Straw Dogs (lost extended cut of psychological thriller film; 1971)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its subject matter of rape and extreme violence.

R (2)3.jpg

The film's original American release poster.

Status: Lost

Straw Dogs is a 1971 thriller movie by director Sam Peckinpah. On initial release, the film saw a mixed reception; while being a box office success in the UK and elsewhere, it stirred up much controversy due to its extremely violent scenes and a rape scene, the latter of which takes place at the halfway point of the movie.[1] In Britain, where the film was shot, it came under much public scrutiny, with it being banned by several councils, Mary Whitehouse's Festival of Light campaign group complaining about it and a prominent letter in The Times by 13 leading film critics was written condemning the film as a whole.[2]

The controversy was so severe that it was later banned by the British Board of Film Classification for video release following the passage of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which was only lifted in 2002.

However, the film has been reappraised over the years, with many describing it now as an uncomfortable but gripping and thrilling work that examines human nature and the capacity for violence. It has an 81% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[3] a place in the world-renowned Criterion Collection[4] and has inspired many filmmakers, from Alexandre Aja[5] to Edgar Wright.[6] It has become Peckinpah's most iconic film outside of his 1969 classic Western The Wild Bunch. It was also remade in 2011 by Rod Lurie, too much less fanfare than the original.[7]

Meanwhile, there was originally a longer version of the film that after being examined by the British Board of Film Classification, has had footage removed and has yet to reappear over 50 years, indicating that it is now forever lost.

Original Version[edit | edit source]

In August 1971, the film was viewed by the BBFC's Secretary at that time Stephen Murphy in a rough cut. In part, this was to see what could be done to get the film an AA rating of which had been recently introduced in 1970, and of which would allow general attendance to moviegoers aged 14 and older.

Murphy however found that not only was the film entirely unsuitable for that age range but that cuts were still required for an X rating (of which only allowed 18-year-olds and above to watch the film).

Such cuts included:

  • The second part of the aforementioned rape sequence on the female protagonist Amy, whereby the implication of specific sexual activity was to be removed.
  • The death of the character Charlie in a bear trap, which takes place during the climax of the film.[8]

After the following changes had been made, the film was fully submitted in its final form in November 1971, whereby despite some contention to the rape sequence - where some examiners argued that Murphy's edits had made the scene worse, something Murphy later admitted as to being 'unfortunate' - the film was received positively and received an X rating on the 3rd of November 1971.[9]

Availability[edit | edit source]

In the years since Straw Dogs was released, none of the extended footage has ever surfaced, indicating strongly that it is lost for good. The only available version is that of the 1971 version that was released in cinemas and otherwise.

While this wasn't the first time Peckinpah's true cinematic vision was initially watered down for general consumption, given the clashes he had with other films and their censorship like the aforementioned Wild Bunch[10] and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,[11] it was one of the few times an extended version or director's cut of his original version has yet to surface.

Videos[edit | edit source]

The original trailer for the film, including some of the more contentious scenes.
A video from GNC Films' Cutting Edge series, examining the censorship of Straw Dogs on both sides of the Atlantic, including of the pre-cut version.
An interview with producer Dan Melnick, of which in part examines initial censorship of the film.

References[edit | edit source]