The making of Deliverance was a survival story to rival the one on screen. The 1972 movie, based on James Dickey's novel of the same name, is about four friends - Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Ed (Jon Voight), Bobby (Ned Beatty), and Drew (Ronny Cox) - who take a canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River. Rapids are the least dangerous thing they have to face. After an unpleasant encounter with aggressive hillbillies, the men find themselves running for their lives.
Director John Boorman insisted on making his film feel as authentic and real as possible, and his efforts made Deliverance one of the scariest movies ever. The following anecdotes will take you behind the scenes of Deliverance to show you how he accomplished that mission. During production, all the main actors nearly perished, and there was a fair amount of drama off-camera, as well. Deliverance is to wilderness survival movies as Goodfellas is to mob movies - a prime example of a film that gets every last detail exactly right. More than 45 years later, it still retains its raw, unforgettable power.
Jon Voight wanted to make sure the perils faced in Deliverance were palpable for the audience. This quest for authenticity nearly caused him to plummet off a cliff. The actor told The Guardian he wanted a rock-climbing scene filmed in close-up, which would prevent the use of a stuntman.
"I was about 10 feet up on the face, which was slippery and almost perpendicular," he said. "I told the two grips below me: 'If I start to fall off, I’m going to push off the rocks. And you’ll catch me.' I started to slip, called out and one of them caught me."
The danger was worsened by the fact that a sharp rock was mere inches from the actor's head when he was caught.
One of the most difficult-to-watch scenes involves the discovery of Drew's body. His arm is twisted up around his head, which can make even the most steadfast viewer queasy. That effect was not achieved through make-up or prosthetics. It's Ronny Cox's real arm.
The actor told The Wrap he contracted a mild case of polio as a child. This left him with an ability to "do this thing where my shoulder comes out of place and just completely dislocates." During production, he mentioned this fact to Boorman, who thought it would be great for Drew's demise. Cox agreed, intentionally dislodging his shoulder for the sequence.
When fans think of Deliverance, the words "squeal like a pig" probably come to mind. One of Bobby's tormentors mutters the line as he defiles the canoer. There have been various rumors about the source of that line. In the DVD audio commentary, John Boorman sets the record straight, attributing it to a crew member.
The director said the studio wanted him to shoot two versions of the scene, one with dialogue suitable for an eventual network television airing. Boorman didn't want two versions, though, so he tried to come up with something powerful but also profanity-free. When someone on set said "squeal like a pig," Boorman knew he had a winner.
Deliverance author James Dickey didn't really care for John Boorman as a director. Then again, the notoriously picky writer might not have been happy with anyone other than himself directing the film. At one point, his rage got the best of him and the writer resorted to physical aggression toward Boorman.
Dickey frequently clashed with the director over the movie's tone and staging. Tensions came to a head between them one night, and an inebriated Dickey struck Boorman in the face. Dickey's blow cracked four of Boorman's teeth.
Despite the tussle, Dickey still did his cameo as a sheriff.