Upon moving to Britain to get away from American violence, astrophysicist David Sumner and his wife Amy are bullied and taken advantage of by the locals hired to do construction. When David finally takes a stand it escalates quickly into a bloody battle as the locals assault his house.
Dustin Hoffman ... David Sumner
Susan George ... Amy Sumner
Peter Vaughan ... Tom Hedden
T.P. McKenna ... Major John Scott
Del Henney ... Charlie Venner
Jim Norton ... Chris Cawsey
Donald Webster ... Riddaway
Ken Hutchison ... Norman Scutt
Len Jones ... Bobby Hedden
Sally Thomsett ... Janice Hedden
Robert Keegan ... Harry Ware
Peter Arne ... John Niles
Cherina Schaer ... Louise Hood
Colin Welland ... Reverend Barney Hood
Straw Dogs(1971) reveals a primal human action that is the driving force behind its characters. As with Deliverance(1972), Straw Dogs also is fascinated with the violent urge within the human soul. The primal aspect of the human being is provocatively examined in Straw Dogs(1971). Sam Peckinpah forcefully depicts issues that were hinted at in The Wild Bunch(1969). Paints a dark picture of humanity with the person's frightening ability to harm at any time. The title of the film ties in perfectly with the nature of the story.
An interesting example of a vigilante film before the subgenre became fashionable. Films before had dealt with the theme of revenge but rarely as brutal or primal as in Straw Dogs(1971). Predates Death Wish(1974) by three years. The uncredited inspiration for Death Wish(1974) and others of its kind. Both films include Meek liberal men who explode with violent anger in different ways. Shows revenge and the consequences behind the act of revenge in a realistic dimension.
Straw Dogs(1971) marked the first film Sam Peckinpah did which wasn't a Western. The film's direction creates a powerful piece of cinema with a strong European sensibility. Its a shame Sam Peckinpah never did more European Thrillers after SD. One film which mixes the American style of Peckinpah's Westerns with the European touch of Straw Dogs(1971) is Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia(1974). At times the movie looks as if it could have been done by Hammer Studios. An indication that the late filmmaker could succeed outside of the Western genre.
Good at showing that any person(even peaceful natured)can be capable of violent action at any given moment. The interactions between David Sumner and the Village Reverand is filled with subtle hostility. Represents the conflict between religion and science which is wittily enforced in the dialogue between the two. The locations of Cornwall becomes an important part of the film's emotion. Intense atmosphere is what gives the film a tinge of horror. Straw Dogs(1971) is in a couple of ways a British take on the Deliverance story.
There seems to be something autobiographical within the frames of the story. Deals with the idea of Man's violent rites of passage that Sam Peckinpah was only too familiar with. David Sumner symbolizes the private inner self of Sam Peckinpah's persona. The intense relationship between David and Amy Sumner was based on the director's experiences with marriage and relations with women. His direction of the actors is masterful. Has to be one of the director's most personal(perhaps his most personal)film of his directorial resume.
A notorious sequence from Straw Dogs(1971) is the infamous rape of Amy Sumner which plays a tricky balance between the abhorrent and the erotic without spilling over to either side. I can imagine the many people that were taken aback by this scene especially during the first rape when it turns into a love scene. Without the dark humor that was present in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange(1971). Excellently edited scene with some powerful intercutting. Not an overly graphic scene but more psychological with the camera's focus on Susan George's face. Its the psychological abasement and reaction of Amy that is the true disturber of the senses.
There is an interesting sub plot between Henry Niles and Janice Hedden that is inspired by OF MICE AND MEN. The director was heavily influenced by the works of John Steinbeck, none so evident as in the characterizations of Henry Niles. Henry Niles is absolutely patterened after the strong but slow witted Lenny from OF MICE & MEN. David Warner pulls off an fantastic performance in a complex role. The scene in the church stable is reminiscent of Lenny and his bosses wife meeting in a barn during OF MICE & MEN. Henry Niles is alot like the misunderstood alleged witch of Don't Torture a Duckling(1972).
From the very beginning a confrontation between the house workers and David Sumner becomes inevitable. There is some major tension that grows to a boiling point until the hot pot explodes during the climax. The actors do a convincing job in displaying tension with their emotions. When the confrontation finally does happen everything becomes chaotic and violent. This part of the film may have influneced Wes Craven to a certain extent when he did Last House on the Left(1971). By the climax of Straw Dogs, David Sumner despises the house workers so much that he uses Henry Niles as an excuse to strike back at them.
Where the bloodbath at the film's finale reaches a fever pitch is when reason turns to bloodlust. When the confrontation began there were reasons for each group but as it progressed the two parties become more interested in killing each other. I find it funny that the two groups become less concern in finding Janice Hedden and more concern in fighting to the death. It just shows that protecting one's land or property is the most important thing to a man. David Sumner and the house workers battle each other in a manner similar to the landowners of the Middle Ages. Sombre use of slow motion effects and editing techniques turns the climax into a nerve twister.
Dustin Hoffman is very good in the role of the timid turned violent David Sumner. Susan George in her role projects both vurnability and eroticism. The film's climax would be rehased for the house attack in The Osterman Weekend(1983). When Sam Peckinpah also worked as a writer in his films the results were usually brilliant. This is the case with Straw Dogs(1971). Straw Dogs(1971) is an impressive film of an era when filmmakers were not afraid to take chances with risky subject matters.
So you think movies are violent today, huh? Think again. Sam Peckinpah's highly charged, extremely intense, brutally violent 1971 pic is an underrated masterpiece, in my opinion, that redefined cinema violence forever (as if "The Wild Bunch" wasn't enough). It is one of the best directed, most fluidly edited pictures that I've seen in recent years. Today's films don't even come close.
Allegedly banned in the U.K. to this very day, "Straw Dogs" came to me out of nowhere. I had heard good things about it, but never really caught onto it, until one day when I was at a video store browsing around for no apparent reason. I had absolutely no money and wasn't planning to buy anything when all of the sudden, I saw it . . .
I had never even seen the movie and I wanted to buy it! I mean, hey, it WAS the last one left.
So I took a huge risk, got a loan from my mother, used all the two-dollar bills I had been saving to pay her back, and bought it right out. And then, I viewed it later on that night, praying I hadn't wasted my time. AND: I was floored. The film literally knocked me out, kept me peeled to the screen at every instant, left me disturbed for days to come. I mean, let me tell you, go out and rent this, buy this, anything, just see it! Although it is moderately paced, the film remains intense the whole way, and takes an unexpected turn into extreme violence towards the legendary ending, a showdown worthy of multiple viewings (watch "Fear" to see an amateur retread).
So it goes like this: Hoffman plays a wimpy mathematician who flees with his wife George to the peaceful countryside (to get away from violence!), only to be ravaged by the locals who just wanna start trouble. It is the ultimate test of manhood, showing us (in a somewhat biased manner) that it takes aggression to get what you want and keep what you have. You'll be amazed at Hoffman's "transformation" (we all know deep down that EVERYONE'S got it in them somewhere), but it makes you think, especially when Hoffman has to defend his home from several large armed men WITHOUT USING ANY WEAPONS, only his brains and some household appliances.
I'm surprised that this is such a forgotten film. There aren't enough people who can actually claim to have seen this picture or even know what it's about. I find that hard to ingest, being that it was one of the most controversial films of its day. But it IS very brutal, especially the once trimmed rape scene, restored on my copy, a scene that I find to be the most intense. However, today's moviegoers may not agree.
So see "Straw Dogs," the movie that single-handedly turned me into a Peckinpah fan. The editing is Oscar-worthy, the acting is magnificent, the situations are well thought out, and the characters are fleshed to the bone (sometimes literally). I promise you won't leave disappointed.
Dustin Hoffman is perfectly cast as wealthy American mathematician David Sumner. Soon after arriving to an isolated English village with his energetic young wife Amy (the captivating Susan George), trouble starts. You see, she's so attractive the men in town can't keep from leering at her, he's such a pacifist the locals feel at ease to push him around and the jealousy over David's wealth, power, intelligence and wife turn to a series of harassments, one more extreme than the next until Amy is brutally beaten and raped. David finally snaps and decides he's had enough when their assailants accidentally kill a cop and then hold them at bay in their own home.
Not a horror film in the traditional sense, this (one of the most controversial movies of the 1970s) is nonetheless an effective, violent and relevant piece of shock cinema. Peckinpah's statement is that in this world, like it or not, there is a genuine need for violence and he concentrates most on uncovering how common emotions (jealousy, vengeance, lust) can turn seemingly normal men evil. Containing strong performances from the entire cast, STRAW DOGS has been copied many times since, but seldom this effectively.
* Among the actors initially considered for the role of David Sumner were Donald Sutherland, Jack Nicholson and Sidney Poitier. Actresses originally considered and/or auditioned for the role of Amy were Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rampling and Helen Mirren.
* The title comes from the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, who wrote, "Heaven and earth are not humane, and regard the people as straw dogs."
* In order to express a sick enjoyment in the scene where Dustin Hoffman beats the man on the floor to death, he requested that there would be coconuts there for him to smash. In one shot you can actually see a bit of coconut flying off, which Sam Peckinpah passed off as brain matter.
* In the scene where Dustin Hoffman's character first enters the local pub, Sam Peckinpah was unhappy with the other actors reaction to this stranger entering their world. Eventually, he decided to do one take where Hoffman entered the scene without his trousers on. He got his reaction, and these are the shots shown in the final film.
* Because of its graphic portrayal of violence and two brutal rapes, the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) banned the film from being released on video/DVD from 1984 until 2002.
* The future of the film was put in jeopardy when director Sam Peckinpah caught pneumonia after an all-night drinking session with Ken Hutchison in the sea at Land's End. Having recuperated at a clinic in London, Peckinpah was only reinstated after promising that he would remain sober.
* When Sam Peckinpah was planning the scene in which Amy is raped twice, he would not tell Susan George how he was going to shoot the scene. Under pressure from her, he eventually told her bluntly that Amy would first be raped and then buggered. She refused to take part in Peckinpah's plans for explicit portrayal of this and threatened to resign. He eventually relented, allowing George to depict Amy's trauma by concentrating on her eyes and face, rather than her body.
* Henry Nile's limp was not part of the script. David Warner had broken his leg before production but was able to walk with a cane by the time principal photography started. Because he had broken his foot before shooting (hence the limp), he was considered uninsurable and thus is uncredited.
* T.P. McKenna, who plays Major John Scott, has his arm in a sling. This wasn't written in the script -- McKenna has broken it while having a wild party with a couple of prostitutes which was arranged by director Sam Peckinpah.
* Trevor Howard was offered Major Scott.
* Jennie Linden turned down a key role in this project
* Dustin Hoffman -- not usually a fan of violent films -- admitted that he only took the role in this movie for the money.
* Before shooting, Sam Peckinpah instructed Dustin Hoffman and Susan George to live together for two weeks, with screenwriter David Zelag Goodman in tow. Some of their interactions during this period were worked into the film's script.
* Tom Hedden's family were originally given roles in the film but were either cut or never filmed. June Brown was cast as Hedden's wife, together with Chloe Franks as their daughter Emma, and a scene was scripted featuring both in their home laundry with Susan George. However although the scene was included in the shooting script it was never actually filmed. Michael Mundell was originally cast as Cawsey the rat-catcher but was later switched to the role of Bertie Hedden in a scene featuring the village children. However his entire role was never filmed because the scene was canceled due to time and budget constraints.
* Judy Geeson was offered but declined the role of Amy, and an early UK tie-in paperback novelization listed her as starring in the film.
* The movie's poster was as #12 of "The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever" by Premiere.