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Hagenauer, F. Hamilton, J.W. (1973). “Straw Dogs”: Aggression and Violence in Modern Film. Am. Imago, 30(3):221-249.

(1973). American Imago, 30(3):221-249

“Straw Dogs”: Aggression and Violence in Modern Film

Fedor Hagenauer, M.D. and James W. Hamilton, M.D.

The recent controversial film “Straw Dogs,” selected by several critics as one of the ten best movies of 1971, and considered by many as one of the most violent films ever produced, offers an unusual opportunity to examine the problem of aggression and violence within the framework of the creative process since it has been rather loosely adapted by the director himself from a work of fiction, The Siege of Trencher's Farm (Williams, 1969). The novel concerns an American professor of English, George Magruder, on a year's sabbatical in England to write a book about an obscure 18th century literary figure named Branksheer. In his mid-thirties, he settles on an isolated farm in rural Cornwall with his English-born wife, Louise, and their eight year old daughter, Susan. The local people are a tightly-knit, inbred group who are both suspicious and envious of the American visitor, and wary of establishing any relationship with him. Magruder makes several overtures to the villagers, but when his cat is found strangled and semi-buried in the farmyard, he becomes apprehensive. Henry Niles who has been convicted of killing several children and is also mentally retarded, escapes from a nearby asylum where he has been confined for ten years, at the same time that the eight year old daughter of a local family, Janice Hedden, is found to be missing from a church social. While driving home from the same event in a snow storm, Magruder accidentally runs over Niles, who is wandering along the roadside, and takes him to Trencher's Farm to care for him and to call for medical assistance. Having assumed that Niles is responsible for his daughter's disappearance, and upon hearing that he is being sheltered by Magruder, Tom Hedden, Janice's father, sets out to dispense his own talion justice, armed with a shotgun and accompanied by several drinking companions. Arriving at the farm, he demands that Magruder turn Niles over to him but Magruder, sensing that Niles will be killed, refuses.

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