|Directed by||Don Siegel|
|Produced by||Don Siegel|
|Screenplay by||Albert Maltz
|Based on||A Painted Devil
by Thomas P. Cullinan
Jo Ann Harris
|Music by||Lalo Schifrin|
|Edited by||Carl Pingitore|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The Beguiled is a 1971 American drama film directed by Don Siegel, starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. The script was written by Albert Maltz and is based on the 1966 Southern Gothic novel written by Thomas P. Cullinan, originally titled A Painted Devil. The film marks the third of five collaborations between Siegel and Eastwood, following Coogan's Bluff (1968) and Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), and continuing with Dirty Harry (1971) and Escape from Alcatraz (1979).
During the middle of the American Civil War in 1863, injured Yankee soldier John McBurney is rescued from the verge of death by twelve-year-old Amy, a student at an all-girl boarding school in rural Mississippi. The headmistress, Martha Farnsworth, reluctantly agrees to take him in until he has built his health, under the condition that he is locked in the music room and kept under watch. Edwina, the schoolteacher, takes an immediate liking to John, as does Carol, one of the teenaged students.
John begins to bond with each of the women in the house, including the live-in servant, Hallie. As he charms each of the women, the sexually-repressed atmosphere of the school becomes filled with jealousy and deceit, and the women begin to turn on one another. After Carol witnesses John kissing Edwina in the garden, she ties a blue rag to the school's entrance gate to alert the Confederacy of a Yankee soldier. When a band of Confederate soldiers pass by the school and go to investigate, Martha lies and convinces them John is part of the Confederacy.
Martha also becomes secretly infatuated with John, and it is revealed through flashback that she had had an incestuous relationship with her deceased brother when he lived in the house. Martha considers keeping John at the school as a handyman, and later makes sexual advances toward him, but he declines them.
Late one night, Edwina witnesses John kissing Carol in the hallway and, in a jealous rage, beats him with a candlestick, causing him to fall down the grand staircase and break his leg. Martha insists that he will die of gangrene as a result of his bone breaking the skin, and insists they amputate his leg in order to save him. The women carry him to the kitchen where they tie him to the table and feed him wine before Martha saws off his leg at the knee. John awakens to Amy standing by his bedside, and Martha and Edwina enter the room. When they reveal that his leg has been amputated, he goes into a fury, convinced that Martha went through with the amputation in retaliation for his declining her romantic advances.
In the aftermath of the amputation, John and Edwina's romance begins to grow, while his relationships with the other women in the house begin to deteriorate. One night in a drunken rage, John, convinced that Martha plans to hold him prisoner, acquires a pistol and threatens the women before killing Amy's pet turtle.
Martha convinces the women—aside from Edwina, who is not present—that their only option is to kill him. She asks Amy to pick poisonous mushrooms in the woods, which they serve to him at dinner that evening. At the dining table, John apologizes for his actions, and Edwina reveals that she and John have made plans to leave the school and marry. Edwina begins to help herself to the mushrooms, but Martha stops her. John realizes he has been poisoned, and leaves the dining room disoriented, before collapsing in the hallway.
The following day, the women tie his corpse in a makeshift body bag, and carry him out of the gate.
- Clint Eastwood as Corporal John 'McBee' McBurney
- Geraldine Page as Martha Farnsworth
- Elizabeth Hartman as Edwina Dabney
- Jo Ann Harris as Carol
- Darleen Carr as Doris
- Mae Mercer as Hallie
- Pamelyn Ferdin as Amelia 'Amy'
- Melody Thomas as Abigail
- Peggy Drier as Lizzie
- Pattye Mattick as Janie
Eastwood was given a copy of the 1966 novel by producer Jennings Lang, and was engrossed throughout the night in reading it. This was the first of several films where Eastwood has agreed to storylines where he is the center of female attention, including minors. Eastwood considered the film as "an opportunity to play true emotions and not totally operatic and not lighting cannons with cigars". Albert Maltz, who had worked on Two Mules for Sister Sara was brought in to draft the script, but disagreements in the end led to a revision of the script by Claude Traverse, who although uncredited, led to Maltz being credited under a pseudonym. Maltz had originally written a script with a happy ending, in which Eastwood's character and the girl live happily ever after. Both Eastwood and director Don Siegel felt that an ending more faithful to that of the book would be a stronger anti-war statement, however, and the ending was altered so that Eastwood's character would be killed. The film, according to Siegel, deals with the themes of sex, violence and vengeance and was based around, "the basic desire of women to castrate men".
Jeanne Moreau was considered for the role of the domineering headmistress Martha Farnsworth, but in the end the role went to acclaimed Broadway actress Geraldine Page, and actresses Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris, Darlene Carr, Mae Mercer, and Pamelyn Ferdin were cast in supporting roles.
Universal initially wanted Siegel to film at a studio at Disney Studios Ranch, but Siegel preferred to have it filmed at an actual estate near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Portions of the interiors were still filmed at Universal Studios. Filming started in April 1970 and lasted ten weeks.
Eastwood had recently signed a long-term contract with Universal but became angry with the studio because he felt that they botched its release. This eventually led to his leaving the studio in 1975 after the release of The Eiger Sanction, which he directed as well as starred in. He would not work with Universal again until 2008's Changeling.
Eastwood said of his role in The Beguiled,
"Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino play losers very well. But my audience like to be in there vicariously with a winner. That isn't always popular with critics. My characters have sensitivity and vulnerabilities, but they're still winners. I don't pretend to understand losers. When I read a script about a loser I think of people in life who are losers and they seem to want it that way. It's a compulsive philosophy with them. Winners tell themselves, I'm as bright as the next person. I can do it. Nothing can stop me."
Made right before Dirty Harry, this was a bold early attempt by Eastwood to play against type. It was not a hit, likely due to uncertainty on Universal's part concerning how to market it, eventually leading them to advertise the film as a hothouse melodrama: "One man...seven women...in a strange house!" "His love... or his life..." According to Eastwood and Jennings Lang, the film, aside from being poorly publicized, flopped due to Eastwood being "emasculated in the film". The film's poster for example, shows him with a gun, suggesting an action movie. Eastwood does not shoot anyone in the movie in contemporaneous time (but does in recall of his activities as a soldier).
The film received major recognition in France, and was proposed by Pierre Rissient to the Cannes Film Festival, and while agreed to by Eastwood and Siegel, the producers declined. It would be widely screened in France later and is considered one of Eastwood's finest works by the French. Although the film reached number two on Variety's chart of top-grossing films, it was poorly marketed and in the end grossed less than $1 million, earning less than a fourth of what Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song did at the same time and falling to below 50 in the charts within two weeks of release. The film has since grown in acclaim in the United States and currently has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Hirsch, Foster (1971-72). "The Beguilded: Southern Gothic revived." Film Heritage, 7, 15-20.
- Kay, Karyn. (1976) "The Beguiled: Gothic Misogyny." Velvet Light Trap, 16, 32-33.
- Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-902-7.
- McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638354-8.
- Tumanov, Vladimir (2013). "One Adam and Nine Eves in Donald Siegel's The Beguiled and Giovanni Boccaccio's 3:1 of the The Decameron." Neophilologus: An International Journal of Modern and Mediaeval Language and Literature.