• Straw Dogs (MGM Blu-ray)

    Released by: MGM

    Released on: 9/6/2011

    Director: Sam Peckinpah

    Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George

    Year: 1971

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    The Movie:

    When people think of Sam Peckinpah, The Wild Bunch is almost always the first film to spring to mind or to be mentioned. No doubt, it's a great film. One of the manliest movies ever made and chock to the brim with action, violence and intensity though not without an underlying message and pseudo social conscience. I'm not sure it's his best film though. Straw Dogs might just be better. It's a tough call, and I reserve the right to change my mind at the drop of a hat, but Straw Dogs so perfectly represents so much of what Peckinpah had to deal with in his personal life and does it in such a way that it works in spite of itself.

    In the picture, made in 1971, Dustin Hoffman plays David Summer, a nerdy American mathematician who has moved to a small English town with his wife Amy (the lovely Susan George), who grew up in the area. They hope to be able to get away from it all, and live a quiet and productive life together in their new home. When some of the local men begin to take up an interest in David's pretty young bride, tensions arise though his pacifist tendencies basically give them carte blanche to raise Hell and soon enough, Amy ends up being raped by one of them in what is arguably the most controversial scene that Peckinpah ever filmed. When one thing leads to another and the local men wind up at his home late at night, Summer is finally angered enough to stand up for himself and his wife, and a grisly culmination ensues.

    While on the surface it may sound like a trashy rape/revenge film, Straw Dogs has a whole lot more going on under the surface than most of its sub genre counterparts. Less about the actual rape and more about the effects it has and the subsequent breaking point of the film's male lead, Straw Dogs is hardly just simple exploitation fare. The film raises all manner or moral issues in regards not only to the rapist thugs, but more so towards David's characterizations and his actions. What makes him hit his breaking point? Is it the fact that his wife was violated or the fact that she might have enjoyed it (it is for this reason that the uncut version of the film was refused classification by the BBFC until 2002)? He could have prevented it if he'd acted sooner but he was too caught up in his own politics to do so, despite some very obvious warning signs. Given that, when he ultimately does stand up to them during the films dark and bloody conclusion, is he standing up for the woman he loves and doing so out of nobility or is he simply angered enough that one of his prize possessions has been taken from him and that his pride has been broken? The film becomes even more interesting when you take into account the director's personal life. Obviously a man who had issues with women throughout his life, Peckinpah lived under the oppressive influence of his mother his entire life, all the while striving to be a 'man's man' so to speak. It's not too far a stretch to say there is a bit of the director in Hoffman's character.

    Performance wise, the picture is an interesting one. Hoffman’s David is an odd duck, lucky enough to have married the girl that everyone else in town wants but more prone to burying himself in is grant work than giving her any attention. She makes it none that she needs him in a particularly stirring scene where, after she’s been leered at by the work crew, she sits in his room with him, obviously a little frightened and understandably so. He basically shoos her away, more interested in numbers than feelings. George plays her part well, her character more complex and a lot more than simple eye candy. After being rejected by her husband she walks topless past the window knowing full well she’ll be stared at again – and she is. She does this to anger him, and more likely to prove her point but it doesn’t seem to do much good.

    Aside from that, the film is full of tension. In typical Peckinpah style, it all leads up to an inevitably ugly conclusion. We know that the showdown is going to occur – it almost has to for David to redeem himself – but (unless you've seen the film before, obviously) we don't know how it's all going to go down. The last fifteen minutes of the film are intense, violent, and frightening – true edge of your seat material.

    Regular Peckinpah cinematographer John Coquillon (who also worked with him on Cross Of Iron, The Osterman Weekend and Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid) ensures that the film effectively captures the tranquility of the locale on which it was shot, and cross references it in a sense against the acts of brutality enacted on the screen which the camera does not shy away from. It’s a movie that leaves little to the imagination, making certain scenes rather uncomfortable to watch, but then again, that's the point.

    NOTE: The packaging for this release states that it is Region A but it plays fine in a Momitsu Blu-ray player when set to Region B, indicating that it’s a region free release.


    MGM offers up Straw Dogs in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer that improves on previous standard definition releases quite a bit. Detail is much better and color reproduction more natural looking. Black levels also benefit and as such so does shadow detail. There are no problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and the natural looking grain patterns are all intact showing no evidence of noise reduction having been applied. Texture is strong, you’ll see it in the clothing that the various characters wear and you’ll see it around the old house that David and Amy move in to, be it the rocks that make up the exterior or some fruit on the counter inside the kitchen. There isn’t much in the way of serious print damage, though a few specks are not hard to spot if you’re watching for them, though the image isn’t quite as clean or sharp are a more modern film might look. All in all though, the movie looks quite good on Blu-ray.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on the disc is the only audio option provided, though subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish. All in all the movie sounds just fine, with the score leveled properly against the dialogue and sound effects to enhance the tension and atmosphere without burying anything. There aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion to note and while this doesn’t offer up a surround sound experience that a more action intensive blockbuster might, there’s some good directional effects placement noticeable throughout the movie, even if sometimes it’s only ambient or background noise.

    Sadly, none of the extras from any of the special edition releases that the movie has received in various territories have been carried over for the film’s Blu-ray debut, so all we get here are a trailer and a trio of TV spots, along with pop-up menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    One of Peckinpah’s finest moments and a truly tense film layered with subtext and ripe for examination and interpretation, Straw Dogs is as fascinating as it is exciting. Wonderfully acted and wonderfully shot, it’s a grim and nasty little picture but not one without value as, if nothing else, it does force you to think and to feel for the characters. MGM’s Blu-ray really should have had some more extra features than it does, as this truly is a movie that calls out for critical insight and documentation, but aside from that it looks and sounds good and definitely trumps past DVD presentations.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. george n's Avatar
      george n -
      One of my favourite films,and i live about twenty mins from where this film is set.People really are that inbred around here(excluding myself of course)
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Quote Originally Posted by george n View Post
      One of my favourite films,and i live about twenty mins from where this film is set.People really are that inbred around here(excluding myself of course)
      You live near St Buryan, George? Did you ever see that short programme broadcast on BBC2 in the late 1990s/early 2000s in which Rick Stein (of all people) visited the locations used in STRAW DOGS? I may still have it on tape somewhere. It was an odd little programme but interesting all the same.
    1. george n's Avatar
      george n -
      I live near exeter in devon,im about twenty mins or so to cornwall.The actual location is probably an hour and a half away.I never saw the documentary but it sounds awesome.where are you based?