Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byJohn Boorman
Screenplay byJames Dickey
Based onDeliverance
by James Dickey
Produced byJohn Boorman
CinematographyVilmos Zsigmond
Edited byTom Priestley
Music byEric Weissberg
Elmer Enterprises
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • July 30, 1972 (1972-07-30)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million
Box office$46.1 million[1]

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 and box office success, earning three Academy Award nominations and five Golden Globe Award nominations.

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-picking country boy. It is also notorious for its brutal depiction of a sodomous rape. 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".[2][3]


Four Atlanta businessmen—Lewis Medlock, Ed Gentry, Bobby Trippe, and Drew Ballinger—decide to canoe down a river in the remote northern Georgia wilderness before it is dammed. Lewis, an avid outdoorsman, is the leader; Ed has been on several trips but lacks Lewis's ego, while Bobby and Drew are novices. En route to their launch site, the men, in particular Bobby, are rude toward the locals, who are hostile to the "city boys". At a local gas station, Drew, with his guitar, engages a young banjo-playing boy in a musical duel. The duel is mutually enjoyable, and some of the locals break into dance at the sound of it. However, the boy does not acknowledge Drew when prompted for a friendly handshake.

The four friends travel in pairs and their two canoes become separated. Ed and Bobby encounter a pair of mountain men emerging from the woods, one carrying a shotgun and missing two front teeth. Following an argument, Bobby is forced by the men to undress and the unarmed man rapes him, demanding he "squeal like a pig", while Ed is tied to a tree and held at gunpoint. Lewis sneaks up and kills the rapist using his bow and arrow; Ed retrieves the gun and the other mountain man flees into the woods. After a heated debate between Lewis and Drew, Ed and Bobby vote to side with Lewis's plan to bury the body and continue on as if nothing had happened. The four continue downriver but the canoes reach a dangerous stretch of rapids. As Drew and Ed reach the rapids in the lead canoe, Drew falls into the water.

The canoes collide on the rocks, throwing the three remaining men into the river. One of the canoes is smashed. Lewis breaks his femur and the others are washed ashore alongside him in a gorge. Lewis, who believes Drew has been shot, encourages Ed to climb to the top of the gorge and ambush the other mountain man, whom they believe to be stalking them from above. Ed reaches an overhang and hides out until morning, when a man appears above him with a rifle; Ed clumsily shoots and manages to kill him, but falls backwards, stabbing himself with one of his own arrows in the process. The dead man seemingly has all his teeth, but on closer inspection, is revealed to be wearing dentures. Ed and Bobby weigh down the body in the river to ensure it will never be found, and when they encounter Drew's body downriver, they do the same.

Upon finally reaching the small town of Aintry, they take Lewis to the hospital. The men carefully concoct a cover story for the authorities about Drew's death, lying about their adventure to Sheriff Bullard in order to escape a possible double murder charge. The sheriff does not believe them, but has no evidence to arrest them and tells the men to not do this kind of thing again and to never come back. The trio vow to keep their story of death and survival a secret for the rest of their lives.

Some time after, a bloated hand rises from the lake - only to be revealed as a nightmare from the experience that has tormented Ed.


Ned Beatty's wife, Belinda Beatty, and director John Boorman's son, Charley Boorman, have brief appearances as the wife and young child of Jon Voight's character.


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. Filming took place from May to August 1971.[4]

A scene was also shot at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church cemetery. This site has since been flooded and lies 130 feet (40 m) under the surface of Lake Jocassee, on the border between Oconee and Pickens counties in South Carolina.[5][6] The dam shown under construction is Jocassee Dam near Salem, South Carolina.

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.[7] 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.[8]


Casting was by Lynn Stalmaster. Dickey had initially wanted Sam Peckinpah to direct the film.[7] Dickey also wanted Gene Hackman to portray Ed Gentry whereas Boorman wanted Lee Marvin to play the role.[7] Boorman also wanted Marlon Brando to play Lewis Medlock.[7] Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of Ed,[7] while both Donald Sutherland and Charlton Heston turned down the role of Lewis.[7] Other actors who were considered for the film included Robert Redford, Henry Fonda, George C. Scott and Warren Beatty.[7]


The film is infamous for the cost cutting by the studio in an effort to kill it[9] and having the actors perform their own stunts, such as Jon Voight notably climbing the cliff himself.[10] Reynolds requested to have one scene re-shot with himself in a canoe rather than a dummy as it tumbled over a real waterfall.[11] Reynolds recalled his shoulder and head hitting rocks and floating downstream with all of his clothes torn off, then waking up with director Boorman at his bedside.[11] Reynolds asked "How'd it look?" and Boorman said, "It looked like a dummy falling over a waterfall."[11] Beatty almost drowned and Reynolds cracked his tailbone.[12]

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".[13] 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"

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 Bill McKinney (who played Beatty's rapist) were improvising the scene.[14] 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".[15] Boorman, 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.[16] Reynolds later recalled the scene as so uncomfortable cameramen avoided watching, and Reynolds opted to interrupt the filming. Reynolds said, "I asked John Boorman, the director, 'Why did you let it go that long?' He said, 'I wanted to take it as far as I could with the audience, and I figured you'd run in when it got too far.'"[17]

Soundtrack and copyright dispute

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 onscreen credits state that the song is an arrangement of the song "Feudin' Banjos", showing Combine Music Corp as the copyright owner. Songwriter and producer Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, who had written "Feudin' Banjos" in 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.[18] 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.[19]

Joe Boyd, who was producing the music for the movie Deliverance, offered "Duelling Banjos" to Bill Keith, but as Bill was travelling in Europe and wanted to visit a girl in Ireland, he turned it down suggesting Eric Weissberg instead. [20]

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.[21]


Chart performance for Deliverance soundtrack
Chart (1973) Position
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[22] 61


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).[23]

Critical reception

Deliverance was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1972.[24][25][26] On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 89% rating based on reviews from 65 critics, with an average rating of 8.40/10. The site's consensus states: "Given primal verve by John Boorman's unflinching direction and Burt Reynolds' star-making performance, Deliverance is a terrifying adventure."[27] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 80 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[28]

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."[29] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "an engrossing adventure, a demonstrable labor of love" carried by Voight and Reynolds.[30] 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."[31]

Not all reviews were positive. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a mixed 2.5 stars out of a possible 4. He declared the film was "admittedly effective on the level of simple adventure" and had good performances, particularly from Voight and Reynolds. However, Ebert also wrote Deliverance "totally fails [in] its attempt to make some kind of significant statement about its action [...] 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."[32]

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."[33] 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."[34]

"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".[35] However, he stated that the rape scene went "too far".[17]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture John Boorman Nominated [36]
Best Director Nominated
Best Film Editing Tom Priestley Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond Nominated [37]
Best Film Editing Tom Priestley Nominated
Best Soundtrack Jim Atkinson, Walter Goss, and Doug Turner Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures John Boorman Nominated [38]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [39]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Jon Voight Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture John Boorman Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture James Dickey Nominated
Best Original Song – Motion Picture "Dueling Banjos"
Music by Arthur Smith;
Adaptation by Eric Weissberg
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 7th Place [40]
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted [41]
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 9th Place
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama – Adapted from Another Medium James Dickey Nominated [42]

American Film Institute lists


Following the film's release, Governor Jimmy Carter established a state film commission to encourage television and movie production in Georgia. The state has "become one of the top five production destinations in the U.S".[43] Tourism increased to Rabun County by the tens of thousands after the film's release. By 2012, tourism was the largest source of revenue in the county, and rafting had developed as a $20 million industry in the region.[43] Jon Voight's stunt double for this film, Claude Terry, later purchased equipment used in the movie from Warner Brothers. He founded a whitewater rafting adventure company on the Chattooga River, Southeastern Expeditions.[44] Payson Kennedy, the stunt double for Ned Beatty, established the Nantahala Outdoor Center with his wife and Horace Holden along the Nantahala River in Swain County, North Carolina, in 1972, the same year that Deliverance was released.[45]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Deliverance, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  2. ^ "Cinematic Classics, Legendary Stars, Comedic Legends and Novice Filmmakers Showcase the 2008 Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  3. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  4. ^ "Deliverance (1972) - Filming & production - IMDb". IMDb.
  5. ^ Simon, Anna (February 20, 2009). "Cable network to detail history of Lake Jocassee". The Greenville News. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved February 25, 2009.
  6. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (November 5, 2009). "Body double plays banjo". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved November 6, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Lyttleton, Oliver (July 30, 2012). "5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Deliverance,' Released 40 Years Ago Today". IndieWire. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  8. ^ Roper, Daniel M. "The Story of the Coosawattee River Gorge". North Georgia Journal (Summer 1995). Archived from the original on December 22, 2010.
  9. ^ Adam Scovell (July 27, 2022). "How masterly horror Deliverance set a controversial trend". BBC.
  10. ^ Pratt, Sean. "Deliverance | SBIFF". Retrieved May 29, 2023.
  11. ^ a b c "That Time Burt Reynolds Tried To Go Down A Waterfall For A Movie Stunt". Cinemablend. September 20, 2016.
  12. ^ Geoff Boucher (June 17, 2012). "'Deliverance' crew returns to the river". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Culture, Center for the Study of Southern. "Revisiting Deliverance". Retrieved May 29, 2023.
  14. ^ Burger, Mark. (March 19, 2006). "Beatty Given Master of Cinema Award; Character Actor Is a Veteran of More than 200 Film and Television Productions Archived March 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine", Winston-Salem Journal, Page B1
    "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."
  15. ^ Dickey, Christopher (2010). Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son. Simon and Schuster. p. 186. ISBN 978-1439129593.
  16. ^ "Rabun County Historical Society". Archived from the original on July 15, 2018. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Reynolds: 'Deliverance Rape Scene Went Too Far'". January 21, 2008. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  18. ^ "Country guitarist Arthur Smith dies". BBC News. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  19. ^ McArdle, Terence (April 6, 2014). "Arthur Smith, guitarist who wrote 'Guitar Boogie' and 'Duelin' Banjos,' dies at 93". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  20. ^ Boyd, Joe, White Bicycles – Making Music in the 1960s, Serpent's Tail, 2006. Page 238. ISBN 1-85242-910-0
  21. ^ "Artistic reunion brings Martin Cahill to life". The Irish Echo. May 27 – June 2, 1998. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 281. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  24. ^ "Greatest Films of 1972". Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  25. ^ "The Best Movies of 1972 by Rank". Archived from the original on November 6, 2014. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  26. ^ "Best Films of the 1970s". Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  27. ^ "Deliverance". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 7, 2023.
  28. ^ "Deliverance". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved May 6, 2022.
  29. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 5, 1972). "The Movies: Deliverance". Chicago Tribune. p. Section 2, Page 5 – via
  30. ^ Champlin, Charles (August 13, 1972). "Men Against River—of Life?—in 'Deliverance'". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 17.
  31. ^ Arnold, Gary (October 5, 1972). "' Deliverance': A Gripping Piece of Work". The Washington Post. B1.
  32. ^ "Deliverance". Chicago Sun-Times.
  33. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (July 19, 1972). "Film Reviews: Deliverance". Variety. 14.
  34. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 31, 1972). "The Screen: James Dickey's 'Deliverance' Arrives". The New York Times. 21.
  35. ^ Siskel, Gene (November 28, 1976). "Workaholic Burt Reynolds sets up his next task: Light comedy". Chicago Tribune. p. e2.
  36. ^ "The 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved December 6, 2011.
  37. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1973". BAFTA. 1973. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  38. ^ "25th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  39. ^ "Deliverance – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  40. ^ "1972 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  41. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  42. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  43. ^ a b Welles, Cory (August 22, 2012). "40 years later, 'Deliverance' causes mixed feelings in Georgia". Marketplace. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  44. ^ "About us". Southeastern Expeditions. April 8, 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  45. ^ Knoepp, Lilly (September 2, 2019). "Exploring Southern Appalachia: 'Deliverance' And Beyond". Blue Ridge Public Radio. Retrieved November 1, 2020.

Further reading