James Dickey's Deliverance was first published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton in 1970, the same year as the US Houghton Mifflin edition. The jacket of the Hamilton edition was designed by Bernard Higton, a man who I've waxed lyrical about before, as he's based in Lewes, the East Sussex town in which, lest we forget (unlikely, I know, since, I'm always harping on about it), I live and work; he even, at one time, had his studio in the building in which I currently work. Anyway, Higton has had a hand in countless books over the years – not only as designer but also author and illustrator – among them the wrapper for the Hamilton first of Joseph Hone's The Private Sector.
this 1976 Paris Review interview, Dickey claims that "Deliverance was originally written in a very heavily charged prose", but that he "spent two or three drafts taking that quality out". Certainly once the canoe trip gets underway there are passages of high tension and moments of memorable terror, notably one uncomfortable sequence that John Boorman's 1972 Dickey-scripted movie adaptation would turn into one of the most iconic cinematic scenes of the 1970s.
That scene is, of course, the assault by the aforementioned backwoodsmen on Ed (the book's narrator, played by Jon Voight) and Bobby (Ned Beatty), during which encounter Bobby is raped. It's a shocking episode in both the novel and the film, but it's lent an added horror in the movie by the ad-libbed "squeal, piggy" dialogue, which appears neither in Dickey's book nor, apparently, his screenplay. Indeed, stripped of Ed/Dickey's verbose narration, Boorman's film emerges as the superior beast, assisted by the genius casting. Voight and Beatty are great, obviously – as is Ronny Cox as the doomed Drew – but it's Burt Reynolds as the macho Lewis who steals the show, especially with the benefit of hindsight: all those action flicks he'd soon be starring in post-Deliverance, and here he's incapacitated and sidelined halfway through the movie. And the ending is rather more downbeat than Dickey's novel, too, suggesting that Ed is more scarred by his experiences than he is in the book.
Excalibur, 1981, and – a personal favourite of mine – Hope and Glory, 1987), John Boorman also directed another notable adaptation: the 1967 film of the debut Stark/Parker novel The Hunter (1962), alias Point Blank. As I'm sure is the case for other Stark/Parker fans, Point Blank was my first unwitting exposure to Parker – renamed and fairly drastically remodelled for the film as Walker (Lee Marvin) – and though the book and the film are quite different and separate entities (and not all Parker aficionados are that keen on the movie), for me, Point Blank still stands as one of my favourite ever motion pictures. But more than that, it was falling for Boorman's adaptation decades ago that would eventually lead to my finding Westlake and Stark, and in turn becoming co-blogger on The Violent World of Parker. So in a way, you can blame John Boorman for all the Westlake blogging that's ensued.
Now then. A question: is it safe?