Article 3203 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2010
Posting Date: 5-22-2010
Directed by John Boorman
Featuring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty
What it is: Tense adventure drama
Four men from the city take a canoe trip on a backwoods river prior to the area being converted into a huge lake. When two of the men are sexually assaulted by backwoodsman, the other two come to their rescue and kill one of the assaulters. Then they are faced with a dilemma; report the incident to the police and face the danger of not being believed due to being strangers in a close-knit community, or try to cover up the incident. And the other assaulter is still out there…
I’ve always admired this harrowing exploration of what it must be like to be strangers in a strange land caught in a compromising situation, and the movie does such a fine job of exploring its various themes (civilization vs. wilderness, guilt, fear, what men will do when they are desperate, etc.) that it remains engrossing from beginning to end. Add to that the fine performances from the four leads (two of which, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, were making their movie debuts) as well as their courage and commitment (it’s amazing to see how well they remain in character while performing their own stunts), the bravura direction of John Boorman, the wonderful cinematography and the stunning use of “Dueling Banjos”, and you have an indelible cinematic experience. Even the minor parts are well performed, with Billy Redden as the banjo-playing boy, Bill McKinney and Herbert Coward as the two backwoodsman, and author James Dickey as a sheriff standouts. The occasional ambiguities only add to the tension of the story. I certainly don’t question this movie’s status as a classic.
However, for this series, the main question is whether it qualifies for inclusion here. I’m covering it because “The Motion Picture Guide” classifies it as horror, but since I’ve questioned their genre assignments, I feel compelled to do so again. There’s no doubt that it’s scary at moments, and the whole story could be described as nightmarish, but it’s really not a horror-style nightmare. Perhaps the most relevant element in this regard is the movie’s touching upon the concepts of degeneracy and inbreeding, especially during the opening scenes. Still, on a lighter note, I can’t help but remember a segment of SCTV in which Count Floyd hosts a “scary” talk show, with one of his guests being the banjo-playing boy from this movie.