Straw Dogs (1971 film)

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Straw Dogs
Straw dogs movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Daniel Melnick
Screenplay by Sam Peckinpah
David Zelag Goodman
Based on The Siege of Trencher's Farm 
by Gordon M. Williams
Starring Dustin Hoffman
Susan George
Music by Jerry Fielding
Cinematography John Coquillon
Edited by Paul Davies
Tony Lawson
Roger Spottiswoode
Production
company
Distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corporation
Release dates
  • November 3, 1971 (1971-11-03) (UK)
  • December 29, 1971 (1971-12-29) (US)
Running time 117 minutes[1]
113 minutes[2] (Edited cut)
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $2.2 million[3]
Box office $8 million (rentals)[3]

Straw Dogs is a 1971 psychological thriller directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. The screenplay by Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman is based upon Gordon M. Williams's 1969 novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm.[4] The film's title derives from a discussion in the Tao Te Ching that likens the ancient Chinese ceremonial straw dog to forms without substance.

The film is noted for its violent concluding sequences and a complicated rape scene. Released theatrically the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry, the film sparked heated controversy over the perceived increase of violence in cinema.[5][6]

The film premiered in U.S. cinemas on December 29, 1971. Although controversial in 1971, Straw Dogs is considered by many to be one of Peckinpah's greatest films.[7] A remake directed by Rod Lurie was released on September 16, 2011.

Plot[edit]

David Sumner, an American mathematician, comes to live with his young 'trophy' wife, Amy, in her hometown, a small village in a remote part of Cornwall, England.

Amy's return is of particular interest to her ex-boyfriend Charlie Venner and his cronies, Norman Scutt, Chris Cawsey and Phil Riddaway, who are immediately resentful of the outsider who has married one of their own. David hires the men to carry out repairs to the isolated farmhouse he and Amy have rented, Trenchers Farm. Tensions in the Sumners' marriage soon become apparent - explicitly so when Amy stands topless in a window in full view of the workmen.

When Amy discovers their dead cat hanging by a light chain in their bedroom closet, she claims the workmen are responsible. She presses him to confront them, but he refuses. Later, the men invite David to go hunting in the woods with them. During the trip, David is taken to a remote forest meadow and abandoned there. Venner returns to Trenchers Farm alone, and after Amy invites him in has sex with her in what starts out as rape but evolves into seemingly consensual sex. However, Scutt then appears, holding a shotgun on Venner. He rapes Amy also.

The next day, David, who is seemingly unaware of his wife's ordeal, fires the workmen. Later that week, the Sumners attend a church social where Amy becomes distraught after seeing the men who raped her. They leave the social early, and, while driving home through thick fog, accidentally hit the local village idiot Henry Niles, whom they take to their home. David phones the local pub about the accident. However, earlier that evening Niles had accidentally strangled a flirtatious young girl from the village, Janice Hedden, and now her father, the town drunkard, Tom, and the workmen looking for him are alerted by the phone call to Niles's whereabouts.

Soon the drunken locals, including Amy's rapists, are pounding on the door of the Sumners' home. The local magistrate, Major Scott, arrives to deal with the situation, but is accidentally shot dead by Tom. David realises that he, Amy and Niles are now in mortal danger, and prepares to defend his household.

In the ensuing mayhem all the attackers are either killed or incapacitated, as David is forced to confront the violence he has long repressed in himself.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Sam Peckinpah's two previous films, The Wild Bunch and The Ballad of Cable Hogue, had been made for Warner Bros.-Seven Arts.[8] His connection with the company ended after the chaotic filming of Cable Hogue wrapped 19 days over schedule and $3 million over budget. Left with a limited number of directing jobs, Peckinpah was forced to travel to England to direct Straw Dogs. Produced by Daniel Melnick, who had previously worked with Peckinpah on his 1966 television film Noon Wine, the screenplay was based on Gordon Williams' novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm.[9]

Peckinpah's adaptation of the novel drew inspiration from Robert Ardrey's books African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative, which argued that man was essentially a carnivore who instinctively battled over control of territory. A significant difference between the novel and the film is the Sumner couple have a daughter who is also trapped in the farmhouse. Peckinpah removed the daughter and rewrote the character of Amy Sumner as a younger and more liberated woman.[10] The film was shot on location at St Buryan, Cornwall.[11]

Beau Bridges, Stacy Keach, Sidney Poitier, Jack Nicholson, and Donald Sutherland were considered for the lead role of David Sumner before Dustin Hoffman was cast.[12] Hoffman agreed to do the film because he was intrigued by the character, a pacifist unaware of his feelings and potential for violence that were the very same feelings he abhorred in society.[13] Judy Geeson, Jacqueline Bisset, Diana Rigg, Helen Mirren, Carol White, Charlotte Rampling, and Hayley Mills were considered for the role of Amy before Susan George was finally selected.[14] Hoffman disagreed with the casting, as he felt his character would never marry such a "Lolita-ish" kind of girl. Peckinpah insisted on George, an unknown actress at that time.[15]

Reception[edit]

Straw Dogs received generally positive reviews; review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes currently holds a 91% 'fresh' rating. The website's consensus of the film is: "A violent, provocative meditation on manhood with some of the most controversial scenes ever shot for a mainstream movie".

Box office[edit]

The film earned rentals of $4.5 million in North America and $3.5 million in other countries. By 1973 it had recorded an overall profit of $1,425,000.[3]

Controversy[edit]

The film was controversial on its 1971 release, mostly because of the prolonged rape scene that is the film's centerpiece. Critics accused director Peckinpah of glamorizing and eroticising rape and of engaging in misogynistic sadism, and male chauvinism,[16][17] especially disturbed by the scene's intended ambiguity—after initially resisting, Amy appears to enjoy parts of the first rape, kissing and holding her attacker, although she later has traumatic flashbacks. It is claimed that "the enactment purposely catered to entrenched appetites for desired victim behavior and reinforces rape myths".[18] Another criticism is that all the main female characters depict straight women as perverse with every appearance of Janice and Amy used to highlight excessive sexuality.[19]

The violence provoked strong reactions, many critics seeing an endorsement of violence as redemption, and the film as fascist celebration of violence and vigilantism. Others see it as anti-violence, noting the bleak ending consequent to the violence.[5] Dustin Hoffmann viewed David as deliberately, yet subconsciously, provoking the violence, his concluding homicidal rampage being the emergence of his true self; this view was not shared by director Sam Peckinpah.[5]

The village of St Buryan was used as a location for the filming with some of the locals appearing as extras. Local author Derek Tangye reports in one of his books that they were not aware of the nature of the film at the time of filming, and were most upset to discover on its release that they had been used in a film of a nature so inconsistent with their own moral values.

Censorship[edit]

The studio edited the first rape scene before releasing the film in the United States, to earn an R rating from the MPAA.[20]

In 1984, Straw Dogs gained more notoriety in the UK after the British Board of Film Classification banned it per the newly introduced Video Recordings Act, "because of Amy's violent rape".[21] The film had been released theatrically in the United Kingdom, with the uncut version gaining an 'X' rating in 1971 and the slightly cut US R-rated print being rated '18' in 1995. In March 1999 a partially edited print of Straw Dogs, which removed most of the second rape, was refused a video certificate when the distributor lost the rights to the film after agreeing to make the requested BBFC cuts, and the full uncut version was also rejected for video three months later on the grounds that the BBFC could not pass the uncut version so soon after rejecting a cut one.

On July 1, 2002, Straw Dogs finally was certified unedited on VHS and DVD.[4] This version was uncut, and therefore included the second rape scene, in which in the BBFC's opinion "Amy is clearly demonstrated not to enjoy the act of violation".[22] The BBFC noted that:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "STRAW DOGS (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 1971-11-03. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  2. ^ "STRAW DOGS (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 2002-09-27. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  3. ^ a b c "ABC's 5 Years of Film Production Profits & Losses", Variety, 31 May 1973 p 3
  4. ^ a b "Internet Movie Database, Straw Dogs". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  5. ^ a b c Simmons, Garner (1982). Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage. University of Texas Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 0-292-76493-6. 
  6. ^ Michael Sragow. "Eyes Opening Up". salon.com. Retrieved 2007-10-24. 
  7. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  8. ^ "Internet Movie Database, Sam Peckinpah". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  9. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 391–393. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  10. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 396–397. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  11. ^ "Internet Movie Database profile of Straw Dogs". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  12. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. p. 403. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  13. ^ Simmons, Garner (1982). Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage. University of Texas Press. p. 125. ISBN 0-292-76493-6. 
  14. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. p. 410. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  15. ^ Simmons, Garner (1982). Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage. University of Texas Press. p. 126. ISBN 0-292-76493-6. 
  16. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 399–400. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  17. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 25, 426–428. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  18. ^ Melanie Williams (2005). Secrets and laws: collected essays in law, lives and literature Psychology Press, pp. 71 (or more). ISBN 1-84472-018-7, ISBN 978-1-84472-018-7
  19. ^ Linda Ruth Williams (1995). Straw Dogs: Women can only misbehave Sight & Sound Vol.5 Nº 2, pp. 26, 27 (or more). ISSN 0037-4806
  20. ^ Simmons, Garner (1982). Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage. University of Texas Press. p. 137. ISBN 0-292-76493-6. 
  21. ^ "Internet Movie Database, Trivia for Straw Dogs". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  22. ^ "BBFC passes STRAW DOGS uncut on video". 2002-07-01. 

External links[edit]