Movie Review: The Beguiled (1971)

Posted: August 20, 2017 in Drama, Romance
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Beguiled

John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is a Colonel in the Union army.  He’s been shot and is losing a lot of blood.  McB is found by 12 year old Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) who takes him to a Confederate Girls’ School, run by a woman named Martha.  (Geraldine Page)  Martha plans to make him well and turn him over to the Confederate troops patrolling the area immediately, but McBurney has a plan, he starts to ingratiate himself to all the women in the house, including Amy, a house slave named Hallie, (Mae Mercer) a teacher in the school, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) a 17 year old “hussy” named Carol, (JoAnn Harris) and Martha.  Martha has been deserted by her brother, Hallie responds to McBurney’s promise to find her boyfriend, Edwina has never been with a man, Amy is just starting to notice men, and Carol just wants another man to sleep with.  McBurney seems to know what button to push with each woman, but he overindulges his cravings, and Carol sees him seducing Edwina, and gets angry, how does she plan to get revenge on McBurney?  Can he keep fooling these needy women?

This is a strange movie, and a far cry from Eastwood’s Dirty Harry persona, or maybe it isn’t.  This is a revenge fantasy, but who’s getting the revenge and who gets the last laugh?  It seems to me that this story is told from the man’s point of view, and the man seems to be a chauvinist.  His first objective is survival, then McBurney wants pleasure and he doesn’t really care who gives it to him.  The women all seem to have man issues, there’s not one self-actualized one in the bunch.  The storyline is a bit redundant after a while, and the strangeness, including a very strange dream sequence,  threatens to derail the plot, but it’s still fun to see who is left standing at the end.  Call it a guilty pleasure. It’s like a Tarantino movie, with a lot less violence.

This is a departure for Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t always play the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, in fact his films are known for their lack of female roles.  But since he can’t fight his way out of this situation or shoot his way out, he has to try to charm his way out.  It’s a macho role, just a different kind of macho role.  Geraldine Page is good as Martha, the founder of the school, with a lot of baggage, and some mighty strange baggage it is.  Page still plays the role as a prim and proper Southern schoolmarm, who keeps her desires locked away.  The rest of the women are stereotypes. Mae Mercer is the “sassy” slave.  Edwina is the virginal ideal woman of that era, Carol is jaded despite her young age, and Amy is the little girl, just starting to experience womanhood.  None of the women in these roles are good enough to make their badly written roles convincing, except for perhaps Elizabeth Hartman as Edwina.  The acting from the supporting cast is not great, the script reads like a Southern soap opera, and that ultimately leads to the downfall of the film.

Not to be outdone, Don Sigel, who directed Dirty Harry overdoes the visuals, the camera spins and reels, like a dizzy schoolgirl, and the effect is claustrophobic and nauseating.  Siegel directs this movie as if it was some kind of Victorian Gothic novel, like Jane Eyre, but this is a trashy low rent Jane Eyre, complete with creepy music from Lalo Schiffrin who’s done some good stuff like Cool Hand Luke and Bullitt, but this music seemed to intrude on the movie and not enhance it. The pacing of the film is slow, the performances are not that great, and it limps to an ending.

The Beguiled:  Eastwood goes South, in more ways than one.

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