Deliverance: 50 Years Later

Written by Andrew Linn on July 25, 2022

This Saturday, July 30, will be the 50 th anniversary of when the film Deliverance premiered in New York City theaters. It premiered in Atlanta theaters on August 11, and the rest of America on August 18.

Deliverance was based on the 1970 novel of the same name by James Dickey, who wrote the movie’s screenplay and even portrayed a sheriff at the end of the film. It tells the story of four men: Ed Gentry (Jon Voight) Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds), Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty), and Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox) who decide to canoe down a river in Georgia before it is dammed.

After a dueling banjos scene, the four men travel down the river, only to have unfortunate and horrific experiences. Bobby and Ed are confronted by a pair of mountain men portrayed by Bill McKinney and Herbert “Cowboy” Coward. Ed is tried to a tree while Bobby is raped (and forced to squeal like a pig) by McKinney’s character. Coward’s character is about to rape Ed when Lewis and Drew come to the rescue. Bobby’s rapist is killed, while the other mountain man escapes. After burying the rapist, the four men continue on their journey. Later, Drew dies of unspecified circumstances, Lewis breaks his leg, and Ed kills a man believed to be the other mountain man with a bow and arrow (but then falls down and accidentally stabs himself with another arrow). Ed recovers, and Drew is buried, as is the man killed by Ed.

After reaching civilization, the three men create a cover-up story for the authorities and later go their separate ways.

Needless to say, Deliverance is best known for the dueling banjos and rape

Here is some trivia about the film from the Internet Movie Database

The movie doesn’t explain the title, but the book states that what the city boys are trying to find in the backwoods is deliverance from the stress of modern life.

This was Beatty’s first feature*, and he spent the rest of his career hearing fans and passersbys yell the infamous squeal line to him. His response varied, but he did pen an opinion piece in the New York Times on the subject.

*Interesting way for someone to start a career in acting.

Bill McKinney became so closely identified with his role as the Mountain Man that he adopted as the name of his official website. Since his death, the domain name is available for purchase.

Bill McKinney sought advice from his friend Bruce Dern about his performance (as the hillbilly rapist) as it was his first significant film role. Dern told him he needed to make Ned Beatty as scared and nervous of him as possible. Consequently, McKinney kept his distance from Beatty on set and during meal breaks, would sit a couple of tables away from Beatty, and stare at him relentlessly.

The movie was shot primarily on the Chattooga River, which divides South Carolina and Georgia. Additional scenes were shot on the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia, Salem, South Carolina, and Sylva, North Carolina. Shots of the town which did not call for the actors to be present were shot in Monaca, Pennsylvania.

Following the film, tourism increased to Rabun County by the tens of thousands. By 2012, tourism was the largest source of revenue in the county. Jon Voight’s stunt double for this film, Claude Terry, later purchased equipment used in the movie from Warner Brothers. He founded what is now the oldest whitewater rafting adventure company on the Chattooga River, Southeastern Expeditions. By 2012, rafting had developed as a $20 million industry in the region.

Burt Reynolds wanted to shoot the film in his home state of Florida but Governor Reubin Askew nixed that idea. Reynolds, who owned a cabin in northwest Georgia, spoke to then-governor Jimmy Carter about shooting the film there. Carter was supportive and after the film was released to much success, Reynolds and Carter helped co-found the Georgia Film Commission, promoting Georgia as a state to shoot film and television production. Reynolds ended up shooting five more films in the state. Reynolds has been cited as being a major driving force for the state for production.

Sales of camping equipment plummeted and the Appalachian camping industry was nearly bankrupted following the film’s release.

In his autobiography, McKinney’s Deliverance (1972) co-star, Burt Reynolds (whose character dispatches The Mountain Man with an arrow in the back) said of McKinney, “I thought he was a little bent. I used to get up at five in the morning and see him running nude through the golf course while the sprinklers watered the grass….” McKinney denies this, and also disputes Reynolds contention that he was overly enthusiastic playing the infamous scene where his character buggers Ned Beatty.

When director John Boorman explained to Coward that one of the things his character was going to do was to rape a man, Coward replied, “I’ve done worse.”

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has made several references to Deliverance, which are
as follows:

  • You might be a redneck if you think Ned Beatty was sexy in Deliverance.
  • You might be a redneck if you think the mountain men from Deliverance
    were just misunderstood.
  • (when discussing the 1996 Summer Olympics being held in Atlanta): And
    you know they haven’t even thought about it but the river they’re having
    the kayak races on is the same river they filmed deliverance at. That ought
    to add a whole degree of difficulty shouldn’t it? ‘Cause if Ned Batty
    couldn’t make it down that thing a French man in a pair of biker pants ain’t
    got a chance.

According to the book 1001 Things Everyone Should Know about the South, co-authors John Shelton Reed and Dale Voleberg Reed said Deliverance must have set the Georgia tourism industry back fifty years.

I wonder what the LGBT community thinks of this film.

Andrew Linn
Andrew Linn is a member of the Owensboro Tea Party and a former Field Representative for the Media Research Center. An ex-Democrat, he became a Republican one week after the 2008 Presidential Election. He has an M.A. in history from the University of Louisville, where he became a member of the Phi Alpha Theta historical honors society. He has also contributed to and Right Impulse Media.