Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner
Susan George as Amy Sumner
Peter Vaughan as Tom Hedden
T.P. McKenna as Major John Scott
Del Henney as Charlie Venner
Jim Norton as Chris Cawsey
Donald Webster as Riddaway
Ken Hutchison as Norman Scutt
Len Jones as Bobby Hedden
Sally Thomsett as Janice Hedden
Robert Keegan as Harry Ware
Peter Arne as John Niles
Cherina Schaer as Louise Hood
Colin Welland as Reverend Barney Hood
June Brown as Mrs. Hedden
Chloe Franks as Emma Hedden
Michael Mundell as Bertie Hedden
David Warner as Henry Niles
French, English and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 1 Hour 58 Minutes
This film was originally released in 1971. It was based on the novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon M. Williams. (It is being remade again for 2005 under the name “Fear Itself” starring Edward Norton.)
David Sumner is an American mathematician who has recently moved to the rural English town where his wife grew up. Quiet and mild mannered, he hopes to leave behind the violence of U.S. cities. But as he works on a book, his wife tries to get his attention and affection. When David doesn’t respond, she starts flirting with her old flame and his friends. Unfortunately, her attention prompts the local thugs to start harassing David. As things escalate, David does his best to avoid confrontation.
However, when a local mental patient seeks protection at David’s house from the local thugs, David must decide whether to stand firm or give in to the mob. In the process pacifist David is pushed to the breaking point in a violent, bloody climax.
This edition of Straw Dogs is unrated, but the original was rated R and it features bloody violence, nudity, scenes of rape, dead animals, and other such loveliness.
This is actually the first film I recall seeing by director Sam Peckinpah. He was known for his controversial films featuring extreme violence. After viewing Straw Dogs, I see why. With its scenes of graphic rape, bloody gore, and pet death to make Fatal Attraction proud, it’s not a movie for the squeamish. (I never saw the unrated version, so I can’t compare it to the theatrical release.) However, the film plods along for an hour and a half before it gets to the action. Because of this, the first 3/4 is hard to get through because it’s boring and the last ¼ has enough gratuitous violence to make it seem silly.
One of the problems with the film is that there’s no likable character in it. Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner is a wimp in the first part of the movie and an idealistic fool in the latter part. By the time he finally stands up against the local thugs, he’s protecting a murderer. It’s hard to root for him. This is definitely a unique role for Hoffman. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in such a violent performance. As for the other characters in the film, Susan George as Amy Sumner invites a lot of the problems on herself. She bares her breasts to the locals, then is shocked when she’s raped by them. She cheats on her husband and bugs him when he’s trying to work and make a living. When he ends up making a final stand in their home, Amy tries to thwart him. All in all, it makes it hard to like her. Every other character in the film is violent, sadistic, greedy, or a murderer. In fact, almost every English character in the film is antagonistic or confrontational towards David, even in the most casual of encounters. All in all, it’s not a very flattering look at the rural English. They come across as the rednecks of the U.K.
About the only portion I found myself interested in was the siege at the farm. It’s kind of like an R-rated version of Home Alone. David finds he must fend off 5 men from his house with no weapons. He ends up improvising. David uses boiling oil to throw at them, wire snares, clubs, and a large poacher trap. Some of his tricks would make MacGuyver proud. It’s an intense scene as you wonder what David’s going to do to keep them from getting in. Unfortunately, it goes over the top here and there enough to make it laughable at times.
Straw Dogs is a film that intends to be a psychological analysis of what makes a man turn to violence. While there is some of that psychodrama here and there, the ultimate result is a film that is not insightful, impressive, or entertaining. It seems more like dated shock cinema.
There are no extras included on this DVD.
The Bottom Line:
I would only recommend this movie to fans of Dustin Hoffman, Sam Peckinpah, or Fatal Attraction.