John Boorman: Wherever good Ned Beatty extended, parties would say: Moan like a animal! It went on for years
John Boorman, chairman
Warner Bros had acquired the rights to James Dickeys novel, and, after obliging Hell in the Pacific in very difficult circumstances, they felt I was the man to take it on. Id never been to the south before, but the first thing I did was go to meet Dickey. We drafted the screenplay together. Always by correspondence, because when we are fill we never get much done. It was the drinking, really. On one party, he came to LA to work, but locked himself in a inn room with a ballerina called Amy Burke.
Warners were never extremely convinced. Once we had the write, “theyre saying”: Well do it if you are able casting two hotshots. I procured Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, but they were too expensive. Eventually, the studio said: Stimulate it with unknowns for$ 2m. I had budgeted for a composer and orchestra to flesh out Duelling Banjos as a musical theme, but in the end I merely hired a guitar and banjo musician to do deviations on it in the studios. That was the whole tally. I acquired Ned Beatty and Ronnie Cox from regional theatre, and eventually went to Jon Voight to play Ed, the lead alongside Burt Reynolds. But he couldnt even up his mind. In our last-place telephone call, I told him: Im going to count to 10. And he ultimately said yes.
We needed a person who has looked inbred for the banjo musician. My helper detected this boy, Billy Redden, who seemed extraordinary, but couldnt gambling. So we made a shirt with an extra sleeve in it, and a musician crouched behind doing the fretwork as Redden strummed. There been a great deal written afterwards about how Deliverance libelled mountain beings. But the locals were stimulated with the film.
We practised for quite a long period, because we had to get the actors up to scraping in archery and canoeing. I had already been down the Chattooga, a ferocious creek, to make sure it was safe. But I did the scene where their canoe disintegrates apart on another creek, which was dammed. I got them to close all the sluice gates upstream, so merely a trickle came down. That let us build rails on the riverbed, so we could mount the canoe on them, and prompted the breakup afterward. When we came to shoot, I was down at the bottom of the cataract on the phone to the dike. But I went impatient and got them to open all the doors. We just about was strong enough to survive the avalanche of sea.
All the Warners execs moved out without a word at the first screening. They said: Theres never been a film in its own history of Hollywood without women around it that made a lot of fund. But it cleared $46 m, the No 5 movie that time. And its entered the language, as poverty-stricken Ned Beatty can witness. Wherever he went, parties would say: Squeal like a animal! It went on for years.