By Sam Boykin
“This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house.” It’s a proclamation Dustin Hoffman utters about three-quarters of the way through Straw Dogs, and it pretty much sums up what's at the heart of this dark 1971 thriller directed by Sam Peckinpah.
Hoffman plays David Sumner, a nebbish mathematician who moves with his sexy young wife, Amy (Susan George), to her native village on the south coast of Great Britain. While David labors in his study working on an intricate math project, Amy, bored and petulant, begins flirting with a group of crass and boorish locals doing repair work on the couple’s isolated farmhouse. It doesn’t take long for tension to develop between David and the workers, which is compounded by Amy’s flirtatious behavior.
Things turn nasty when the couple’s cat turns up strangled and hanging from a light switch in their closet. But this is nothing compared to when two of the workers rape Amy in a graphic and controversial scene, which earned the film an X rating when it was released in the United Kingdom.
This all leads up to the big climactic showdown during which the once timid David turns ferocious and uses everything from boiling water to a bear trap to protect his homestead. While the film takes a while to get going, Hoffman, who 11 years later would wear a dress in Tootsie, is in fine form here, showcasing Peckinpah’s affinity to explore man’s capacity for violence.