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.
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” Peckinpah’s 1971 film Straw Dogs was one of the most controversial of his legendary career.. 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.
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. A remake directed by Rod Lurie was released on September 16, 2011.
Sam Peckinpah’s two previous films, The Wild Bunch and The Ballad of Cable Hogue, had been made for Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. 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.
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. The film was shot on location at St Buryan, Cornwall.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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, 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”. 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.
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. 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.
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.
The studio edited the first rape scene before releasing the film in the United States, to earn an 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’s violent rape”. 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. 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”. The BBFC noted that:
“The cuts made for American distribution, which were made to reduce the duration of the sequence, therefore tended paradoxically to compound the difficulty with the first rape, leaving the audience with the impression that Amy enjoyed the experience. The Board took the view in 1999 that the pre-cut version eroticised the rape and therefore raised concerns with the Video Recordings Act about promoting harmful activity. The version considered in 2002 is substantially the original uncut version of the film, restoring much of the unambiguously unpleasant second rape. The ambiguity of the first rape is given context by the second rape, which now makes it quite clear that sexual assault is not something that Amy ultimately welcomes.”
2.Interview with producer Daniel Melnick
3.On Location with Dustin Hoffman
4.Interview with Susan George