3 December 2006 | TOMASBBloodhound
Had to have been scandalous for its time.
During the brief period between Clint Eastwood's string of spaghetti westerns and his Dirty Harry films, he and director Don Siegel teamed up to make this unusual picture. Eastwood plays an injured Union Army corporal during the Civil War who is taken in by a southern school for girls until he recovers from his wounds. It has been a while since the young women (most of which seem to be teenagers) have had a man on the premises, so they are reluctant to turn him in to the local rebel soldiers. The resulting situations are often humorous, shocking, erotic, or even downright grotesque as Eastwood slowly regains his strength and begins to brood over the establishment.
The basic storyline almost sounds like the makings of a porno film. We have a masculine male suddenly surrounded by young nubile women. Most of them are sexually attracted to him. And he is more than willing to spread the love amongst them. The material never really slips down to the level of "tasteless", however. Eastwood, Siegel, and cinematographer Bruce Surtees are such skilled filmmakers, that the film always retains its dignity.
Eastwood's John McBurney is like no other character he has ever played. McBurney is an amoral, conniving, and lustful charlatan. He knows that most of the women, even the youngest want his bod, and he lets more than one of them have a shot at him. McBurney often uses flattery to butter the women up, then uses his rugged good looks to reel them in. He is like a drunken player at a cocktail party, often hitting on different women even in the same scene! Eventually, his lustful ways cause him great agony and loss in a way you must see for yourselves. This author would not dream of revealing the specific consequences of his actions, but there is little doubt he has them coming.
Eastwood gives a typically great performance. He seems to be having a blast with the role until things turn really ugly, then he turns mean and ugly. Geraldine Page is a treat as the steely B*tch who runs the school. We know she wants McBurney as much as the other girls, but with her checkered past shown to us in flashbacks, we find out that isn't all she's after! Mae Mercer as a slave belonging to the school gives a great performance, too. She obviously knows McBurney is a skunk from the beginning, and she never lets his phony charm bring her guard down. This is a character you will want to know more about after the film is over. She seems to have a greater knowledge of the world than anyone else in the film.
The Beguiled did poorly in its theatrical release. Nobody was quite sure what to make of it, and some of its content no doubt raised a few eyebrows in 1971. For example, in an early scene we see Eastwood romantically kiss a 12-yr-old girl. Is he just trying to keep her quiet when the rebel soldiers get close, or is he really enjoying it? Probably both! A fantasy sequence later on even shows Clint getting it on with not only Page, but her young assistant! Truly some interesting goings on in this one. It's a good thing Eastwood became the star he did, or this one might have been long forgotten.
Highly recommended. 9 of 10 stars.