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Nearly 50 Years Later, The Dramatic Making Of Deliverance Finally Revealed

Deliverance, a 1972 wilderness survival film about four friends tripping down the Cahulawassee River, remains one of the scariest movies ever. But few know that the drama in making the thriller rivals that seen on screen. Check out these dramatic behind-the-scenes anecdotes and see why the main actors almost perished.

1. The Banjo Boy Couldn't Really Play The Banjo

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Billy Redden, who was a normal child rather than a professional actor, was picked to play Banjo Boy Lonnie at an elementary school by accident. Because he couldn't play the banjo, director John Boorman had a child banjoist hidden behind him to make it look like he strummed on screen.

2. The Film Was Shot In Order In Case Any Of The Actors Perished

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Believing stuntmen would upset the visceral viewing experience, Boorman had the actors - Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, and Ronny Cox - do their own canoeing in the rapids and filmed them in order. Reynolds later revealed the reason for shooting in sequence: "If one of you [goes under], I [the director] can write that into the script."

3. Reynolds Actually Went Over A Waterfall In A Canoe

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Known as a tough guy, Reynolds refused to use a dummy for a scene where Lewis goes over a waterfall in a canoe. He did it himself, and then "I hit a rock and cracked my tailbone." Adding embarrassment to injury, the actor emerged from the water naked as his costume had been torn off.

4. Voight Nearly Plummeted Off A Cliff

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To make the film authentic, actor Voight climbed a "slippery and almost perpendicular" rock himself for a close-up scene. "I was about 10 feet up on the face. I started to slip, called out, and one of them [two grips] caught me." Even more dangerously, a sharp rock was mere inches from his head when he was caught.

5. Beatty Nearly Succumbed To The Current

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For Authenticity, the filmmakers put actors in a real river. And this led Beaty to get caught in the rapids and become stuck underwater for over a minute. The staff even sent a diver to locate him before he finally found his way out.

6. Cox Almost Fell Down A Waterfall

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In one scene, Cox was flung out of his canoe by the rapids released from a nearby dam. He hit a rock underwater and hurt his shoulder, and as a result, he couldn't find his way out or grab hold of a rescue rope. Fortunately, a prop guy jumped in and saved the actor from falling down the waterfall.

7. Author James Dickey Cracked Four Of Director John Boorman's Teeth

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Deliverance's notoriously picky author James Dickey wasn't really happy with anyone but himself directing the movie. He often clashed with director Boorman over the film's tone and staging. One night, their tensions came to a head, and Dickey struck Boorman in the face, cracking four of his teeth. Despite the physical aggression, Boorman still cast Dickey as a sheriff.

8. The Director And Actors Threw The Author Off The Set

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Author James Dickey was imposing by all accounts. He was often inebriated and bellowed that the film was his, not Boorman's. Plus, Dickey insisted on calling the actors by their roles, instead of by their real names. These antics led to the director and four lead actors becoming resentful. In the end, they banded together and removed Dickey from the set for good.

9. Boorman Originally Cast Marlon Brando And Jack Nicholson As The Leads

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Warner Bros. once told director Boorman that they'd only agree to make the movie if he'd cast Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando in the lead roles. Diligently, the director went out and secured the two stars. But they were too expensive for the film, as Boorman had a mere $2 million budget. At last, he had to cast unknown actors in their place.

10. Mountain Man's Player Attempted To Scare Ned Beatty For Real

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The scene where hillbilly "Mountain Man" played by Bill McKinney violates Bobby Trippe - who was played by Ned Beatty - is so jarring and authentic that it doesn't seem like a performance at all, and for good reason. To bring the sense of menace, McKinney attempted to frighten the hell out of Beatty off-camera.

11. Reynolds Brought In The Actor Who Uttered The Immortal 'Purdy Mouth' Line

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Set in backwater locations, Deliverance needed unusual-looking guys to play the villainous hillbillies. And the most well-remembered "Toothless Man," who delivered the infamous line, "He got a real purdy mouth, ain't he?" was introduced by Reynolds. The actor's name was Herbert Coward, and he once worked with Reynolds at Ghost Town in the Sky theme park, NC.

12. A Crew Member Conceived The Most Famous Line Of Dialogue

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Thinking of Deliverance, the first line that comes to mind is probably "squeal like a pig." The words are muttered by Bobby's tormentor to defy the canoer. Powerful and profanity-free, this famous line is rumored to have various sources. Boorman attributed it to a crew member in the DVD audio commentary.

13. Reynolds Was Sent 30 Feet Into The Air For A Stunt

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The Chattooga River in which the film was set lacks a section for a critical scene where the rushing water rams the character's canoes into a gorge. To accomplish the stunt, Reynolds was willingly launched 30 feet into the air by a catapult and then fell into a pool at a local dam.

14. Beatty Pretended To Fall Into The Water To Get Back At Reynolds For Falling Asleep

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The only actor with canoe experiences, Beatty, alongside Reynolds, was often at the fore during filming. One day, as they were about to hit dangerous waters, Beatty tried to turn the canoe around but found his fellow actor had fallen asleep. "So I just jumped in the water. Burt really thought he'd done me in." He screamed after Beatty emerged and greeted him as if nothing had happened.

15. A Deer Perished During Production

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Chris Dickey - author James Dickey's son - who was on the set of the film, wrote in his book Summer of Deliverance: "A little deer was brought in from an animal park, and was heavily tranquilized so it could be controlled. There was never any question of hurting it in any way. But it [perished]. It had been given an overdose."

16. Ronny Cox Dislocated His Shoulder Intentionally

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In the difficult-to-watch scene where Drew's body was discovered, viewers found that his arm was twisted up around his head. It's Cox's real arm, not makeup or prosthetics. When the actor was young, he contracted a mild case of polio, which caused him to "do this thing where my shoulder comes out of place and just completely dislocates."

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