gunpoint by the other man.

Hearing the commotion, Lewis sneaks up and kills the rapist with an arrow; the other man quickly escapes into the woods. After a brief but hotheaded debate between Lewis and Drew, Ed and Bobby vote to side with Lewis' plan to bury the body and continue on as if nothing had happened. The four continue downriver but the canoes reach a dangerous stretch of rapids. As Drew and Ed reach the rapids in the lead canoe, Drew shakes his head and falls headlong into the water—it is unclear why.

The canoes collide on the rocks, spilling Lewis, Bobby and Ed into the river and breaking one of the canoes in half. Lewis breaks his femur and the others are washed ashore alongside him in a gorge. Lewis, who believes Drew has been shot, encourages Ed to climb to the top of the gorge and dispatch the other man, who is stalking them from above. Ed reaches the top and hides out until morning, when the stalker appears on the top of the cliff with a rifle; Ed clumsily shoots and manages to kill him, accidentally stabbing himself with one of his own arrows in the process. The dead man apparently has all his teeth but on closer inspection is revealed to be wearing dentures. Ed and Bobby weigh down the body in the river to ensure it will never be found; when they encounter Drew's body downriver, they do the same.

Upon finally reaching the small town of Aintry, they take Lewis to the hospital. The men carefully concoct a cover story for the authorities about Drew's death, lying about their ordeal to Sheriff Bullard in order to escape a possible double murder charge. The sheriff does not believe them, but has no evidence to arrest them and tells the men never to come back. The trio vow to keep their story of death and survival a secret for the rest of their lives. In the final scene, Ed awakes, startled by a nightmare in which a bloated hand rises from the lake.


Ned Beatty's wife, Belinda Beatty, and director John Boorman's son, Charley Boorman, have brief appearances as the wife and young child of Jon Voight's character.


Deliverance was shot primarily in Rabun County in northeastern Georgia. The canoe scenes were filmed in the Tallulah Gorge southeast of Clayton and on the Chattooga River. This river divides the northeastern corner of Georgia from the northwestern corner of South Carolina. Additional scenes were shot in Salem, South Carolina.

A scene was also shot at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church cemetery. This site has since been flooded and lies 130 feet under the surface of Lake Jocassee, on the border between Oconee and Pickens counties in South Carolina.[4][5] The dam shown under construction is Jocassee Dam.

During the filming of the canoe scene, author James Dickey showed up inebriated and entered into a bitter argument with producer-director John Boorman, who had rewritten Dickey's script. They allegedly had a brief fistfight in which Boorman, a much smaller man than Dickey, suffered a broken nose and four shattered teeth.[6] Dickey was thrown off the set, but no charges were filed against him. The two reconciled and became good friends, and Boorman gave Dickey a cameo role as the sheriff at the end of the film.

The inspiration for the Cahulawassee River was the Coosawattee River, which was dammed in the 1970s and contained several dangerous whitewater rapids before being flooded by Carters Lake.[7]


Casting was by Lynn Stalmaster. Dickey had initially wanted Sam Peckinpah to direct the film.[6] Dickey also wanted Gene Hackman to portray Ed Gentry whereas Boorman wanted Lee Marvin to play the role.[6] Boorman also wanted Marlon Brando to play Lewis Medlock.[6] Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of Ed,[6] while both Donald Sutherland and Charlton Heston turned down the role of Lewis.[6] Other actors who were attached to the project included Robert Redford, Henry Fonda, George C. Scott and Warren Beatty.[6]


The film is infamous for cutting costs by not insuring the production and having the actors perform their own stunts (most notably, Jon Voight climbed the cliff himself). In one scene, the stunt coordinator decided that a scene showing a canoe with a dummy of Burt Reynolds in it looked phony; he said it looked "like a canoe with a dummy in it". Reynolds requested to have the scene re-shot with himself in the canoe rather than the dummy. After shooting the scene, Reynolds, coughing up river water and nursing a broken coccyx, asked how the scene looked. The director responded, "like a canoe with a dummy in it".

Regarding the courage of the four main actors in the movie performing their own stunts without insurance protection, Dickey was quoted as saying all of them "had more guts than a burglar." In a nod to their stunt-performing audacity, early in the movie Lewis says, "Insurance? I've never been insured in my life. I don't believe in insurance. There's no risk".

"Squeal like a pig"Edit

Several people have been credited with the phrase "squeal like a pig", the now-famous line spoken during the graphic rape scene. Ned Beatty said he thought of it while he and actor McKinney (who played Beatty's rapist) were improvising the scene.[8] James Dickey's son, Christopher Dickey, wrote in his memoir about the film production, Summer of Deliverance, that because Boorman had rewritten so much dialogue for the scene one of the crewmen suggested that Beatty's character should just "squeal like a pig".[9] Boorman himself, however, in a DVD commentary he made for the film said the line was used because the studio wanted the male rape scene to be filmed in two ways: one for cinematic release and one that would be acceptable for television. As Boorman did not want to do that, he decided that the phrase "squeal like a pig", suggested by Rabun County liaison Frank Rickman, was a good replacement for the original dialogue in the script.[10]

Soundtrack and copyright disputeEdit

The film's soundtrack brought new attention to the musical work "Dueling Banjos", which had been recorded numerous times since 1955. Only Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel were originally credited for the piece. The onscreen credits state that the song is an arrangement of the song "Feudin' Banjos", showing Combine Music Corp as the copyright owner. Songwriter and producer Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, who had written "Feudin' Banjos" in 1955, and recorded it with five-string banjo player Don Reno, filed a lawsuit for songwriting credit and a percentage of royalties. He was awarded both in a landmark copyright infringement case.[11] Smith asked Warner Bros. to include his name on the official soundtrack listing, but reportedly asked to be omitted from the film credits because he found the film offensive.[12]

No credit was given for the film score. The film has a number of sparse, brooding passages of music scattered throughout, including several played on a synthesizer. Some prints of the movie omit much of this extra music.

Boorman was given a gold record for the "Dueling Banjos" hit single; this was later stolen from his house by the Dublin gangster Martin Cahill. Boorman recreated this scene in The General (1998), his biographical film about Cahill.[13]


Chart (1973) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[14] 61


Deliverance was a box office success in the United States, becoming the fifth-highest grossing film of 1972, with a domestic take of over $46 million.[1] The film's financial success continued the following year, when it went on to earn $18 million in North American "distributor rentals" (receipts).[15]

Critical receptionEdit

Deliverance was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1972.[16][17][18][19] The film is in the top tier of films on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with a "Certified Fresh" 89% rating based on reviews from 62 critics. The site's consensus states: "Given primal verve by John Boorman's unflinching direction and Burt Reynolds' star-making performance, Deliverance is a terrifying adventure."[20]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four stars out of four and wrote, "It is a gripping horror story that at times may force you to look away from the screen, but it is so beautifully filmed that your eyes will eagerly return."[21] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "an engrossing adventure, a demonstrable labor of love whose pains have largely paid off in making us empathize with stirring deeds in a setting of cruel beauty. Reynolds suggests that given the right material he is more than just another pretty hand and Voight, in the most substantial role he has had since 'Midnight Cowboy' proves again what a versatile actor he is. Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox are excellent in the briefer roles as the other voyagers."[22] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that the film was "certainly a distinctive and gripping piece of work, with a deliberately brooding, ominous tone and visual style that put you in a grave, fearful frame of mind, almost in spite of yourself."[23]

Not all reviews were positive. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said:

Dickey, who wrote the original novel and the screenplay, lards this plot with a lot of significance – universal, local, whatever happens to be on the market. He is clearly under the impression that he is telling us something about the nature of man, and particularly civilized man's ability to survive primitive challenges[…] But I don't think it works that way.[…] What the movie totally fails at, however, is its attempt to make some kind of significant statement about its action.[…] [W]hat James Dickey has given us here is a fantasy about violence, not a realistic consideration of it.[…] It's possible to consider civilized men in a confrontation with the wilderness without throwing in rapes, cowboy-and-Indian stunts and pure exploitative sensationalism.[24]

Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote that the setting was "majestic" but it was "in the fleshing out that the script fumbles, and with it the direction and acting."[25] Vincent Canby of The New York Times was also generally negative, calling the film "a disappointment" because "so many of Dickey's lumpy narrative ideas remain in his screenplay that John Boorman's screen version becomes a lot less interesting than it has any right to be."[26]

The instrumental piece, "Dueling Banjos", won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. The film was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made, while the viewers of Channel 4 in the United Kingdom voted it #45 on a list of The 100 Greatest Films.

Reynolds later called it "the best film I've ever been in".[27] However, he stated that the rape scene went "too far".[28]

Awards and nominationsEdit


American Film Institute listsEdit


Following the film's release, Governor Jimmy Carter established a state film commission to encourage television and movie production in Georgia. The state has "become one of the top five production destinations in the U.S".[29] Tourism increased to Rabun County by the tens of thousands after the film's release. By 2012, tourism was the largest source of revenue in the county, and rafting had developed as a $20 million industry in the region.[29] Jon Voight's stunt double for this film, Claude Terry, later purchased equipment used in the movie from Warner Brothers. He founded what is now the oldest whitewater rafting adventure company on the Chattooga River, Southeastern Expeditions.[30] Payson Kennedy, the stunt double for Ned Beatty, established the Nantahala Outdoor Center with his wife and Horace Holden along the Nantahala River in Swain County, North Carolina in 1972, the same year that Deliverance was released.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Deliverance, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  2. ^ "Cinematic Classics, Legendary Stars, Comedic Legends and Novice Filmmakers Showcase the 2008 Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  3. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  4. ^ Simon, Anna (2009-02-20). "Cable network to detail history of Lake Jocassee". The Greenville News. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
  5. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (2009-11-05). "Body double plays banjo". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Lyttleton, Oliver (30 July 2012). "5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Deliverance,' Released 40 Years Ago Today". IndieWire. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  7. ^ Roper, Daniel M. "The Story of the Coosawattee River Gorge". North Georgia Journal (Summer 1995). Archived from the original on 2010-12-22.
    "Regarding his debut film, Deliverance (1972), in which his character undergoes an unforgettably vivid sexual assault, Beatty said: 'The whole "squeal like a pig" thing ... came from guess who.' As the audience laughed, he theatrically put his head in his hands and silently pointed to himself, before elaborating how director Boorman encouraged him to improvise the scene with his onscreen tormentor, Bill McKinney."
  9. ^ Dickey, Christopher (2010). Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son. Simon and Schuster. p. 186. ISBN 1439129592.
  10. ^ "Rabun County Historical Society". Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  11. ^ "Country guitarist Arthur Smith dies". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  12. ^ McArdle, Terence (6 April 2014). "Arthur Smith, guitarist who wrote 'Guitar Boogie' and 'Duelin' Banjos,' dies at 93". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  13. ^ "Artistic reunion brings Martin Cahill to life". The Irish Echo. May 27 – June 2, 1998. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  14. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 281. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  15. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  16. ^ "Greatest Films of 1972". Retrieved 2012-05-05.
  17. ^ "The Best Movies of 1972 by Rank". Retrieved 2012-05-05.
  18. ^ "Best Films of the 1970s". Archived from the original on 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2012-05-05.
  19. ^ IMDb: Year: 1972
  20. ^ "Deliverance". Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  21. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 5, 1972). "Deliverance". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
  22. ^ Champlin, Charles (August 13, 1972). "Men Against River—of Life?—in 'Deliverance'". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 17.
  23. ^ Arnold, Gary (October 5, 1972). "' Deliverance': A Gripping Piece of Work". The Washington Post. B1.
  24. ^ "Deliverance." Chicago Sun-Times.
  25. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (July 19, 1972). "Film Reviews: Deliverance". Variety. 14.
  26. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 31, 1972). "The Screen: James Dickey's 'Deliverance' Arrives". The New York Times. 21.
  27. ^ Siskel, Gene (Nov 28, 1976). "Workaholic Burt Reynolds sets up his next task: Light comedy". Chicago Tribune. p. e2.
  28. ^ "Reynolds: 'Deliverance Rape Scene Went Too Far'". 21 January 2008. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  29. ^ a b Welles, Cory (August 22, 2012). "40 years later, 'Deliverance' causes mixed feelings in Georgia". Marketplace. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  30. ^ "About us". Southeastern Expeditions. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  31. ^ Knoepp, Lilly. "Exploring Southern Appalachia: 'Deliverance' And Beyond". Blue Ridge Public Radio. Retrieved 1 November 2020.

Further readingEdit

  • Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels Into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 94–95.

External linksEdit