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"The Beguiled" is one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films, and a
departure from his typical early roles. Directed by Don Siegel, with
whom Eastwood collaborated on several films, it was made a year before
Eastwood's directorial debut with "Play Misty For Me". An alternate
title considered for the film was "Pussy-Footing Down At The Old
Plantation", which thankfully was not used, otherwise I am sure raunchy
jokes about the fact that it takes place at a girls' school would be
difficult to avoid. I first saw this movie in one of my college film
classes in the mid-1970's, and was immediately taken with it. I only
had an old battered VHS tape of it until I recently purchased the
widescreen DVD, which also includes the hilarious, awful trailer that
makes the film come across as a "Peyton Place" soap opera, and conveys
none of the creepiness of the film.
Interesting notes: Eastwood and Siegel had to battle with Universal Pictures to keep the original ending, and they won out; and, the film was billed as a standard Eastwood western, which it certainly is not. It is a Gothic tale of deception and horror set in the time of the Civil War, with an underlying tone of eroticism and sexual tension running throughout.
I'm not putting any spoilers in this review, and if you want to see the film as it should be seen, then be careful of looking it up on the internet, as spoiler reviews of it do abound.
Clint Eastwood portrays John McBurney, a Union soldier who is shot on Confederate ground and discovered by a young girl from a nearby girls' school. She rescues him and takes him back to the school, but instead of notifying the local patrol of his presence so that he will be taken to prison, the headmistress, Miss Martha (Geraldine Page), her assistant Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman), their black servant Hallie (Mae Mercer), and the mostly teenage girls take him in, heal him, and fall under his spell. The film sets its tone of creepiness and Gothic horror right from the titles, as it shows real battleground shots from the war, while Eastwood's voice is heard quietly singing a funereal song of the time.
The opening scene of his encounter with the little girl who saves him sets the tone of his character, and the tone of the entire movie. To say any more than that would spoil the surprises in that first scene. To say much more about the film itself might ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it...if you are into creepy, Gothic tales, find it and rent it. Eastwood is excellent in the film, and it is interesting to see him in an early role, or any role, where he portrays a character that is for the most part very unsympathetic.
Geraldine Page had a plum role in the film as the headmistress, and I cannot imagine another actress of the time being as good in the role; a long shot could have been Piper Laurie, but I don't think Laurie could have embodied the role in the same manner as Geraldine Page.
Elizabeth Hartman (whose wonderful performance in the film "A Patch of Blue" as a blind girl who falls in love with Sidney Poiter's character is another high point in her short career) is at her prime here, delicate and masterful at the same time. Unfortunately, her delicacy on film was also a part of her real life; she committed suicide at age 45.
I end this review with this observation: one manipulative, lying Yankee man is no match for a houseful of deceptive and libidinous Southern belles.
Anybody who hasn't seen this film is truly missing something special. Though it may not necessarily be for everyones tastes. This film may possibly break more 'sexual taboos' than any other, and it is another wonderful example of the early 70's trend of high creativity and barrier's being broken like no other time. It is haunting and unusual, both erotic and disturbing. Lalo Schifrin's music is superbly "dreamy" and dark, the photography and imagery are equally so. A very intelligent, groundbreaking inventive film.
Clever psychosexual drama about a wounded Union soldier (Clint Eastwood)
seeks refuge in an isolated Confederate school for young women during the
Civil War. Slowly, Eastwood begins to seduce every girl in sight, until
tables are turned and he becomes the pursued in an unsettling,
finale. Never has a film been so deliciously erotic yet disturbingly
macabre at the same time.
This is undoubtedly Eastwood's finest hour (those who tune in for "Dirty Harry" will indeed be surprised), while the rest of the cast gives uniformly superb performances. Try to see the film on video, as television prints usually delete crucial flashback scenes between Geraldine Page and Patrick Culliton.
This powerful drama centering around the effect which the arrival of a wounded civil war soldier has on a house full of women is probably Don Siegel's finest achievement, and is yet another example of Eastwood's willingness to break new ground and tackle new genres. It is also, perhaps, the finest acting performance of his career. His presence in the house releases not only deeply repressed sexual urges in the women who are helping him to recover from his wounds, but a sexually competitive frenzy which becomes ever more dangerous and frightening.
During the brief period between Clint Eastwood's string of spaghetti
westerns and his Dirty Harry films, he and director Don Siegel teamed
up to make this unusual picture. Eastwood plays an injured Union Army
corporal during the Civil War who is taken in by a southern school for
girls until he recovers from his wounds. It has been a while since the
young women (most of which seem to be teenagers) have had a man on the
premises, so they are reluctant to turn him in to the local rebel
soldiers. The resulting situations are often humorous, shocking,
erotic, or even downright grotesque as Eastwood slowly regains his
strength and begins to brood over the establishment.
The basic storyline almost sounds like the makings of a porno film. We have a masculine male suddenly surrounded by young nubile women. Most of them are sexually attracted to him. And he is more than willing to spread the love amongst them. The material never really slips down to the level of "tasteless", however. Eastwood, Siegel, and cinematographer Bruce Surtees are such skilled filmmakers, that the film always retains its dignity.
Eastwood's John McBurney is like no other character he has ever played. McBurney is an amoral, conniving, and lustful charlatan. He knows that most of the women, even the youngest want his bod, and he lets more than one of them have a shot at him. McBurney often uses flattery to butter the women up, then uses his rugged good looks to reel them in. He is like a drunken player at a cocktail party, often hitting on different women even in the same scene! Eventually, his lustful ways cause him great agony and loss in a way you must see for yourselves. This author would not dream of revealing the specific consequences of his actions, but there is little doubt he has them coming.
Eastwood gives a typically great performance. He seems to be having a blast with the role until things turn really ugly, then he turns mean and ugly. Geraldine Page is a treat as the steely B*tch who runs the school. We know she wants McBurney as much as the other girls, but with her checkered past shown to us in flashbacks, we find out that isn't all she's after! Mae Mercer as a slave belonging to the school gives a great performance, too. She obviously knows McBurney is a skunk from the beginning, and she never lets his phony charm bring her guard down. This is a character you will want to know more about after the film is over. She seems to have a greater knowledge of the world than anyone else in the film.
The Beguiled did poorly in its theatrical release. Nobody was quite sure what to make of it, and some of its content no doubt raised a few eyebrows in 1971. For example, in an early scene we see Eastwood romantically kiss a 12-yr-old girl. Is he just trying to keep her quiet when the rebel soldiers get close, or is he really enjoying it? Probably both! A fantasy sequence later on even shows Clint getting it on with not only Page, but her young assistant! Truly some interesting goings on in this one. It's a good thing Eastwood became the star he did, or this one might have been long forgotten.
Highly recommended. 9 of 10 stars.
Another well done moral ambiguity pieces where the anti-hero makes it
hard to decide who to root for.
If nothing else "The Beguiled" silenced anyone who said there were no good parts for actresses in movies-at least in 1971. There were four excellent parts for actresses in this film and all were well cast and well executed.
Pamelyn Ferdin did a fine job as Amy and would go on to play "Wanda June". This must have been the first time an adult male box office star shared an extended kiss with a twelve-year-old girl on camera, wonder if there was much controversy about this at the time. It was probably Polanski's favorite scene. Given the fate of Amy's turtle "Randolph", it is no surprise that Ferdin grew up to be a hardcore animal rights activist.
Geraldine Page was likewise excellent, playing a complex character with just the right amount of restraint. It is interesting that she died just three days after Elizabeth Hartman committed suicide (throwing herself through a fifth floor window) as they had also worked together in "You're a Big Boy Now".
Hartman (who looks like she could be Blair Brown's sister) was wonderful as Edwina and should have gotten an Oscar (no other performance was even close that year), but given what we now know about her you wonder just how much of her performance was a studied effort and how much just came from inside her. Edwina shows such raw pain it is difficult to watch. Like Marilyn Monroe's incredible performance in "The Misfits", the viewer is probably seeing a whole lot of her own demons in the character she is playing.
Finally there is Jo Ann Harris who is stunningly perfect as the flirty Carol. For my money Harris was the sexiest actress of the 1970's, combining sensuality with intelligence and humor. She was the best reason to watch the "Most Wanted" television series and the only reason to watch "Wild Wild West Revisited". Hard to believe that someone who could bring all that to the screen never became a big star.
This Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood strange and hypnotic drama was left by
the wayside in 1971 and what a pity. A fascinating character study with
some great women for Squint to deal with. Geraldine Page was one of our
supreme actresses and she's perfectly cast. Young Jo Ann Harris is a
flirty minx, and Elizabeth Hartman (who died too young) is undeniably
A 7 out of 10. Best performance = C. Eastwood. Released the same year as DIRTY HARRY, this did no business, beside getting some good reviews. Seek this out unless you're only into "Explosion" films. Very subtle and frightening, this piece will stick with you.
.....and it's a good one, too. In fact, this may be one of the best studies of sexual repression ever made. It's extremely well-acted and has some downright chilling moments. An often overlooked film in Clint Eastwood's filmography, and atypical of him, to be sure, but if you're willing to accept him in such an ambiguous role, it's certainly very gripping. (***)
Clint Eastwood in a soap opera? You bet! Gothic melodrama is what a real critic would most likely call it. Wounded Yankee soldier Eastwood is rescued from the field by several southern school girls. He finds himself in an isolated all girls school surrounded by young ladies from about 10 years old up to the middle aged school mistress. Kinky! Crushes and jealousy kick in as Eastwood attempts to get as much mileage out of his situation as he can. He's a nasty man, but these are some nasty girls. I remember when this came out at the drive-in. No one really knew what to make of it. A few months later "Dirty Harry" was released and this out of step Clint Eastwood movie just disappeared. That's a shame. It's something really different. Directed by Eastwood's longtime collaborater Don Segal, the film has a highly stylized look and feel to it. It's just plain creepy and that feeling never lets up. There are no good guys or bad guys, just nasty people trying to take advantage of other nasty people who in turn grow nastier and nastier as the movie progresses. It doesn't cover all the ground the book did. (I read it during a tour of jury duty some years ago.) But it moves at a good pace and it's sometimes complicated plot stays reasonable easy to follow. (The book was very hard to keep straight!) Creepy and nasty and very different. Well worth a look, especially by Eastwood fans.
THE BEGUILED is indeed a memorable movie , but when you think about it
in any great detail this should have been a disaster of a movie
1 ) There are no likable characters . Think about it , Eastwood's anti hero is a bush-wacker while the girls - Some of whom are serious jail bait - are hypocrits . Who are we supposed to be cheering for ?
2 ) Nothing much happens
3 )The downbeat ending . Everyone loves happy endings right ? Just think how regarded THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION wouldn't have been if it wasn't for the feel good factor
4 ) You could see this being marketed as a western when it was released and still being marketed as such every time it's shown on television and all the western fans being disappointed when they find out it's not a western
And yet THE BEGUILED works because of these things . Eastwood is hardly the most versatile actor in the history of Hollywood but he's most impressive here while the supporting cast shine . Don Siegel direction is very restrained , some people might say the directing is flat and they wouldn't be entirely inaccurate and that's by no means a criticism but he does concentrate on a slightly brooding atmosphere
Perhaps the reason this movie works so well is down to the timing of its production . By the early 1970s conservative Hollywood was finally waking up to new ideas and new themes even though there was still reluctance by the studios to go over board . The movie is blatantly about repressed sexual desire but there's no explict sex . Can you imagine this being remade today with Brad Pitt playing the Union soldier who stumbles into the girls school with 19 year old starlets with implants playing 15 year olds ? Now that would be a disaster
As it is THE BEGUILED is a haunting story worthy of Poe or Ambrose Bierce and shouldn't be remade
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