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File:Deliverance poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed by John Boorman
Produced by John Boorman
Screenplay by James Dickey
John Boorman
Based on Deliverance 
by James Dickey
Starring Jon Voight
Burt Reynolds
Ned Beatty
Ronny Cox
Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond
Edited by Tom Priestley
Elmer Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 30, 1972 (1972-07-30)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million
Box office $46.1 million[1]

Deliverance is a 1972 American dramatic thriller film produced and directed by John Boorman, and stars Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, with the latter two making their feature film debuts. The film is based on the 1970 novel of the same name by American author James Dickey, who has a small role in the film as the Sheriff. The screenplay was written by Dickey and an uncredited Boorman.

Widely acclaimed as a landmark picture, the film is noted both for the music scene near the beginning, with one of the city men playing "Dueling Banjos" on guitar with a banjo-playing country boy, that sets the tone for what lies ahead—a trip into unknown and potentially dangerous wilderness—and for its visceral and notorious male 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 businessmen, Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds), Ed Gentry (Jon Voight), Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty) and Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox), 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, an experienced outdoorsman, is the leader. Ed is also a veteran of several trips but lacks Lewis' machismo. Bobby and Drew are novices.

On Friday afternoon, the foursome, traveling in two cars, arrive at a poor, Appalachian residential area near the river. It is apparent the people are poverty-stricken and likely inbred. Lewis tries to find someone who can drive their cars to a take out point at Aintry to be picked up on Sunday. Drew, who has a guitar, engages a local boy with a banjo in a friendly "duel." When Drew tries to shake the boy's hand, he dismissively turns away.

Travelling in pairs, the foursome's two canoes are briefly separated. The occupants of one canoe (Bobby and Ed), rest their canoe along the river to take a rest. Ed notices two mountain men descending towards them from the woodland. A verbal confrontation ensues between Ed and Bobby and the two mountain men, one of whom wields a shotgun. The mountain men are hostile, and unhappy with the men's presence along the river. When Ed and Bobby attempt to return to their canoe they are forced at gunpoint into the woodland. Ed is tied to a tree, and cut with his own knife, while Bobby is forced to strip naked. One of the mountain men then attacks Bobby, and physically molests and humiliates him, forcing him to 'squeal like a pig.' The mountain man then violently rapes Bobby while Ed looks on. As the rapist and other mountain man turn their attention to Ed, Lewis shoots the rapist from behind with his recurve bow, Ed takes control of the shotgun in the commotion and the other mountain man escapes into the woods.

An intense debate then takes place between the four men as they try to decide what to do. Lewis is worried that he will be tried for murder in a hostile backwoods community after shooting the rapist from behind. Humiliated and angry, Bobby expresses his desire that no one should ever find out what happened to him, while Drew passionately argues that the right thing to do is to inform the authorities, and Ed is conflicted. Eventually they take a vote and, against Drew's protests, the men side with Lewis' recommendation to bury the body and get back to their cars. The men bury the dead rapist in a shallow grave and then return to their canoes to get back to Aintry. As the men make their way down the river it becomes apparent that Drew is highly distressed. As Lewis shouts for the men to hurry up down to the canoe Drew suddenly falls into the river.

After Drew's fall, the survivors' canoes collide on the rocks, throwing Lewis, Bobby and Ed into the river. Lewis breaks his femur and the others are washed ashore alongside him. Encouraged by the badly injured Lewis, who believes Drew was shot and that they are being stalked by the other mountain man, Ed climbs a nearby rock face in order to dispatch the other mountain man using his bow while Bobby stays behind to look after Lewis. Ed reaches the top and hides out until the next morning, when a mountain man appears on the top of the cliff with a rifle, looking down into the gorge where Lewis and Bobby are located. Though they look alike, it is unclear whether this is the same mountain man that ran away from them. Ed clumsily shoots and manages to kill him, accidentally stabbing himself with one of his own spare arrows in the process. Ed and Bobby weigh down the mountain man's body in the river to ensure it will never be found, and repeat the same with Drew's body which they encounter downriver.

Upon finally reaching the small town of Aintry, they get the injured Lewis to the hospital. The men carefully concoct a cover story for the authorities about Drew's death and disappearance being an accident, lying about their ordeal to Sheriff Bullard in order to escape a possible double murder charge. The sheriff advises them one of the locals is missing, having not returned from a hunting trip. The sheriff clearly doesn't believe them, but has no evidence to arrest them and simply tells the men never to come back. They readily agree. The trio vow to keep their story of death and survival a secret for the rest of their lives. In the final scene, Ed awakens screaming from a nightmare in which a dead man's hand slowly 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 got into a bitter argument with producer-director John Boorman, who had rewritten Dickey's script. They had a brief fistfight in which Boorman's nose was broken and four of his teeth shattered. 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.[4]


The film is famous for cutting costs by not insuring the production and having the actors do 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 doing 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."

Notorious line

Several people have been credited with the now-famous line including the phrase, "squeal like a pig." Ned Beatty said he thought of it while he and actor McKinney were improvising the scene.[5]

James Dickey's son, Christopher Dickey, in his memoir about the film production, Summer of Deliverance, said that one of the crewmen suggested that Beatty's character, Bobby, "squeal like a pig," to add some backwoods horror to the scene and make it more shocking.[page needed] According to Boorman's running commentary on the home media releases, the studio wanted the scene shot two ways, one of which would be acceptable for TV. Boorman did not want to do this. He decided that the phrase "squeal like a pig", suggested by Frank Rickman, a Clayton native, was a good replacement for the dialogue in the script. It would work for both the theatrical and TV versions.[citation needed]

Soundtrack and copyright dispute

The film's soundtrack brought new attention to the banjo 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 wrote 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.[6] Smith asked Warner Bros. to include his name on the official soundtrack listing, but reportedly asked to be omitted from the movie credits because he found the film offensive.[7]

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.


Deliverance was a box office success in the United States, becoming the fifth-highest grossing film of 1972 after grossing a domestic total 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).[8]

Critical reception

Deliverance was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1972.[9][10][11][12] The film is in the top tier of films on the critical review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with a 93% "fresh" rating.[13]

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.[14]

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 in a list of The 100 Greatest Films.

Reynolds later called it "the best film I've ever been in."[15]

Awards and nominations


American Film Institute lists

Influence of the film

  • Then-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."[19]
  • The canoes used in the film are displayed at the 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.[19] 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.[20] By 2012 rafting had developed as a $20 million industry in the region.[19]
  • People have built vacation and second homes around the area's lakes.[19]
  • 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.[19]
  • 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 landmark film on people in the county. They heard a wide range of opinions, particularly resentment at how the country people were portrayed. Others are pragmatic and look at the benefits of increased tourism and related businesses.[19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Deliverance, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 21, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Simon, Anna (2009-02-20). "Cable network to detail history of Lake Jocassee". The Greenville News. Retrieved 2009-02-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Heldenfels, Rich (2009-11-05). "Body double plays banjo". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved 2009-11-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Roper, Daniel M. "The Story of the Coosawattee River Gorge". North Georgia Journal (Summer 1995). Retrieved 7 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    "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."
  6. "Country guitarist Arthur Smith dies". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  9. "Greatest Films of 1972". Retrieved 2012-05-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The Best Movies of 1972 by Rank". Retrieved 2012-05-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Best Films of the 1970s". Retrieved 2012-05-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. IMDb: Year: 1972
  13. "Deliverance". Retrieved Sep 4, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Deliverance." Chicago Sun-Times.
  15. Workaholic Burt Reynolds sets up his next task: Light comedy Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 28 Nov 1976: e2.
  16. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  17. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  18. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 Cory Welles, "40 years later, 'Deliverance' causes mixed feelings in Georgia", Marketplace, 22 August 2012, accessed 27 August 2014
  20. Southeastern Expeditions. Retrieved 8/19/2013.

External links