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The Beguiled

January 13th, 2011 by unkle lancifer · 11 Comments

Folks shouldn’t forget to invite THE BEGUILED (1971) to the horror party. Just because nothing supernatural is going on and hardly anybody gets killed, doesn’t mean it won’t bring any bean dip. Directed by DON SIEGAL (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ‘56) and starring frequent collaborator CLINT EASTWOOD, THE BEGUILED spins a delicate, deleterious web adapting the southern gothic novel A PAINTED DEVIL by THOMAS CULLINAN. If you appreciate the ominous beauty of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER or the psychosexual undercurrent of THE INNOCENTS you should get along with this movie just fine. Its blade is sharp enough that you may not realize that you’ve been cut until the film is over.

EASTWOOD (in his prime, I must say) plays injured Yankee soldier John McBurney who is discovered and drug home by a young girl (ubiquitous seventies child star PAMELYN FERDIN.) He finds himself being nursed back to health in an all-girl Confederate school and, although the ladies present express their trepidation about allowing the enemy in, it may be he who should be apprehensive as their bedside manner ends up being more Annie Wilkes (MISERY) than Florence Nightingale. A handful of the women instantly establish designs upon McBurney and he, operating as a blank slate, allows them to project whatever they like upon him. It isn’t long before romantic fantasies are clashing and colliding and amity is thrown to the curb. Events eventually come to such a head that manipulative “McBee” pays for his underestimation of the fury of a woman scorned with a rather symbolic and wince-worthy loss of an appendage.

EASTWOOD showcases murkier depth than is usually associated with him and the supporting players are equal to his best. GERALDINE PAGE, as headmistress Martha, is chilling in her self-deceptive rationalizing and RAPE SQUAD’s JO ANN HARRIS plays the perfect pouty vixen. During my last viewing though, I came away more impressed than usual with ELIZABETH HARTMAN who portrays the fragile Edwina. Turns out the Academy Award nominee voiced Mrs. Brisby in THE SECRET OF NIMH and tragically took her own life in 1987. The way all of these characters are represented with their own inner voices and personal flashbacks is unusually keen. There are no specific bad guys here really, just a group of people whose motivations and aspirations don’t mesh. Outside of the alarming operation scene, THE BEGUILED treads softly but the mood established is cozy-creepy and the film has a rather luxurious candle lit glow. No, the supernatural does not come out to play, but thanks to cinematographer BRUCE SURTEES (whom EASTWOOD would wisely borrow for his own PLAY MISTY FOR ME later the same year) the movie feels legitimately haunted anyway.

THE BEGUILED is precise in its understatement and it’s one of those movies that refuses categorization and therefore tends to get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps too, it was difficult for audiences to except EASTWOOD as such a calculating character who uses his masculine charms to get his way. He’s no mere “womanizer”; he blatantly exploits romantic expectations to his advantage and yet still evokes sympathy like a wounded bird. In any case, this is one of EASTWOOD’s best performances and further indication of what a fine, thoughtful artist SIEGAL could be. With one foot in the lovely and one foot in the grotesque, THE BEGUILED may not be traditional horror fare but it if you ask me, it does fall into that smaller category of a “great film.”

Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 10:15 am

    The Beguiled is currently on Netflix Streaming.

    I didn’t include its trailer in my post as it is ridiculous and seriously betrays the tone of the film…

  • 2 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I got as far as the words “Pamelyn Ferden” and said “This sounds fabulous, how come Ive never HEARD of it????”

    My husband has a big time man crush on Clint Eastwood too so watching this will be win-win!

  • 3 craigNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    How is it possible that I have managed to miss this film? More importantly, how have I managed to miss something with Gerardine Page? She’s perfectly loopy in every role she bites into. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  • 4 Binrow The HereticNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Terrific movie. A true Gothic. Glad you put it in the spotlight, Unk. But I think you might have given just a bit too much away!

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 7:18 pm


    I thought I might have given too much away too but my thinking was that I might be able to lure some more horror fans to check it out by mentioning those grisly bits!

    I made sure to stay clear from the ending though!

  • 6 Binrow The HereticNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    No worries, Unk. Keep up the good work – exceptionally witty writing in your reviews.

  • 7 cmcmcmcmNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    wow – this looks so freaking cool! and clint is one hunka burning something-or-other in any era – but you’re right – he is soooo in his prime here. i can’t believe i haven’t heard of this one either. damn!

  • 8 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 16, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Thanks Binrow! Glad you dig this one too. I’m going to have to get it on DVD, the streaming version I saw was fullframe but I notice the DVD is widescreen. Great looking film!

    Cmcmcmcm, true that. I think it’s time to watch “Play Misty for me” again.

  • 9 PinchyNo Gravatar // Jan 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    That’s it. I just need to give you the keys to my Netflix queue and let you drive for awhile…….

  • 10 icysugarspikeNo Gravatar // Sep 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Caught this on Netflix after remembering it from my childhood. Even then, I knew something weird and creepy was going on. Beautiful movie (to me, anyway), but it’s sure not going to appeal to everyone. No wonder they had so much trouble trying to market this. What kind of a box would this film fit into, anyway? Let’s all just be glad it got made, because what a story it had to tell!

  • 11 Jhone DanielsNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2011 at 7:24 am

    This film is SO VERY FINE. So very fine. Clint at his most handsome, and chock full of seriously creepy and inappropriate sexuality…so, yanno….the seventies in general. Outstanding. Just bought a collection of early Eastwood films recently..and this little gem was tucked in as a bonus! I was SO delighted to see it again after all this time, and yes, why yes, still so effed up after all these years.

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