The Beguiled (1971) – Don Siegel

 

Clint Eastwood stars in the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Red Badge of Courage. He plays John McBurney, a Yankee soldier who is injured during the course of the war, and is discovered by a student at a Southern All Girls School.

He becomes the center of attention, and exploits it to stay alive.

Miss Martha (Geraldine Page) and Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) are the teachers, and they, along with their six students begin to have reactions to McBurney. There are hints of eroticism, and the pushing of taboos (some in troubling ways), as lust, revenge, and deceit all come into play within the confines of the school.

Some want him turned over to the Confederates, some want them for themselves, but no matter who the character, each has an awakening as the element that is McBurney is introduced to their previously static environment.

McBurney is well aware of the effect he has on everyone in the school, and chats to everyone, flirting with them, making them feel like the center of his world, manipulating them to survive.

Things begin to unravel, as quickly as McBurney’s leg goes bad, and needs amputating.

beguiled

It’s curious that he’s not quite a bad guy, although he takes a much darker turn after the loss of his leg, but he does exploit these women. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that he’s in the Union Army, the victors of the Civil War, and he is ruining and changing the lives of these Southern ways in all manner of ways.

As the film reaches it’s climax, things play out the way they have to, but there are regrets on the sides that have now been created, and would one good deed change the terrible things that were done?

This one is a bit of a unique film, and no doubt pushed the limits 70s cinema, in fact, even today, it is still an eerie, beautiful and troubling watch. No doubt that is why it’s on the remake list. The original however is an enthralling, troubling film, that has images and moments that will haunt, and I wonder if I should pick up Thomas Cullinan’s original novel to see how that has stood the test of time.

I do like that Eastwood took this role, it’s a bit of a different turn for his usual on-screen performances, but he doesn’t shirk back from some of the more taboo elements of the story.

And underneath it all, Lalo Schifrin has composed an equally eerie score. If you’ve not seen it, you should definitely take a look, it’s interesting, troubling, and leaves the viewer with thoughts to ponder. In other words, not your usual popcorn fare, and not simply there for entertainment value.

While, again, not necessarily a war movie, its setting against the Civil War, still speaks and influences the film itself.

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