Suspense, thrills, and spills. It is no wonder that this film has survived as a classic for over forty years. Its talented cast members came through to enhance the realism, doing their own stunts knowing the danger involved. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by James Dickey and published in 1970. “Deliverance” was nominated for three Academy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards, although it was not a winner in either category. The musical piece “Dueling Banjos” gained prominence through this film as one of the characters, Drew, played his guitar in harmony with a young boy playing his banjo, a highlight of the film.
Canoe in Rapids by Winslow Homer Wikimedia
Lewis (Burt Reynolds) was a seasoned outdoorsman who had sometimes taken Ed (Jon Voight) along with him on their hunting trips. Two novices joined then on their latest adventure, Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Drew (Ronny Cox).
Learning that his old hunting ground, the Cahulawassee River in the northern Georgia wilderness, would soon become a huge lake when a dam was built on the river, Lewis wanted to make a canoe trip into this dangerous area for one last time.
Leaving their two cars in town, Lewis persuaded a man to drive their cars to the town of Aintry where the party would retrieve them at the end of their run. They paid the backwoodsman $40 to do this chore. At this point, Drew took out his guitar and started to play “Dueling Banjos” when he was joined in the performance by a young teenager with a banjo. A great diversion before the adventure got under way.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Burt Reynolds - Wikimedia
The Perfect Setting
It must be pointed out that the scenery was breathtaking throughout the entire film. The river scenes, especially those containing dangerous rapids, were priceless. The trees and flora along the river banks were at their peak. Most of the scenes were taken in the state of Georgia and in Beaufort, South Carolina. The fictional Cahulawassee River is actually the Chattooga River in Georgia. Members of the cast navigated their canoes through the rapids, a herculean effort, and John Voight performed his own climb up the side of a stone cliff, eschewing the need for a double. He received top billing in this film, over Burt Reynolds, and rightly so.
The Men Encounter Danger
The four men navigated their two canoes, paddling in pairs and encountering several dangerous rapids and rocks on their way. The viewer was left to wonder how they were photographed as it was dangerous for anyone to stay afloat on that roiling water, let alone a cameraman with his equipment. Early on, the men became separated and Bobby and Ed’s canoe was grounded. Two men came out of the woods, carrying shotguns. They were apparently moonshiners, afraid that the police would discover their lair. They forced Bobby to strip down and bound Ed to a tree with a leather strap around his neck after cutting him on the chest with a knife. Lewis spotted them as he and Drew came down the river. He killed one of the men with his bow and arrow, while the second man ran off into the woods. After some argument, it was decided to take Lewis’ suggestion to bury the body and continue their trip as though nothing had happened. The scene of the men digging a grave with their bare hands was a sight to behold.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Jon Voight - Wikimedia
As they continued downriver, Ed and Drew were in the lead canoe. Drew was not wearing his life vest and fell in the river. Lewis claimed that he had heard a gunshot and that Drew had been shot. The canoes collided and the other three men fell in the river also. Lewis broke his leg and all managed to get on shore.
Ed spotted a stalker at the top of a huge cliff, holding a rifle. He waited until dark and killed the man with his bow and arrow. When he looked at the man’s face, he noticed that he had a full dental plate, whereas the outlaw that had harassed them was missing several teeth. Ed and Bobby weighted the man’s body with a huge stone and buried him in the river. They found Drew’s body and buried him in the river also.
The three men were able to salvage one canoe from the river and Ed and Bobby put Lewis in the middle while they each manned the oars for the perilous trip to Aintry. The outlaws they had first encountered told them that the river did not go to Aintry, which added to the suspense when the men continued their run.
They Reach Their Destination
Thankfully, they did reach Aintry, and were able to borrow a phone to call an ambulance for Lewis. He was unconscious at this point and seemed in danger. Ed and Bobby were thankful that the two cars were there. They had feared that the man they hired might not have been true to his word.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Ned Beatty Wikimedia
The Men are Questioned by the Sheriff
The doctors told them that Lewis might possibly lose his leg, but it was uncertain at this time if it could be saved. Ed and Bobby decided that they should tell the authorities that Drew’s death was an accident rather than the result of a gunshot wound. They were questioned at length by the sheriff who did not quite believe their story, but he had no evidence to arrest them. They were questioned at length about whether they had encountered another hunter in their travels. Apparently, the brother-in-law of one of the policeman had gone hunting in the woods on his own and had not come home. There was no trace of him, and no reports of a man killed in the woods. The sheriff made Ed and Bobby promise never to come back to Aintry, and they were happy to comply.
No Happy Ending
Ed promised Bobby that he would talk to Drew’s wife. He said that Drew was a good husband and father to his two sons. Ed himself had a wife and young boy to return to. In fact, Lewis had asked him early on why he liked to come on these adventures when he had such a nice home life. The final scene shows Ed awaking at night from a nightmare, and being consoled by his wife.
I enjoyed this film even though it was not uplifting. The actors were superb; the suspense was captivating. We are grateful that old films can be restored and used again. They are priceless.
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