When people talk about their favorite Clint Eastwood film, they usually list DIRTY HARRY, a spaghetti western or one of the "important" films that he's made in recent years. My favorite is
THE BEGUILED, which I first reviewed here two years ago. Part Civil War epic, part baroque melodrama, part dirty soap opera, part gothic horror movie, part gender politics study and part Brothers Grimm fairy tale: THE BEGUILED (directed by Don Siegel) stars Clint Eastwood in his most intriguing and unusual role since he was elected mayor of Carmel, Ca.
After the requisite montage of real Civil War atrocities via sepia-tinted black and white photos...we arrive somewhere in Louisiana during the last days of the Civil War. Eastwood is John McBurney, a Yankee soldier who is near death after falling out of a tree. My guess is that he was hiding up there when he was shot.
A 12 year old girl named Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin, Edna Unger from TV's ODD COUPLE) is out picking mushrooms and discovers his severely wounded body. They talk, exchange names and cell phone numbers, and just before the girl helps him to stand, he tells her she's "old enough to kiss a man" and pulls her down beside him and gives her a long, hard kiss on the mouth. Huh??? She's confused, but happy. I'm confused and kinda grossed out. She then drags him to the mansion on a old plantation that serves as an all-girls school, where "McB" slowly regains his health under the care of sexually repressed headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) and the horny girl students who live there. Sort of like when Blair first dragged Jo back to the Eastland school where sexually repressed Mrs. Garrett welcomed her with open arms.
Martha puts her skeptical slave Hallie in charge of washing him...above and below the waist! We are treated to hints of incest when Hallie dresses him in Martha's brother's shirt. Afraid of being turned over to the rebel forces, McB behaves like a polite and appreciative guest, after all he is a Quaker! As he gets healthier, he begins to charm (or beguile if you may) the love-starved students.
Soon the girls begin to vie for his affections, at first we think he's actually falling for virginal teacher Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman), but he seems to be inspiring jealousy among some of the others. This reminds me of Tatum O'Neal and Kristie McNichol both going after Matt Dillon in LITTLE DARLINGS. When one of the spurned girls tries to turn McB over to the Confederate army, Martha comes to his defense, claiming that he's her cousin from Texas. When McB tries to "thank" the headmistress for offering him a permanent residence at the school as the groundskeeper (replacing her brother) we witness a full flashback of Martha and and her lusty sibling getting it on. Donny and Marie Osmond they are not!
Following this we are then treated to Martha's wine-induced dream sequence, an eerie montage of McB frolicking with both Martha and Edwina, ending with a lesbian-tinged three-way that transforms itself into a painting of The Pieta. I swear...McB then gets to suck the nipple of one of the slutty girls - teenaged hussy Carol - leading to a an altercation with an enraged Edwina which ends with McB at the foot of the long circular staircase with a newly re-wounded leg. The battle of the sexes has begun!
SPOILERS START HERE. Martha has the girls harness him up and tie him to the dining room table- and announces that she plans to cut off his leg before it becomes infected with gangrene. What follows is some pretty brutal stuff, involving blood, knives, a saw, bloody hands, sweat, facial close-ups, more blood, blurry faces, a sweaty slave, more blood - you name it...
Clint flips out when he wakes up the next day without a leg, and he's now a prisoner rather than a welcomed guest. Amy tells McB that she loves him and he loves her back. I think she's 13 now. Somehow McB gets his hands on a gun - and now he has the upper hand...but only one leg!
After he threatens Hallie, we flashback to her being raped by Martha's brother. Charming fellow. McB then discovers the wine cellar, then he interrupts the girl's lunch with a drunken rant...and news that he has discovered love letters between Martha and her brother! When Amy tries to lighten things up, he flings her pet turtle across the room, killing it!!! Huh? After this hysteria, Martha convinces sweet, innocent Amy to put down the bloody turtle and gather up some yummy mushrooms for the evening's dinner.
At dinner, McB apologizes for his drunken behavior, leads the table in prayer and and announces his intention to marry Edwina, but it is too late...he's been poisoned by Amy's mushrooms!!! Clint realizes this and slowly gets up from the table and struggles to leave the room. Martha demands that the girls leave him be and finish their dinner. They do. He tumbles to the ground off camera and dies. Next the girls wrap up his body and carry it outside the gate to dump it. The end.
This movie is brilliant. I'm not much of an Eastwood fan, but between this and PLAY MISTY FOR ME, I gotta say - he really knew how to pick 'em back them. Great acting from Clint, Page and Hartman also set this film apart from the pack. THE BEGUILED gets a big 10 outta 10 in my book. In an odd coincidence, two of the actresses, Elizabeth Hartman and Geraldine Page, died in the same week. Hartman died on June 10, 1987 after jumping out of an 5-story window in an apparent suicide. Page died on June 13, 1987 of a heart attack. Sad.