Straw Dogs (1971)
Release Year: 1971
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Writers: Sam Peckinpah (screenplay), David Zelag Goodman (screenplay), Gordon Williams (based on his 1969 novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, Del Henney, Jim Norton, Donald Webster, Ken Hutchison, T.P. McKenna, Len Jones, Sally Thomsett, Robert Keegan, Peter Arne
Rating: Nominated for 1 Oscar; Best Music.
Sunday Classic #281, week 45 2019
A mild-mannered scientist relocated to the rural English farm where is wife grew up. Here he is faced with an increasingly vicious group of locals against whom he must finally make a stand.
During the first screening of Straw Dogs, large parts of the audience allegedly walked out due to the violence and its reputation for violence is not unfounded. Peckinpah (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, 1973) takes this story about a non-confrontational man responding to viiouness in kind and just goes with it. Yet despite the brutal violence, we never lose sympathy for our hero, played by Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979), as the locals who target him are truly despicable and he gives them plenty of opportunities to reconsider. Hoffman is no fan violent films, and allegedly took the role for the sake of the money, but this doesn’t show. He gives a fine performance and his emotional trajectory is believable despite the rapid way in which thing deteriorated in the film’s final act. Of the English cast, George (Mandingo, 1975) is most prominent, but she seems somewhat miscast. She and Hoffman certainly make and odd couple. Peter Vaughan as “ingleader” Tom Hedden and Del Henney as Charlie Venner are among the most memorable out of a bunch of weird characters. The film’s tone is marred by gratuitous nudity and an overly explicit and plotwise unnecessary rape scene, and these things detract, but it remains a very good thriller film with an interesting central character. Recommended.
The title “Straw Dogs” comes from the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, who wrote, “Heaven and Earth are not humane, and regard the people as straw dogs.” Straw dogs were used as ceremonial objects for religious sacrifices in ancient China.
Dustin Hoffman objected to the casting of Susan George, as he felt his character would never such as “Lolita-ish” kind of woman. Director Sam Peckinpah insisted on George, an unknown actress at the time. Hoffman and George later lived together for two weeks at the director’s request and many of their real-life interactions were used for film.
This was Sam Peckinpah’s first non-Western movie and his first movie shot outside of the U.S.
Picture Copyright: Scanbox