Deliverance is a 1972 American thriller film produced and directed by John Boorman. Principal cast members include Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox, and Ned Beatty in his film debut. The film is based on a 1970 novel of the same name by American author James Dickey, who has a small role in the film as a sheriff. The screenplay was written by Dickey and an uncredited Boorman.

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”.


Director John Boorman’s son Charley Boorman appears near the end of the movie as Ed’s little boy.

To minimize costs, the production wasn’t insured – and the actors did their own stunts. (For instance, Jon Voight actually climbed the cliff.)

To save costs and add to the realism, local residents were cast in the roles of the hill people.

Author of the novel and screenplay James Dickey appears at the end of the film as the sheriff.

Burt Reynolds broke his coccyx while going down the rapids when the canoe capsizes. Originally, a cloth dummy was used, but it looked too much “like a dummy going over a waterfall”. After Reynolds was injured and recuperating, he asked, “How did it look?” The director replied, “Like a dummy going over a waterfall.”

According to Turner Classic Movies, John Boorman wanted Lee Marvin and Marlon Brando to play Ed and Lewis, respectively. After reading the script, Marvin suggested that he and Brando were too old, and that Boorman should use younger actors instead. Boorman agreed, and cast Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds.

Originally, Sam Peckinpah wanted to direct the movie. When John Boorman secured the rights, Peckinpah directed Straw Dogs (1971) instead.

Ned Beatty was the only one of the four main actors to ever have paddled a canoe prior to shooting the movie, which is ironic since his character is the most inept and clumsy. The others learned on set.

“Dueling Banjos” was the first scene shot. The rest of the movie was almost entirely shot in sequence.

Billy Redden, the boy with the banjo liked Ronny Cox, and disliked Ned Beatty. When at the end of the dueling banjos scene, the script called for Billy to harden his expression towards Drew Ballinger, Cox’s character, he was unable to fake dislike for Cox. To solve the problem, they got Beatty to step towards Billy at the close of the shot. As Beatty approached, Billy hardened his expression and looked away – exactly as intended.

The movie was shot primarily on the Chattooga River, dividing South Carolina and Georgia. The year following the release of the movie, 31 people drowned attempting to travel the stretch of river where the movie was shot. Additional scenes were shot on the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia as well in Salem, South Carolina and Sylva, North Carolina. Monaca, Pennsylvania is represented in shots of the town which did not call for the actors to be present.

The cliff climbing scene was shot “day for night”, meaning that the footage was shot during the day and underexposed with a bluish tint (in post-production). Because film stocks were so slow (up until the late 1970s), and the anamorphic lenses were slow (didn’t let in as much light as spherical lenses), and a plethora of lights were often needed, day for night was common practice for many films with night scenes during that period of filmmaking. Faster film stock has made the technique less common.

Despite the title of the piece, “Dueling Banjos” actually features a banjo and a guitar.

Ned Beatty’s first film.

John Boorman discovered both Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty working in theater. Neither had substantial film experience previously.

Credited with the first recording of “Dueling Banjos” (its most common title, also known as “Feudin’ Banjos” and “The Battle Of The Banjos”) is Don Wayne Reno and Arthur Smith. Prior to “Deliverance” both parts were played with banjos, and it is the same speed all the way through. Almost all modern bluegrass bands play the “Deliverance” version in the key of G. In the movie both the guitarist and banjo players have capos on the second fret, denoting it is in the key of A.

John Boorman was looking for an actor to play the toothless one of the pair of murderous hillbillies. Burt Reynolds suggested Herbert ‘Cowboy’ Coward, who had no front teeth, stuttered and was illiterate. Reynolds had worked with Coward in a Wild West show in Maggie Valley, NC.

Unlike Ronny Cox with his guitar, actor Billy Redden did not know how to play banjo for the famous “Duelling Banjos” scene. To simulate the realistic chord playing on the banjo, another boy, who was a skilled banjo-player, played the chords with his arm reaching around at Redden’s side while Redden picked. On the soundtrack, musicians Eric Weissberg and ‘Steve Mandel (I)’ are actually playing.

When Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand were married during this shoot, Charley Boorman (then 5) served as a pageboy at the wedding.

Donald Sutherland turned down a role in this film because he objected to the violence in the script. He later admitted to regretting that decision.

Not only was this movie Ned Beatty’s first feature, his voice (laughter) is the first human sound to appear on the soundtrack.

In his memoirs Charlton Heston mentions that he declined the role of Lewis due to his commitment to filming Antony and Cleopatra (1972).

According to director John Boorman, the jig done by the filling station attendant during the “Dueling Banjos” sequence was unscripted and spontaneous on the part of the actor.

The broken bone jutting from Burt Reynolds’ leg is a broken lamb bone.

Both Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda turned down the role of “Lewis” before it was offered to Burt Reynolds, who took it.

Author James Dickey gave Burt Reynolds a few days of bow and arrow lessons and by the end, Reynolds was quite accurate and proficient with the weapon.

This movie is in film history considered to be the “breakthrough” film of Burt Reynolds. By breakthrough, it marked his transition from acting and starring into super-stardom. This film reflects the start of the period of Reynolds enormous star power and box-office pulling power, his machismo persona being mixed with a critical recognized serious dramatic performance.

In early 1971, Jack Nicholson was announced as one of leads by Los Angeles Times columnist Joyce Haber.

Bill McKinney became so identified with his chilling role as the Mountain Man that he adopted as the name of his official website.

“Dueling Banjos”, which won a Grammy for Best “Original” Song, is simply a bluegrass version of “Yankee Doodle”.

Filed under: GoreMaster 100 Films

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