Best Picture This: The 1973 Academy Awards- Deliverance

Banjo kid duels banjos with Drew in Deliverance

Our journey through the Best Picture nominees at the 1973 Academy Awards ends with one of the harshest films ever put to film, Deliverance.


With Deliverance we’ve reached both the end of the Best Picture nominees of the 1973 Academy Awards and our “first year” with Best Picture This. As a reminder, the previous nominations were:

The Godfather

The Emigrants



Here’s the trailer to Deliverance

Deliverance Trailer 

The Farley Award

The Farley Award goes to the best scene in a movie. It doesn’t go to the tenderest moment or the funniest scene, or the happiest scene, unless those scenes happen to be the best scene in a movie. Deliverance doesn’t have a tender moment or a funny scene and it’s not happy.

When people talk about Deliverance, if people are still talking about a fifty year old movie (Hint: They should be) they usually go to two scenes in the movie. More to the point, they mention a part of one scene and a couple of lines from another scene. Whether or not they’ve seen the movie most people will know the lines “You got a sweet mouth, boy” and “Squeal like a pig.” If they don’t know “Dueling Banjos” from the film they know the tune. They may even know the face of the inbred kid, who really isn’t inbred, who featured prominently in trailers and promotional materials.

Lewis- Burt Reynolds- shoots an arrow into Bobby's assailaint.

When you ask your average cinephile “in the know” what the roughest scene put on film is they’ll probably say the assault scene from Irreversible. Others may say any random scene from the torture porn horror subgenre. To be sure, the assault scene in Irreversible is brutal. It’s shocking and no one would blame you for looking away. Rarely will anyone mention the complete assault scene from Deliverance.

The Farley Award for Deliverance goes to the very long scene of of Bobby (Ned Beatty’s first role in his first feature film) being sexually assaulted by a redneck, his friend almost making Ed (Jon Voight) perform fellatio on him, and the ramifications of what happened.

Burt Reynolds smokes a cigar.

It starts when Bobby and Ed stop their canoe to wait for Lewis (Burt Reynolds) and Drew (Ronny Cox, the once and future Bogomil, Cohaagen, and Dick Jones). From the moment the rednecks come into the scene the fun and camaraderie comes to a halt. You can feel the ill will from them coming off the screen and Bobby’s fear too. Something bad is going to happen.

The Farley Award Pt. II

The something bad is several minutes, which feels much longer, of Bobby being assaulted both mentally and physically. The lead redneck (Bill McKinney, who played every imaginable heavy in the 70’s and 80’s) starts to touch and feel on Bobby. He’s greasy and grimy with yellow, rotting teeth. When he finally has Bobby naked he goes to groping and manhandling him. The taunts and threats become more vugar and disturbing. All the while Bobby is trying to run away in his underwear barely fighting the redneck off. Finally, after long agonizing moments, it happens. This is where the famous “Squeal like pig, boy” line comes in. It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to know what’s going to happen next.

Dead in Deliverance.

Things would have got much worse had Lewis not showed up in time. As he does, he plants an arrow in the back of the redneck who had assaulted Bobby.

The Golden Take

If you think Deliverance is a only an action movie set on a river, like The River Wild, then you’re missing 98% of the movie. Lewis talks his friend Ed and his friend’s Bobby and Drew to canoe down the Cahulawassee River. According to Lewis it’s the “last “unpolluted, unfucked river in the South” before it’s dammed up creating a lake. Lewis, over the opening credits, explains to the others how progress and industry is screwing up the environment, the forests, and the rivers. Filmed one year after the first Earth Day, the statements of an ecosystem being destroyed may have resonated with some audience members. Fifty years later, we can look out our windows and see how right Lewis was.

Lewis is also a self proclaimed survivalist. He builds himself up to be a superhero like person in the eyes of his friends. He talked them into going down the river even though two of them had never canoed before and then he talks his friends into bury the redneck’s body. Arguments ensue between Lewis and Drew, barely audible Bobby whispers that he doesn’t want anyone to know what happened. Male on male sexual violence wasn’t talked about much in the 70’s, it rarely spoken about today. His friends don’t hear him. His pain falls on deaf years.

Burt Reynolds falls down the rapids.

Lewis’s arguments are convincing enough, they would surely be charged with murder and not given a fair trial before they were convicted. There’s a sense if Lewis wasn’t there they would have gone to the police. However, there’s an argument to be made that if Lewis wasn’t there they would have never taken on the task of canoeing down the river. None of them seem practically brave enough to do it on there own and all of them seem easily swayed by Lewis.

The Golden Take Pt. II

The irony of this Man vs. Man aspect of Deliverance is that the self-proclaimed survivalist needs to be saved after breaking his leg in some very serious rapids. Burt Reynolds, with some testosterone to burn of his own, did the actual rapid stunts himself. He’s doing some serious falls and bouncing off rocks. The “he man” is now the one needing to be saved. Lewis spends the remainder of the movie wedged between rocks, a bone sticking out of his leg, and Bobby taking care of him.

Ed gets revenge.

Deliverance‘s ending is akin to a Western. How many Westerns have you seen where the hero is pinned down below a cliff or rocks while being shot at by the villain who has the higher ground? There are many examples of this trope to be found throughout the Western genre. The black hat here is the second redneck standing at the top of of the cliff. The white hat is Ed who is going to save Bobby and Lewis.

Ed, who couldn’t kill a deer earlier, free solos up the side of the cliff. In the morning, he wakes up ready to kill the redneck. Yet, the old Ed rears his head. The man has become the deer Ed was too afraid to kill. Only by accident does Ed kill the redneck, with Lewis’s bow, but it’s enough for Ed to shed the old and start something new.

Kick it or Keep It

As we’ve seen there’s more to Deliverance than just some friends canoeing down a river. It’s an Eco movie. It’s Man Vs. Man and Man Vs. Himself. It’s Man Vs. Nature. It’s about Modernity being shoved on a people that don’t want it and don’t want the people it brings. It’s all of these and it’s one hell of a KEEPER.