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USA 1971
Directed by
Don Siegel
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Beguiled, The (1971)

The Beguiled is one of a trio of films that Clint Eastwood‘s Malpaso production company released in 1971 including the similarly and very '70s battle-of-the-sexes themed Play Misty For Me and Dirty Harry, the latter also directed by Don Siegel, The Beguiled is by far the most interesting of the three in terms of both form and content.

Eastwood plays John McBurney, a wounded Union soldier during the Civil War, who takes refuge in a Southern school  for young ladies run by Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page). His presence in this isolated  all-female environment soon has the women’s libidinal urgings stirred up and McBurney uses his easy charm to take full advantage of this.  But for all his way with the women McBurney is at heart a callous chauvinist and will pay a heavy price for his deceitfulness.

What makes this film unusually strong is that that the narrative, derived from a novel by Thomas Cullinan, deftly develops it characters with McBurney’s gratification-oriented opportunism contrasted with the women who in one way or another all want to possess him - Carol (Jo Ann Harris) as a sex object, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) as Mr Right, Martha (Geraldine Page) as a dutiful man about the house and a substitute for the incestuous relationship she had with her brother and even the 12 year old Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) as a surrogate father. Hell hath no fury as they say and McBurney learns this lesson the hard way albeit too late as the women close ranks in preserving a world of which he will never be a part.

Seigel is a director known for his economical genre work (Dirty Harry being a case in point) but here he branches out with interior monologues, visuals that contradict spoken dialogue and an erotic fantasy sequence ending with a Pietà-like tableau.

The Beguiled is a film which in many ways is more interesting for its various thematic resonances, both within American film of the time and Eastwood's career in particular than its immediate satisfactions as a kind of Gothic horror movie which at times it approaches but never fully achieves. 




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