‘Deliverance’ at 40: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox take us to the river

The film that scared-off many a movie-goer from ever entering the great outdoors, John Boorman's best picture nominated "Deliverance" (1972), turns 40 this year.

In honor of such a milestone, and such an important film, Warner Home Video recently released a commemorative Blu-ray with hours of featurettes and an illustrative 42-page book, chock full of behind-the-scenes photos and stories. Warner Brothers also invited Yahoo! Movies to speak with cast members Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox to talk about the film that so drastically impacted all of their lives.

Based on Jim Dickey's novel, "Deliverance" beautifully and truthfully depicts the journey of four men -- Lewis (Reynolds), Ed (Voight), Bobby (Beatty), and Drew (Cox) -- who test their friendship and manhood on the rapids of a soon-to-be-damned river in the outback woods of Georgia. Along the way, they encounter far greater dangers than raging white water, making for one of the most memorable and disturbing scenes in cinematic history.

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The film, and the treacherous filming conditions required to make it, are the stuff of Hollywood legend. Neither Cox nor Beatty had ever appeared in front of a camera. The shoot reportedly went uninsured, even though the actors were required to do the vast majority of the stunt work on their own. Beatty almost drowned. Reynolds severely injured his back. Dickey was asked to leave the set because of his intimidating, abusive behavior. Locals were cast in many of the roles, including two for the banjo-playing kid -- one for his face and one to serve as the hand that fingers the banjo.

In spite of all the difficulties of the shoot, or perhaps because of it, the four men who starred in the film continue to share an obvious love for one another. Sitting down with the four legends, I could immediately tell how much time they'd spent in canoes together. They finish each other's sentences. They laugh at each other's stories before punch lines are ever delivered.

It's the kind of easy relationship that comes from having endured difficult times together. Filming "Deliverance" certainly had its share of difficulties. But as you'll hear in the interview below, those difficulties sure make for good story-telling, especially amongst old friends.

Adam Pockross: This film is about men doing manly things. What did you learn about being a man from working on this film?

Ned Beatty: Fred Bear, who was a master archer, came down to show Burt how to shoot the arrow he was going to have to shoot in the film. And he says 'Burt, there's a pie plate out there about 50 feet, we're going to see if you can get close to that.' So before he can go any further, Burt draws back the bow and shoots the arrow right in the middle of the pie plate fifty feet away. And Fred Bear cleared his throat a couple times and started putting his bow away. That to me said, 'Boy, this going to be something'.

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Burt Reynolds: I think it was part of the magic of the film. I couldn't do that again for a billion dollars. But it was part of what went on in that film.

Ronny Cox: That was the thing about Burt. When we were doing canoe practice, Burt couldn't be bothered with having to learn the right way to do stuff. But the thing was, he ended up being the best canoeist of us all, because he would just go there with this attitude of 'God D**nit, I can do this.' And he would just do it. So that spirit of 'I can do this' sort of pulled us through."

Jon Voight: Also, he had the much better canoe. He had the one that wouldn't sink!


: I didn't pick the pretty one, you did!

RC: The wooden Old Town canoe is not intended for white water. It's a lake canoe. No stability. The Aluminum canoe is very broad.

BR: Ronny, when we went out to pick the canoes, I said 'Jon is the lead in the picture, let him pick the canoe.'

JV: To tell you the truth, the reason why I picked the green canoe is because it matched our characters. There's no flash in our characters. We were kind of homeboys. And this was a more humble thing. But it was dangerous to pick that canoe, and we knew it, because every time you'd hit a rock you'd hear the ribs of the canoe give way. It wasn't a happy experience to have that canoe. But Ed should have been in that canoe. Lewis should have had the higher tech stuff, and he looked more like Lewis in that canoe.

But Burt laughed about my choice. Because we were very competitive always. And as soon as I made the choice, he was chuckling to himself knowing I'd be fortunate not to sink. Many years later he gave me the present of a small replica of that canoe, which I have on my mantelpiece, and it says 'Voight's Choice.'

RC: I saw in John Boorman's commentary on the DVD that in the course of making the film, Jon and I wrecked five canoes. That scene at the end of the picture where they find that half a canoe, they [the crew] didn't have to do that, we did that for them. Burt and Ned would run a set of rapids, if they had the slightest inkling of trouble, then the crew would make big bets that the two of us would wreck. You could make a lot of money betting on us wrecking.

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AP: It sounds extremely scary, was there a particular scary moment -- either emotionally, physically, or mentally -- that stands out?

BR: I think there were scary moments every other day, in terms of the river.

RC: I had nightmares about one spot on the river for almost a year after. I could see it in my dreams.

AP: What did you each learn from the person to your left?

NB: (looking to his left and realizing no one is there) Nothing! Squato Botto!

BR: (looking at Beatty) The person to my left, I learned… (welling up with tears) I get emotional. I love him so much. He's an extraordinary man. An extraordinary actor. That's what I learned.

JV: (looking at Reynolds) I learned from the guy to my left about sensitivity, and love for his fellow man. (Laughter from all.) No, I learned a lot of things from Burt. Specifically, how to handle celebrity. At that time I was very shy about getting any attention, from people asking for autographs or whatever it is, and Burt would say 'I'll take that!' And he'd take the autograph and sign it. And he taught us all how to deal with celebrity. How it's a little bit of a gift, you take five seconds out of your life, and you give someone pleasure. How it's a joy and an important thing to do.