Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds in Deliverance (1972)

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James Dickey’s Deliverance Novel

Deliverance is based on the 1970 novel of the same name by American author James Dickey (1923-1997). Dickey adapted his own novel for Warner Bros. Pictures and Elmer Enterprises. John Boorman (Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific) produced/directed and Vilmos Zsigmond rendered the beautiful cinematography.

Deliverance’s famous theme song, “Dueling Banjos,” was performed by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel. Released as Warner Bros. single 7659, the energetic “Dueling Banjos” hit number one on the pop charts in 1973.

Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox Star

Jon Voight (Ed Gentry), Burt Reynolds (Lewis Medlock), Ned Beatty (Bobby Trippe) and Ronny Cox (Drew Ballinger) head the cast. Deliverance marked the screen debut of Ned Beatty, whose previous work in the theater had caught the eye of John Boorman.

Other players in the cast include Ed Ramey (Old Man), Billy Redden (Lonnie, boy with banjo), Seamon Glass (First Griner), Randall Deal (Second Griner), Bill McKinney (Mountain Man) and Herbert “Cowboy” Coward (Toothless Man). In order to save on filming costs, producers cast many locals in the roles of mountain folk. They also drafted their own screenwriter, James Dickey, to play the part of Sheriff Bullard.

Deliverance Filmed in Georgia and the Carolinas

Budgeted at $2 million, Deliverance was shot in Georgia and the Carolinas. Georgia’s Chattooga River doubled as the fictional Cahulawassee River while Sylva, North Carolina, portrayed the decaying town that serves as the starting point for the river trip. Other locations included Beaufort and Lake Jocasse, South Carolina, and Clayton, Rabun Gap, Lake Tallulah Falls and Tallulah Gorge, Georgia.

Deliverance – a risky, uninsured production – relied on the actors performing their own stunts, with the athletic Jon Voight scaling a steep river cliff. Voight pulled it off without injury, but Burt Reynolds wasn’t so fortunate, breaking his tailbone following a spill into the river.

Deliverance: Squeal Like a Pig

The movie begins with four Atlanta suburbanites heading into the sticks for a weekend trip down the Cahulawassee River. After paying several locals $40 to drive their vehicles to the dying town of Antry, the four men embark on their white-water odyssey. What begins as an innocent trek into the wilds of Georgia soon degenerates into something else, with the men battling for their very survival.

Deliverance is pure James Dickey, effectively employing a rugged man versus nature theme with a bit of a twist. The four principals are superb, with Burt Reynolds turning in an exceptional performance as the macho risk taker and skilled archer Lewis Medlock. “Insurance? I never been insured in my life. There’s no risk,” Reynolds scoffs.

Deliverance comes alive with the sights and sounds of the southern wilderness. The harrowing white water sequences are beautifully photographed as are the scenes depicting the dying river towns. In one, workers are seen unearthing caskets from a cemetery, which will soon be underwater as part of a giant reservoir.

Deliverance’s most famous scene – for better or worse – remains the brutal sexual assault on Ned Beatty by a pair of gun-toting mountain men. “Squeal like a pig,” one of them orders, delivering one of the most quoted lines in movie history.

Deliverance Release, Reviews, Box Office, DVD

  • Deliverance was released on July 30, 1972.
  • “The movie is admittedly effective on the level of simple adventure,” reported Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times (10/9/72).
  • Three Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing.
  • Grossed $22.6 million (#4, 1972).
  • Deliverance Deluxe Edition DVD (Warner, 2007).

“We killed a man, Drew. Shot him in the back. A mountain man. A cracker,” Burt Reynolds tells Ronny Cox.

Can you hear the banjos?

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