Saturday, April 11, 2015
THE BEGUILED (1971)
Directed By: Don Siegel
Written By: Grimes Grice &; John B. Sherry
Based on the Novel By: Thomas Cullinan
Cinematography By: Bruce Surtees
Editor: Carl Pingitore
Music By: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris, Melody Thomas, Darlene Carr
During the civil war, injured Yankee soldier, John McBurney is rescued on the verge of death by a teenage girl from a southern boarding school. She manages to get him back to the school, and at first the all-female staff and pupils are scared. As he starts to recover, one by one he charms them and the atmosphere becomes filled with jealousy and deceit.
I warn you this is a film best to go into blind the following review is more of a discussion and might not have spoilers to a degree but certainly hints at certain actions and developments. I highly suggest if you haven't seen the film. Skip the review watch it and then come back. you have been warned. --The film starts off slow, as it goes along you are never quite certain exactly what is going on? where it is going? nor who you should lay your trust in?
This is a southern gothic with a nasty mean streak at times. That is surprisingly dark. Never quite politically correct. Not that it should be. This truly feels like something original from a bygone era.
Very few if any people are innocent in this film. We especially know it's not out lead characters as they supposedly tell their stories. We see tidbits of flashbacks of their true actions. Timely us know the embellishments. Even the supporting characters who don't figure in as intimately are there and represent a certain danger even when supposedly there as salvation and protection. They might not necessarily be opposed to using that power for their own nefarious means.
The film never settles on a tone, but stays haunting even when it becomes based in the more carnal elements. As the ladies see him as an ideal of whatever they are missing in male companionship and as a captive at first. He is open and willing to fulfill or play whatever role they wish. Fanning the flames of desire for his enjoyment and also survival.
Once they start acting on their fantasies and he begins to slowly take advantage of, at first he acts as a pawn but once he gets the upper hand. He shows his true colors as he seeks revenge and in his pain takes out a certain vengeance. That the film keeps vague or makes the audience decide whether either is justified or are they all just as despicable. Of course for the teenage girls they supposedly can't be blamed as they don't know any better. Though that is the thought general audience might relay. Here it feels more uncertain and wrong.
Throughout most of the film there is always a threat of violence and despair though rarely takes action. Nor is there any real action sequences though the film takes place during the civil war.
The film is hard at times to tell who is scarier the schoolgirls or the soldier. At least they don't know any better. The soldier does yet seems vindictive. Even if only trying to use the situation best to his advantages. Though the head mistress, who holds secrets of her own and seems easily willing to contemplate torture, murder and revenge. All with a smile or calm face as thing go out of order quickly.
Scarily it seems like a coven as she teaches her young wards a certain indifference but also resistance and the art of murder to a degree. Though she does teach them aspects of survival to a degree as a woman at the time.
Geraldine Page here comes across as one of the scariest, but understandable big screen villains to a degree. She truly earns a place in he pantheon of truly evil characters. driven strictly by human nature.
This film is certainly an exciting oddity. That needs to be more well known. It feels quite taboo even by today's standards. While watching it today it felt shocking. So I can only imagine the stir it might have caused when it was first released.
Quite shocking not only for a Clint Eastwood performance, but also another collaboration with director Don Siegel after all the more action oriented westerns and modern day films. This came out of left field. Though it is said that this was Don Siegel’s favorite film of his own work.
The film isn't scary in the conventional sense. Nor does it ever get boring, but as it escalates the tension rises and the air feels like it gets thinner as the film is constantly unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen next.
This is a film that is best to go into blind. As you think you know what will happen. Then turns your head around slowly, degree by degree until you are totally turned around.
Though it is a film that you will try to guess ahead and will most times be wrong about the outcome. Not frustrated by what actually does happen.
The film plays like a tame non horror themed extended episode from the TALES FROM THE CRYPT TV series at least in spirit