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Sam Peckinpah
Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, T.P. McKenna, Del Henney, Jim Norton
Writing Credits:
Gordon Williams (novel, "The Siege of Trencher's Farm"), David Zelag Goodman, Sam Peckinpah

Every Man Has A Breaking Point.

A young American mathematician, David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), and his English wife, Amy (Susan George), move to a Cornish village, seeking the quiet life. But beneath the seemingly peaceful isolation of the pastoral village lies a savagery and violence that threatens to destroy the couple, culminating in a brutal test of Sumner’s manhood and a bloody battle to the death. One of the most controversial films ever made, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is a harrowing and masterful investigation of masculinity and the nature of violence.

Box Office:
$3.251 million.
Domestic Gross
$11.148 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Monaural

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $14.95
Release Date: 10/19/2004

• None


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Straw Dogs (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 15, 2004)

A tale of two brutal movies: in 1971, we got two flicks that took place in England and strongly featured rape as a major component. Both came from famous directors and elicited a strong reaction.

However, these cases differ when we examine their legacies. On one hand, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange has generally become recognized as a classic, and it stands among the director’s best work. (Personally, I think it’s his only totally successful film.) On the other hand, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs has largely become “buried”, as it seems viewed negatively by many movie partisans.

While I don’t think Dogs ranks alongside Clockwork, but the movie doesn’t deserve its lack of recognition. A rough and cold film, Dogs doesn’t deliver the visceral creativity of Kubrick’s masterwork, but it accomplishes its goals nonetheless.

At the start of Dogs, we meet American mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his young English wife Amy (Susan George). The pair have recently relocated to the Cornish village in which she grew up, and we see their interactions with locals. We quickly meet an old lover of Amy’s, Charlie Venner (Del Henney), who seems intent on rekindling that sexual fling. We also encounter local mean drunk Tom Hedden (Peter Vaughn) and other low-lifes like Cawsey (Jim Norton) and Scutt (Ken Hutchison), the guys who’re working on the Sumner home. Other characters include simple-minded town perv Henry Niles (David Warner) and Hedden’s precociously sexy daughter Janice (Sally Thomsett); the latter demonstrates a clear crush on David.

Multiple tensions appear evident via these different folks, with an emphasis on the attitudes between David and Amy. The two seem detached and don’t connect very well, and their move to her childhood home doesn’t appear to help. If anything, their arrival in England looks like it increased problems, as the locals don’t cotton to the intrusion of the seemingly arrogant American.

The first half of the film follows the slow building of tension, with an emphasis on matters between David and Amy as well as between the houseworkers – primarily Venner, Scutt and Cawsey – and the couple. We observe the sexual strain as the workmen ogle Amy and she doesn’t totally rebuke the attention.

The nastiness escalates when Amy finds her cat dead in her closet. She feels one of the workmen did it and wants David to confront them. However, the passive-aggressive mathematician doesn’t follow through as promised, and he ends up going on a duck-hunting trip with the guys.

This event essentially seems to be a pretense to get him away from home and leave Amy alone. Venner rapes her, and Scutt joins in after he finishes. Clearly, this negatively affects Amy, though she doesn’t tell David what happened. From there, matters become even nastier, as events transpire to lead to a battle between David and the others during the film’s climax.

Straw Dogs seems to be a polarizing movie. Some leap to its defense, while others denounce it as fascist, misogynistic, and pro-violence. While I can see how some might reach those conclusions, I can’t say I agree with them. The alleged misogyny seems to miss the point most significantly. Indeed, Amy comes across as the closest thing to a sympathetic character in the whole thing. Though we should embrace David as our hero, he maintains a fairly intense level of passive aggression throughout the film. He often seems selfish and self-centered, and he doesn’t appear to understand how his actions negatively affect others.

Virtually every character in Dogs has multiple flaws, and the local men certainly come across as problematic. Represented by Venner and the others, they seem crass and crude. Again, this leaves Amy as the most sympathetic personality. While she clearly displays some of her own issues, she feels more likable and less problematic when compared to the others.

Much of the controversy surrounding Dogs stems from the rape scene. This doesn’t occur simply because a rape occurs. No, Dogs provoked outrage because of Amy’s reaction. When Venner takes her, she initially resists but then she seems to enjoy the experience. No such apparent pleasure greets Scutt’s attack on her, but what we perceive as Amy’s acceptance of Venner’s violation clearly doesn’t sit well with many people.

As I see it, though, the reality seems more complicated. For one, Amy and Venner had a history as lovers, and the pair clearly flirted earlier in the movie. In addition, we see that Amy’s love life with David appears less than satisfying. It appears plausible that she’s willing to accept this seemingly unwanted intrusion because she really did want it.

That doesn’t mean that Amy wanted to be raped, but the film doesn’t depict Venner’s actions in a terribly aggressive way; he’s more forceful than violent. Unlike Scutt and the others, Venner presents a more complicated character and isn’t just a cartoon goon. This comes to bear more fully in the film’s climax, when we learn more of his attitudes toward Amy and vice versa.

This issue offers something of a minefield, and I recognize that it’s a thin line between condemning and condoning the behavior depicted in the film. However, I think it seems clear that Peckinpah doesn’t obviously perpetuate the concept that women like to be raped. Does Amy get into the action with Venner? Yes, it appears so. But even though Amy does appear to take pleasure from Venner’s actions, the situation seems more complicated than Dogs’ foes would make you believe.

Peckinpah makes things muddier due to the way he features Amy throughout the film. For our first glimpse of her, the camera focuses on a close-up of her braless chest with nipples poking through her shirt. In subsequent scenes, Peckinpah photographs her in similarly leering ways, but this doesn’t come across like gratuitous T&A. Instead, the camerawork involves the viewer and makes us complicit in the nastiness. This makes it that much more difficult for viewers to distance themselves from the action, which in turn means that the film possesses more of a punch than some might like.

Or you could just try to turn off your brain and watch Straw Dogs as something of an action flick. The final act comes across almost like a bloodier version of Home Alone as David defends his abode. (Ironically, Dogs actually depicts less violence than the cartoonish Alone, which packs a tremendous amount of mayhem into its assault.) Straw Dogs presents no easy answers or simplistic notions during its journey into violence. It doesn’t sit well with many viewers, but unlike amateurish fare such as The Last House On the Left, Dogs actually goes somewhere and has something to say.

Note that this DVD comes advertised as an unrated version, while the prior Criterion release was rated “R”. They possess nearly identical running times; the Criterion says it’s 117 minutes, while this one’s 118 minutes. If the two are really the same and just called something different or if the MGM disc actually includes a smidgen more footage, I can’t say; I didn’t notice anything new here, but I’d only seen the movie once, so it’d be easy for me to miss a few seconds of extra material. I did want to mention the “unrated” status, however.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus F

Straw Dogs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This MGM release marked the third DVD incarnation of Straw Dogs after a late Nineties take from Anchor Bay and a 2003 edition from Criterion. I never saw the AB version but found the Criterion one to seem surprisingly good. The MGM release looked at least as strong as it, if not better.

Sharpness looked excellent. The movie consistently came across as distinct and accurate. Very little softness interfered, as the film almost always seemed tight and well-defined. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, but a few small signs of edge enhancement crept into the image at times.

Despite the somber setting, Dogs presented some vivid colors at times, and the DVD replicated these nicely. The hues looked quite bright and vibrant when appropriate. The tones came across as accurate and bold and really excelled. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was very solid. Low-light sequences appeared appropriately thick but never were overly dense.

While the Criterion Dogs suffered from light speckling, that issue was much less substantial for the MGM version. The occasional speck popped up, but not with as much frequency. Grain also seemed lessened, as the transfer came with almost no defects. I did notice a weird jump in the picture at the 54:39 mark. The decreased level of source flaws almost led me to up my “B+” for the Criterion release to an “A-“ here, but the mild edge enhancement convinced me to keep it with the same grade. Still, it was at least as good an image as the Criterion version and may surpass it. The movie looked surprisingly strong.

While still a moderately drab monaural soundtrack, the audio of the MGM Straw Dogs seemed superior to that of the Criterion version. Speech came across as somewhat flat and dull, but the lines lacked the prominent edginess of the prior disc. Some of that kind of distortion still occurred, but not as noticeably. Similar improvements greeted the effects, which were harsh and shrill on the Criterion release. They continued to fail to demonstrate much range, but at least they came across as cleaner and more distinctive here. Music only popped up sporadically, and the score remained pretty subdued. The music came across as acceptably distinct but not anything special. This release also lost the occasionally substantial hiss that appeared in the Criterion set. The auditory improvements weren’t extreme, and this remained a bland mono mix, but it seemed better than in the past.

Where the MGM DVD suffers badly in comparison with the Criterion set relates to supplements. The Criterion included a nice set of extras, with a strong audio commentary, an excellent 82-minute documentary, and a few other useful components. These merited an “A” for their good mix of quantity and quality. Unfortunately, the MGM version lacks any extras at all, which earned it a firm “F” for supplements.

While less bloody than other Sam Peckinpah flicks like The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs comes across as no less brutal. Actually, without the genre trappings of a Western, Dogs packs a more powerful punch; we can more easily relate to this contemporary tale. The DVD presents surprisingly good picture quality with mediocre but acceptable audio and no supplements.

I can’t issue a general recommendation for Straw Dogs because the subject matter will turn off too many people, but if you don’t mind this sort of flick, then you should definitely give the film a look. The question becomes one of which version to get. If you simply want to see the movie, this MGM release is the way to go. With a low list price of less than $15, it’s a bargain for a solid presentation of the film. However, the excellent supplements on the Criterion release make it of definite value for those who like that sort of material, so it may be worth the extra expense.

To rate this film go to the original review of STRAW DOGS.

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