Oh, this is a tricky one. The vague premise of this blog is to review my dusty old VHS videos with a view to digitising/ upgrading to DVD or dumping… This is a remarkable film but will I ever want to watch it again? Straw Dogs is a very intelligent and superbly well-made but it’s also harrowing and cruel…a tale that forces the viewer in on themselves. It’s not comfortable.
So much has been made about the violent transition of the main character – played with brilliance by Dustin Hoffman – and especially the graphic rape scene(s) involving Susan George: they make or break your appreciation of the movie.
|Del Henney and Susan George|
Moments later, one of the gang turns up behind Charlie and, wielding a shotgun, does commit rape. It is unpleasant and very real, the camera unflinchingly close up on George’s agonised expression. Is this the director playing with our sympathy: “you think this stuff is sexy, well this is what it really looks like...?”
Hoffman plays David, a New York mathematician who has married Amy, a very pretty if un-academic, English rose and returned to her native Cornwall to complete work on his thesis. They drive into the local village in their sleek Triumph Stag sports car, the very model of a sophisticated couple. Naturally enough the locals treat them with suspicion, envy and not a little lust.
|Sally Thomsett and Susan George|
The other young men of the village stare with amused disbelief at the un-manly academic who struggles to engage them on their terms.
|Del Henney and Susan George|
Then there’s the village strangeling, Henry Niles (David Warner) who appears to have indecently assaulted a child in the past and now lives in the protective custody of his elder brother…on his last chance: an accident waiting to happen.
|Peter Vaughan, Del Henney and Dustin Hoffman|
Hoffman was apparently against George’s casting not seeing how his character could cement a relationship with such a pretty yet un-intellectual girl but she acts very well… I’d really like to hear what she has to say on the Criterion DVD commentary.
She the focus of the local men’s dislike of David – how can she possibly see more in him than in them? It’s just not right...
|The Lads confronted by David|
But the hunt is a ruse to lure him away so that Charlie can have his way with Amy… a moment that is made so much worse as he is followed by cousin Norman (Ken Hutchison). It is horrible and yet, when David returns from his own humiliation (they left him for hours) he is too self-absorbed to notice any change and Amy suddenly finds herself incapable of sharing.
They drag themselves to social engagement at the local church and the wheels begin to come off as Henry is lured away by one of the local teens (Sally Thomsett in trade mark mini). Frightened by the shouting when she is reported missing. Henry accidentally kills her when trying to hold her safe… a tragic accident.
|Susan George, David Warner and Dustin Hoffman|
The men arrive intent on extracting the location of the missing girl but Henry is too scared to answer… suddenly David begins to locate his backbone and starts to push back in defence of his home and property. Polite society is being stripped away and he is gradually steeling himself for a fight.
Peckinpah later claimed that David is the real “heavy” who almost engineers the face-off thereby revealing his psychotic tendency. He also said that there were two types of girl: “women and pussy” putting Susan George in the latter category. Fair to say Sam was a complex man…
|Can't find my way home...|
Dusty verdict: keeper for those moments when you become complacent. Film entertainment sometimes comes at a cost and violence should have real meaning or it desensitises us all.
|The Triumph Stag|