Open main menu

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 success, earning three Oscar 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
110 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 visceral and 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."



Four Atlanta men—Lewis Medlock, Ed Gentry, Bobby Trippe, and Drew Ballinger—decide to canoe down a river in the remote northern Georgia wilderness, expecting to have fun and witness the area's unspoiled nature before the fictional Cahulawassee River valley is flooded by construction of a dam. Lewis and Ed are experienced outdoorsmen, while Bobby and Drew are novices. While traveling to their launch site, the men (Bobby in particular) are condescending towards the locals, who are unimpressed by the "city boys."

Traveling in pairs, the group's two canoes are briefly separated. Ed and Bobby stop along the riverbank and soon encounter a pair of local mountain men with a shotgun, who force them at gunpoint into the woods. They tie Ed to a tree and order Bobby to strip naked; one of the mountain men sodomizes him, telling him to "squeal like a pig." As they prepare to sexually assault Ed, Lewis and Drew arrive, unseen by the mountain men. Using his recurve bow, Lewis kills the rapist with an arrow. Drew gives chase to the other man, but he escapes. After a heated debate between Lewis and Drew about whether to inform the authorities, Bobby and Ed vote to side with Lewis in his recommendation to bury the dead man's body and continue on as if nothing had happened.

The four continue downriver but encounter a dangerous stretch of rapids, during which Drew, seemingly dazed, suddenly falls into the water and disappears. In the rapids, the canoes crash into rocks, leaving one canoe destroyed and Lewis suffering a severe compound fracture to his leg. Encouraged by Lewis, who believes Drew was shot by the rapist's partner, Ed climbs up the rock face with the bow while Bobby stays behind to look after Lewis. Reaching the top of the cliff, Ed hides out until the next morning when a hunter appears who Ed believes is the toothless mountain man. Frantic, Ed clumsily shoots and kills the man, while accidentally stabbing himself with one of the spare arrows. Ed lowers down the man's body to Bobby and the two weigh down the body in the river to ensure it will never be found. They later find Drew's body downriver and decide to weigh it down and sink it as well.

Upon finally reaching their destination in the small town of Aintry, they take Lewis to the hospital. Ed and Bobby carefully concoct a cover story for the authorities about Drew's death and disappearance being an accident. The local sheriff suspects them in the disappearance of the mountain men, one of whom was his deputy's brother-in-law. They lie to the sheriff about their ordeal and, without any evidence against them, he warns them never to come back. The trio vow to keep their story of death and survival a secret for the rest of their lives.

After their ordeal, Ed awakens, startled by a nightmare in which a bloated human hand rises from the lake.



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.[2][3] 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.[4] 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.[5]


Casting was by Lynn Stalmaster. Dickey had initially wanted Sam Peckinpah to direct the film.[4] Dickey also wanted Gene Hackman to portray Ed Gentry whereas Boorman wanted Lee Marvin to play the role.[4] Boorman also wanted Marlon Brando to play Lewis Medlock.[4] Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of Ed,[4] while both Donald Sutherland and Charlton Heston turned down the role of Lewis.[4] Other actors who were attached to the project included Robert Redford, Henry Fonda, George C. Scott and Warren Beatty.[4]


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.[6] 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".[7] 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.[8]

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 songwriter and producer Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, who had written the original piece, "Feudin' Banjos" (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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]


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).[12]

Critical receptionEdit

Deliverance was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1972.[13][14][15][16] The film is in the top tier of films on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with a 93% rating based on reviews from 56 critics.[17]

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."[18] 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."[19] 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."[20]

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.[21]

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."[22] 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."[23]

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".[24] However, he stated that the rape scene went "too far".[25]

Awards and nominationsEdit


American Film Institute listsEdit

Influence of the filmEdit

  • Governor Jimmy Carter established a state film commission to encourage production companies to film in Georgia. The state has "become one of the top five production destinations in the U.S".[26]
  • The canoes used in the film were displayed at the former Burt Reynolds Museum, located at 100 North U.S. Highway 1, in Jupiter, Florida. One of the canoes used (and signed by Ronny Cox) is on display in the Tallulah Falls Railroad Museum, Dillard, Georgia.
  • Following the film, tourism increased to Rabun County by the tens of thousands. By 2012, tourism was the largest source of revenue in the county.[26] 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.[27] By 2012, rafting had developed as a $20 million industry in the region.[26]
  • People have built vacation and second homes around the area's lakes.[26]
  • In June 2012, Rabun County held a Chattooga River Festival to encourage preservation of the river and its environment. It noted the 40th anniversary of the filming of Deliverance in the area, which aroused controversy.[26]
  • In 2012, producer Cory Welles and director Kevin Walker decided to make the documentary, The Deliverance of Rabun County, to explore the effects of the film on people in the county. They heard a wide range of opinions, particularly resentment at how the country people were portrayed. Others were pragmatic, and looked at the benefits of increased tourism and related businesses.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Deliverance, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  2. ^ Simon, Anna (2009-02-20). "Cable network to detail history of Lake Jocassee". The Greenville News. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
  3. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (2009-11-05). "Body double plays banjo". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Roper, Daniel M. "The Story of the Coosawattee River Gorge". North Georgia Journal (Summer 1995). Archived from the original on 2010-12-22. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
    "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."
  7. ^ Dickey, Christopher (2010). Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son. Simon and Schuster. p. 186. ISBN 1439129592.
  8. ^ "Rabun County Historical Society". Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  9. ^ "Country guitarist Arthur Smith dies". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  10. ^ Terence McArdle (6 April 2014). "Arthur Smith, guitarist who wrote 'Guitar Boogie' and 'Duelin' Banjos,' dies at 93". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  11. ^ "Artistic reunion brings Martin Cahill to life". The Irish Echo. May 27 – June 2, 1998. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  12. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973," Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  13. ^ "Greatest Films of 1972". Retrieved 2012-05-05.
  14. ^ "The Best Movies of 1972 by Rank". Retrieved 2012-05-05.
  15. ^ "Best Films of the 1970s". Archived from the original on 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2012-05-05. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  16. ^ IMDb: Year: 1972
  17. ^ "Deliverance". Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  18. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 5, 1972). "Deliverance". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
  19. ^ Champlin, Charles (August 13, 1972). "Men Against River—of Life?—in 'Deliverance'". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 17.
  20. ^ Arnold, Gary (October 5, 1972). "' Deliverance': A Gripping Piece of Work". The Washington Post. B1.
  21. ^ "Deliverance." Chicago Sun-Times.
  22. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (July 19, 1972). "Film Reviews: Deliverance". Variety. 14.
  23. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 31, 1972). "The Screen: James Dickey's 'Deliverance' Arrives". The New York Times. 21.
  24. ^ Workaholic Burt Reynolds sets up his next task: Light comedy Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963–Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 28 Nov 1976: e2.
  25. ^ "Reynolds: 'Deliverance Rape Scene Went Too Far'". 21 January 2008. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  26. ^ a b c d e f Welles, Cory (August 22, 2012). "40 years later, 'Deliverance' causes mixed feelings in Georgia". Marketplace. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  27. ^ "About us". Southeastern Expeditions. Retrieved August 19, 2013.

External linksEdit