According to critic Pauline Kael Straw Dogs
was "the first American film that is a fascist work of art". Sam Peckinpah's only film shot in Britain is adapted from a novel by Gordon M Williams called The Siege of Trencher's Farm
which Peckinpah described as a "lousy book with one good action-adventure sequence". The setting is Cornwall, where mild-mannered US academic David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) has bought a house with his young English wife Amy (Susan George) in the village where she grew up. David is mocked by the locals (one of whom is Amy's ex-boyfriend) and treated with growing contempt by his frustrated wife, but when his house comes under violent siege he finds unexpected reserves of resourcefulness and aggression.
The movie, Peckinpah noted, was much influenced by Robert Ardrey's macho-anthropological tract, The Territorial Imperative. Its take on Cornish village life is fairly bizarre--this is a Western in all but name--and many critics balked at the transposition of Peckinpah's trademark blood-and-guts to the supposed peace of the British countryside. A scene where Amy is raped caused particular outrage, not least since it's hinted she consents to it. Not for the first time in Peckinpah's movies there are disquieting elements of misogyny, and it doesn't help that the chemistry between Hoffman and George is non-existent. (Impossible to believe these two would ever have clicked, let alone married.) But taken as a vision of irrational violence irrupting into a civilised way of life Straw Dogs is powerful and unsettling, and the action sequences are executed with all Peckinpah's unfailing flair and venom. Oh, and that title? A quote from Chinese sage Lao-Tze, it seems, "The wise man is ruthless and treats the people as straw dogs." The film was long withheld from home viewing in Britain by nervous censors, but this release presents it complete and uncut. --Philip Kemp
On the DVD: Straw Dogs is as jam-packed a disc as is possible for a film made before the days of obligatory "making of" features. Both the sound and visuals have transferred well, and, like the script, have aged well. There's a bumbling original interview in the style of Harry Enfield's Mr. Cholmondley-Warner, along with stills and original trailers. The new material includes a feature on the history of the film's censorship and commentaries by Peckinpah's biographers musing over interesting fan-facts (though none of the speakers have any first-hand experience of the making of the film). However, Katy Haber's commentary, and interviews with Susan George and Dan Melnick, offer a much more in-depth and intimate portrayal of the man and the making of the film. --Nikki Disney