The late ‘60s and most of the ‘70s was a time of change in the movie business. The Motion Picture Code breathed its last, dying breath (and good riddance), so writers and directors were free to explore much stronger sex and violence, as well as tell stories where the good guys didn’t always win, and evil wasn’t always punished. Sam Peckinpah was in the forefront of the violence part of that story. After working for years in television, he broke out of the pack with his fourth movie, The Wild Bunch, which I think is the best western ever made. Violent? Wow, it blew our minds, let me tell you.
Two years later he made this one, which may have been even more controversial. Dustin Hoffman is a mathematician who moves to a remote part of Cornwall with his wife, who grew up there. He is a total nerd, completely out of place in the world of bullshitting, back-slapping, short-fused, “manly” men (as am I), men contemptuous of anyone with a brain, which includes most of the male population in the town. He tangles with five violent men who attack his house, demanding that he send out the brain-damaged man (David Warner) who he earlier hit with his car. And he finally draws the line in the sand. I will not retreat further than this, he says. And with smarts, determination, and a bit of luck, he manages to kill all the attackers. It is a pulse-pounding sequence, and the lead-up to it will churn the guts of any male who isn’t a he-man type.
I think it’s a wonderful film. It faces some hard truths about men … and women. His wife used to be the girlfriend of one of the attackers, and she can’t resist taunting the leering apes, and her husband. She ends up getting raped … or does she? Yes, she says no no no no no no no, she pushes him away many times … and then seems to at least be turned on by it all, kissing him back, responding to him. Then one of his friends takes his turn with her …
Remember, this was 1971. The idea that no means no was not so widespread then as it is today. It’s nasty, and I wish the scene had been written differently, but I can’t let it spoil the movie for me. Because in the end, it’s not so much about protecting your woman (she never tells him she was raped) but your home. That is a very deep instinct in human beings. Fuck with my home, and prepare to die, asshole. I will do everything in my power to kill you.