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Straw Dogs is a 1971 film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. A dark, domestic psychological thriller, the screenplay by Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman is based on the novel, The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams. The film's title derives from a discussion in the Tao Te Ching which likens the human condition to that of an ancient Chinese ceremonial straw dog.

Controversial to this day, the film is noted for its violent concluding sequences and a complicated rape scene that critics point to as an example of Peckinpah's (and Hollywood's) debasement of women. Released theatrically the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry, the film sparked heated controversy over the perceived escalation of violence in cinema. Nevertheless, it is considered one of Peckinpah's greatest films. The film premiered in US cinemas on December 29, 1971.

Plot

David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), a timid American mathematician, leaves the chaos of college anti-war protests to live with his young wife Amy (Susan George) in her native village in Cornwallmarker in the south-west corner of Great Britainmarker. Almost immediately, there is tension between the couple as David becomes immersed in his academic work while ignoring Amy. Craving attention, Amy begins to flirt with several of the town locals (Jim Norton, Ken Hutchison, Donald Webster) doing repair work on the couple's isolated farmhouse. One of these locals is Amy's former lover Charlie Venner (Del Henney).

Amy's flirtations and David's intellectual reserve create resentment and the workmen begin to taunt and harass them. David discovers their pet cat strangled and hanging by a light chain in their bedroom closet. Amy claims the workmen did it to prove they could get into their bedroom and to intimidate David. She presses him to confront the villagers, but he refuses. David tries to win their friendship, and they invite him to go hunting in the woods the next day. During the hunting trip, the workmen take him to a remote forest meadow and leave him there with the promise they will drive the birds towards him. Having ditched David, Charlie Venner returns to the couple's farmhouse where he confronts Amy. He rapes her in a controversial scene where Amy begins to enjoy the rape due to feelings she still has for Charlie. After they're finished, a second villager, one of the workmen who had left David in the field, arrives, forces Venner by shotgun to hold Amy down, and rapes her.

After several hours, David realizes he's been tricked and returns home to find a disheveled and withdrawn Amy. She does not tell him about the rapes. Later that week, they attend a church social where Amy becomes distraught after seeing the men who raped her. David and Amy leave the social early and while driving home through thick fog they accidentally hit the village idiot Henry Niles (David Warner). They take the injured Niles to their home and David phones the local pub about the accident. Unbeknownst to him, earlier that evening Niles accidentally strangled a young girl from the village, and now her father and the workmen are looking for Niles.

The phone call alerts them to Niles's whereabouts. Soon the drunken locals, including the men who raped Amy, are pounding on the door of the Sumners' home. After a few minutes of their breaking the windows and hammering on the door, the local magistrate arrives and after attempting to defuse the situation, is shot dead by the young girl's father by accident. It's decided at that point that the father and the workmen agree that they cannot go back on what they've done, but only continue. At this point, David realizes that they will not allow anyone in the house to live and begins preparing to defend his home. First he heats two saucepans of cooking oil. Then, when one of the men attempts to unlock the window, he ties his hands together at knife point. As more men appear at another window, he burns them with the boiling oil, temporarily incapacitating them. Then he lays down a large mantrap in his living room and sends Amy upstairs to hide.

When two more men enter and attempt to shoot him, he knocks the shotgun out of one of their hands, causing it to fire and mangle the man's foot. He then engages in a fight with the other man, beating him to death with a fire poker. Finally, Charlie appears and holds David at gunpoint, but before he can shoot him, the two hear Amy screaming. As they both run upstairs, the fifth man, one of the men who had raped Amy before, is there. He tells Charlie to take David downstairs and kill him so they can rape Amy again. Instead, Charlie shoots him and David begins to fight Charlie. As they reach the living room, David, despite Amy's pleas not to, kills Charlie by springing the mantrap over his head, crushing his neck. As David looks at the carnage around him, he murmurs "Jesus, I got 'em all." He is then attacked by another villager, who is shot by Amy. At the end of the film, David is driving Niles to town, when the latter turns and says: "I don't know my way home." David solemnly replies: "That's okay, I don't either."

Cast



Production

Sam Peckinpah's two previous films, The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), had been made at Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. He was effectively terminated from the company 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 Englandmarker 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 the novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams.

Peckinpah's adaptation of the novel drew inspiration from the books African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative by Robert Ardrey, which argued that man was essentially a carnivore who instinctively battled over control of territory. A significant difference between the novel and the movie 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. The movie was filmed on location at St Buryanmarker in Cornwallmarker.

Beau Bridges, Stacy Keach, Sidney Poitier, Jack Nicholson and Donald Sutherland were considered for the lead role of David Sumner before Dustin Hoffman was hired. 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. In the role of Amy, Judy Geeson, Jacqueline Bisset, Diana Rigg, Helen Mirren, Carol White, Charlotte Rampling and Hayley Mills were considered before the eventual casting of Susan George. 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. Trevor Howard was Peckinpah's first choice for Major Scott.

Reception

Straw Dogs was controversial on its release in 1971, mostly because of the prolonged rape scene that is the film's centerpiece. Feminist cinema critics accused director Peckinpah of glamorizing rape and of engaging in misogynistic sadism, especially disturbed by the scene's ambiguity — after initially resisting, Amy appears to enjoy the rape, although afterwards she has traumatic flashbacks. Peckinpah's defenders claim the scene was unambiguously horrifying, that Amy's trauma was truthfully portrayed.

The violence of Straw Dogs aroused strong reactions, many critics seeing an endorsement of violence as redemption, and the film as fascist celebration of violence and vigilantism, while others see it as anti-violence, noting the bleak ending consequent to the violence. Director Peckinpah defended Straw Dogs as an exploration, not an endorsement, of violence, that was purging him of obsessions with violence resulting from human inability to communicate; that David is the story's true villain — deliberately, yet subconsciously, provoking the violence, his concluding homicidal rampage is his true self.

Censorship

The studio edited the first rape scene before releasing the film in the US, to earn R rating from the MPAA. 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 Sumner's violent rape. The film had been released theatrically in the United Kingdom, gaining an 'X' rating in 1971, and an 18 rating for the cut version in 1995.In 1999, a partially cut version of Straw Dogs again was refused a licence, the BBFC objecting to what it considered the "the clear indication that Amy comes to enjoy being raped".

On 1st of July 2002, Straw Dogs finally was certified unedited for video tape and DVD. This version was uncut, and therefore included the second rape scene, in which the BBFC's opinion "Amy is clearly demonstrated not to enjoy the act of violation". The BBFC noted that

Remake

Rod Lurie will direct and write a remake of Straw Dogs which is scheduled for release on February 25, 2011 and will star James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Willa Holland, Walton Goggins, Rhys Coiro and Laz Alonso. The film began shooting on August 16, 2009 in Shreveport and Vivian, Louisiana.

References

  1. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3ia13021641b2079d28e25a9afbf40d376
  2. Straw Dogs (2010) @ Comingsoon.net


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