Widely acclaimed as a landmark picture, Deliverance is noted for a music scene near the beginning, with one of the city men playing “Dueling Banjos” on guitar with a banjo-strumming country boy, that sets the tone for what lies ahead, a trip into unknown and potentially dangerous wilderness; and for its visceral and notorious male rape scene. – In 2008, Deliverance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The Cahulawassee River valley in Northern Georgia is one of the last natural pristine areas of the state, which will soon change with the imminent building of a dam on the river, which in turn will flood much of the surrounding land. As such, four Atlanta city slickers, alpha male Lewis Medlock, generally even-keeled Ed Gentry, slightly condescending Bobby Trippe, and wide-eyed Drew Ballinger, decide to take a multi-day canoe trip on the river, with only Lewis and Ed having experience in outdoor life. They know going in that the area is ethno-culturally homogeneous and isolated, but don’t understand the full extent of such until they arrive and see what they believe is the result of generations of inbreeding. Their relatively peaceful trip takes a turn for the worse when half way through they encounter a couple of hillbilly moonshiners. That encounter not only makes the four battle their way out of the valley intact and alive, but threatens the relationships of the four as they do.
Several people have been credited with the phrase “squeal like a pig”, the now-famous line spoken during the graphic male rape scene. Ned Beatty said he thought of it while he and actor McKinney (who played Beatty’s rapist) were improvising the scene. James Dickey’s son, Christopher Dickey, wrote in his memoir about the film production, Summer of Deliverance, that because Boorman had rewritten so much dialogue for the scene one of the crewmen suggested that Beatty’s character should just “squeal like a pig”. Boorman himself, however, in a DVD commentary he made for the film said the line was used because the studio wanted the male rape scene to be filmed in two ways: one for cinematic release and one that would be acceptable for television. As Boorman did not want to do that, he decided that the phrase “squeal like a pig”, suggested by Rabun County liaison Frank Rickman, was a good replacement for the original dialogue in the script.
The film’s soundtrack brought new attention to the musical work “Dueling Banjos,” which had been recorded numerous times since 1955. Only Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel were originally credited for the piece. The songwriter and producer Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, who had written the original piece, “Feudin’ Banjos” (1955), and recorded it with five-string banjo player Don Reno, filed a lawsuit for songwriting credit and a percentage of royalties. He was awarded both in a landmark copyright infringement case.
Following the film, tourism increased to Rabun County by the tens of thousands. By 2012, tourism was the largest source of revenue in the county. Jon Voight’s stunt double for this film, Claude Terry, later purchased equipment used in the movie from Warner Brothers. He founded what is now the oldest whitewater rafting adventure company on the Chattooga River, Southeastern Expeditions. By 2012 rafting had developed as a $20 million industry in the region.
Also in 2012, producer Cory Welles and director Kevin Walker decided to make the documentary, The Deliverance of Rabun County, to explore the effects of the film on people in the county. They heard a wide range of opinions, particularly resentment at how the country people were portrayed. Others were pragmatic and looked at the benefits of increased tourism and related businesses.