Clint Eastwood, one of a handful of humans who are known – by most over a certain age - solely from their Christian name. This film is from a time when that brand was narrower than it has come to be today for a man with significant gifts as a director as well as a performer. Back in 1971 Mr Eastwood was only just stepping out of the spaghetti sauce and this represented a departure from his normal, unequivocal, repertoire. It was, he said, "an opportunity to play true emotions and not totally operatic and not lighting cannons with cigars".
From memory – I haven’t seen this for a long time – I had Clint’s character, Corporal John McBurney, as primarily a good guy: a Yankee soldier rescued from fatal injury and capture by a school of southern gentlewomen. But things are not so clear and The Beguiled weaves a delicate path between our expectations as the convalescing captive wages a war of charm and connivance against his ostensibly nursing captors…
The film opens with stills of the Civil War, most posed maybe some real and then cuts to a young girl Amy (the excellent Pamelyn Ferdin) searching for mushrooms in a dense wood. She finds the wounded McBurney who distracts her with a – shocking – kiss on the mouth so she will hide him from Confederate soldiers.
|Mr McB and Amy|
But Miss Farnsworth shows him mercy: he can’t be given over as a prisoner in such a weak condition, he would surely die. They plan to get him well and then hand him over… and McBurney isn’t going to dissuade them.
|Geraldine Page and Clint|
|A close-shave with Mae Mercer|
|Darleen Carr (second left) is outspoken|
As his recovery progresses, he starts to dominate the school and the thoughts of the three women and one girl who have feelings for him.
He makes the wrong choice, the only one he can make, and events begin to spin out of control as all kinds of passion explodes within formerly gentile countenance.
|Jo Ann Harris|
Don Siegel directs with the assurance you'd expect and there’s sumptuous cinematography from Bruce Surtees and a lush score from Lalo Schifrin – as dense as the woods suffocating the school.
The performances are outstanding especially Geraldine Page as the conflicted headmistress hiding from her own desires.