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Monday, July 03, 2017

The Beguiled (1971)

I wanted to see Don Siegel's 1971 film The Beguiled before I see the remake by Sofia Coppola now in theaters. It's marketed as a Clint Eastwood picture, and you can see in the poster that he is holding a gun and the women in the story are depicted as some kind of demons from hell. Well, he never fires a gun, not in real time, and for almost all of the film he is emasculated, which makes it a strange Eastwood film.

Based on a novel, The Beguiled stars Eastwood as a Union soldier who is wounded in the Vicksburg campaign. He is taken by the small group of women at a girls' boarding school. The headmistress (Geraldine Page), is reluctant to do so, and there a couple of girls who never yield their Rebel loyalty, but the rest are charmed by him, especially the 12-year-old who rescued him (Pamelyn Ferdin, who voiced Lucy in several Peanuts cartoon specials).

The women have been so cloistered that the presence of a man makes them all crazy. Virginal teacher Elizabeth Hartman falls in love with him, 17-year-old sexpot Jo Ann Morris throws herself at him, and eventually Page's lust awakens (we are shown that she had an incestuous relationship with her brother). Even the one remaining slave, Mae Mercer, becomes fond of him, though not sexually.

Eastwood, sort of like in a Fistful of Dollars, plays one side against the other, until he is caught, and then he gets his comeuppance. There's some rather obvious foreshadowing going on when he announces he loves mushrooms. The issues of the Civil War are never really addressed--this could have taken place in any war, as it's about how women unaccustomed to men lose their shit when a good looking one shows up and they start competing over him--not exactly a feminist message.

It will be interesting to see how Coppola plays it--she's emphasizing the women, not the solider (Colin Farrell plays that part, and he's not even in the poster), and the sexualization of minors (Eastwood gives Ferdin a kiss, saying she's old enough) wouldn't go today.

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