David Sumner, an American mathematician, comes to live with his glamorous young wife, Amy, in her hometown, a small village in a remote part of Cornwall, UK. Amy’s return is of particular interest to her ex-boyfriend, Charlie Venner, and his cronies, Norman Scutt, Chris Cawsey and Phil Riddaway, who are immediately resentful of the outsider who has married one of their own. David hires the men to carry out repairs to the isolated farmhouse he and Amy have rented, Trenchers Farm. Tensions in the Sumners’ marriage soon become apparent—explicitly so when Amy stands topless in a window in full view of the workmen.
When Amy discovers their dead cat hanging by a light chain in their bedroom closet, she claims the workmen are responsible. She presses David to confront them, but he refuses. Later, the men invite David to go hunting in the woods with them. During the hunting trip, the workmen take him to a remote forest meadow and leave him there with the promise of driving the birds towards him.
Having ditched David, Charlie Venner returns to the couple’s farmhouse, where he initiates sex with Amy. She at first resists but eventually appears to submit, repeatedly embracing and kissing him. As Amy and Charlie lie together, Norman Scutt enters silently and forces Venner at gunpoint to hold Amy down while he rapes her in a sequence far less ambiguous as Amy screams and struggles to break free, to no avail.
The next day, David, who is seemingly unaware of his wife’s ordeal, fires the workmen. Later that week, the Sumners attend a church social where Amy becomes distraught after seeing the men who raped her. They leave the social early, and, while driving home through thick fog, accidentally hit the mentally handicapped Henry Niles, a local villager. They take Henry to their home. David phones the local pub to explain about the accident. However, earlier that evening Niles had accidentally strangled a flirtatious young girl from the village, Janice Hedden. Her father, the town drunkard, Tom, and the workmen looking for him, are alerted by the phone call to Niles’s whereabouts.
Soon the drunken locals, including Amy’s rapists, are pounding on the door of the Sumners’ home. The local magistrate, Major Scott, arrives to deal with the situation, but is accidentally shot dead by Tom. David realises that he, Amy and Niles are now in mortal danger, and prepares to defend his household.
Straw Dogs is a 1971 psychological thriller directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. The screenplay, by Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman, is based upon Gordon M. Williams’s 1969 novel, The Siege of Trencher’s Farm. The film’s title derives from a discussion in the Tao Te Ching that likens the ancient Chinese ceremonial straw dog to forms without substance.
The film is noted for its violent concluding sequences and a complicated rape scene. Released theatrically the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry, the film sparked heated controversy over the perceived increase of violence in cinema. The film premiered in U.S. cinemas on December 29, 1971. Although controversial in 1971, Straw Dogs is considered by many to be one of Peckinpah’s greatest films. A remake directed by Rod Lurie was released on September 16, 2011.
Straw Dogs (1971)
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, T.P. McKenna, Del Henney, Jim Norton, Sally Thomsett, Cherina Schaer
Screenplay by: David Zelag Goodman, Sam Peckinpah
Production Design by: Ray Simm
Cinematography by: John Coquillon
Film Editing by: Paul Davies, Tony Lawson, Roger Spottiswoode
Art Direction by: Ken Bridgeman
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Distributed by: Cinerama Releasing Corporation
Release Date: December 29, 1971