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MGM Studios DVD presents
Straw Dogs (1971)

“I will not allow violence against this house.”
- David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: September 19, 2004

Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, T.P. McKenna, Del Henney
Other Stars: Ken Hutchison, Colin Welland, Jim Norton, Sally Thomsett, Donald Webster, Len Jones, Michael Mundell, Peter Arne, David Warner
Director: Sam Peckinpah

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic violence, nudity, rape, language)
Run Time: 01h:57m:25s
Release Date: October 19, 2004
UPC: 027616912039
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-B D-

DVD Review

Most of us are city slickers. Our lives are relatively cushy compared to the rough-and-tumble lifestyle many once experienced in more rural, untamed communities. People who had to work the land to provide for their family had an inherently different attitude than those who stop by the supermarket every Wednesday. If I scrape my knee, I generally tend to it immediately. Such an injury may not capture the attention of someone with a more rugged lifestyle until the end of the day. Does this make those of us who live a life of convenience weaker, or less savage? Sam Peckinpah's infinitely controversial Straw Dogs addresses this foggy cultural rift (if it can be dubbed that) with a biting no win scenario.

David Sumner (the effective Dustin Hoffman) is, as Mark Zimmer elsewhere on digitallyOBSESSED has dubbed him, the "modern American wimp." This is the perfect title for the subdued mathematician, whose only hint of anger and violence emerges when his work on astrophysics equations is threatened. He and his fetching wife Amy (Susan George) have moved to her home town to take possession of a house she has inherited. It is a cozy, almost medieval abode, fitted with jarring rock walls, animal skins and even the convenient bear trap above the fireplace. David hopes to accomplish great things among such a tranquil setting, but the household tasks are not absent. The nearby garage needs work.

In steps Amy's old hubby Charlie (Del Henney) and his gang of hooligans. They are ready and willing to repair the structure's roof, but their motivations are barely monetary. While making slow repairs, the gang ogles after David's wife and respects her husband only when he is giving them due attention. When his back is turned, the group is fiercely cruel, expressing their jealous rage through insults and veiled attempts to "help" the seemingly spineless mathematician. Despite the town's efforts to include the Sumners in their community's predominantly religious activities, David still feels like the outsider. After the cold, brutal rape of his wife, David finds himself face to face with an injured John Niles (Peter Arne), who the town is after for the disappearance of a young girl. David takes the man in, but they are soon discovered. Charlie and his drunk thugs are out for blood and two of their prime targets are cornered in one ugly house.

So begins the siege—a kind of Home Alone without the cute schlock or the homeless snow shovel guy. This film still seems to ruffle feathers today. Peckinpah's outing is rife with graphic violence, but the real violence here is not depicted through shots of bloody gore, but by his intense editing, which violently flashes shocking images of rape and brutality, cutting across the screen like sharp blows to the gut; indeed, the entire film hinges on this savage attack, the news of which does not reach David until an unexpected time. I found this to be an interesting, yet effective choice, avoiding the expected "whoop-ass" transformation of David once he hears the news—when all is revealed, he is already headlong into some Texas, er, Charles Bronson-esque justice.

When thoughtfully considered, this film could be justly considered a masterpiece. There are some confusing messages to wade through first. Exhibit One (and in response to Mark Zimmer's review of the Criterion edition): Amy seems to show signs of pleasure as the viscous, horrendous rape progresses. I view this as a defense mechanism, not a validation of a brutal crime. Charlie clearly threatens her further bodily harm if she resists. Is she not merely trying to limit the physical damage, though her mental scars are all but irreparable? Exhibit Two: is Peckinpah promoting violence in this picture? Should David have struck first and earlier? Would that have prevented the rape? The sad truth is, probably not. Whether or not violence was used earlier or later is not the issue. Instead, Peckinpah seems to suggest there are situations when violence cannot be avoided, and the administration of that violence has no perfect timing. It is a true "no-win" scenario created by the darkness of mankind, suggesting an inescapable course that will ultimately end in violence.

Whether or not this is a reputable message is up to the viewer to decide. We would always like to believe we have full control over life's situations, but this is a sadly unrealistic notion. When we make decisions, there are times when consequences of those decisions cannot be escaped. Great cinema forces us to reevaluate our conceptions. Peckinpah’s complexity is refreshing here, bringing the concepts of class struggle and defensive violence to a new, shocking level.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: MGM's image looks to be virtually the same transfer as the Criterion edition; when I compared the two, Criterion's release seemed to have a bit more grain in the opening credits, but later, the two images become indistinguishable. This is an excellent presentation, showcasing solid blacks, good shadow detail (comes in handy toward the end) and solid colors. The subdued '70s tones are intact, and the print is relatively clear of blemishes, save for some fine grain.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The monaural sound is functional, with clear dialogue and solid fidelity for Jerry Fielding's foreboding score. There is some very minimal hiss to deal with, but this is a fine mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: If you want extras, look to the comprehensive Criterion release of the film. It's out of print, so move fast. This is a bargain priced movie-only release that maintains the same a/v quality, but is devoid of extra material.

Though the package seems to suggest new material has been included, this is the same cut presented on Criterion's two-disc set.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

Peckinpah's violent take on class struggle and the spineless scholar is still as shocking and biting as it was in its time. This is a thematically challenging, important work. MGM's disc maintains Criterion's excellent feature presentation, but lacks the extras.

 


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