The world never heard banjos in quite the same way after the 1972 release of Director John Boorman's seminal outdoor adventure DELIVERANCE.
With the passing of Burt Reynolds this week, I wanted to go back and watch one of his films. It's easy to forget how good Reynolds could be and he's excellent in his role as Lewis, the cocky, devil-may-care outdoorsman dragging along three other men on a weekend river run from hell.
Lewis brings his friend Ed, (Jon Voight) and lesser acquaintances, soft spoken Drew (Ronnie Cox) and Bobby (Ned Beatty) deep into the Appalachian backwoods to run a river that's about to be buried deep under a new dam.
For Lewis, its man versus his own limitations. For the rest, its a relaxing weekend gone mad.
Director Boorman (Excalibur) translates James Dickey's terrific novel to the screen brilliantly, building creeping unease almost immediately as our friends arrive in small towns that could be on another planet where education, money and a full set of teeth seem like luxuries.
When Bobby and Ed are ambushed in the woods by two terrifying hillbillies, the film turns terrifying. Sexually assaulted and fearing death, Lewis puts his crossbow into action and the film flips into a test of survival against the river, the locals and the men's sense of right and wrong.
Seeing the film all these years later, the acting holds up across the board, with Reynolds, Cox and Voight all at the top of their game and Beatty suffering one of the most notorious film humiliations of all time. Watching Beatty in the scenes in town toward the end of the film, his reactions are powerful. The river scenes are fantastic, filled with incredible stunts, strong action and real tension.
There are ten minute sequences that take place with only the sounds of water and nature in the background, building suspense in slow, subtle twists.
Boorman casts all locals in most of the parts, bringing a scary authenticity to these unseen backwater swamps of America not on anyone's list to visit.
Reynolds broke his tailbone going over the rapids. That really is Jon Voight climbing the rock wall for the kill. The dance that the old man at the gas station does was unscripted and he's not an actor. If that scene doesn't scare you, I dont know what will.
The photography by Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters) is fantastic. Special effects artist Marcel Vercoutere does for broken bones and arrows here what he did so brilliantly with the devil in "The Exorcist" the following year.
Reynolds said this was his favorite film he ever made and his best performance. It's hard to argue.
At one point as Lewis, Reynolds says "Sometimes you have to lose yourself 'fore you can find anything."
By the quiet closing moments of DELIVERANCE, you realize how prophetic those words were.
Suspense filled and disturbing, DELIVERANCE gets an A.
I never want to hear those damn banjos again....