Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Movie Review: The Beguiled (1971)

The original film about intrigue at a ladies school during the end of the Civil War provides a more complex look at the war between the North and the South and the relationship between men and women. Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) finds the wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) and helps him return to the school run by Miss Martha (Geraldine Page). Teaching at the school is Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) who finds the mysterious soldier attractive. The women take the man indoors and board up the windows to keep him inside. The slave Hallie (Mae Mercer) doesn't like the newcomer much either though he tries to work his charm on her and point out that he is fighting for her freedom. She comments that she sees white people as all the same. Carol (Jo Ann Harris) also takes a liking to McBurney, though she still considers him a traitor, kissing him when the others aren't looking.

McBurney charms each of the women as they think about turning him over to the Confederate soldiers. While McBurney flirts with Carol, he calms a jealous Edwina by kissing her. Carol becomes jealous and ties the blue rag symbol for a Union soldier. Martha, who didn't turn her in before, steps up when Confederates nearly shoot McBurney and lie that he is her cousin from Texas. This allows him to stay unharmed though the Confederate soldiers want to stay around with the women as well. Martha also becomes enamored with McBurney reflecting back on the relationship she had with her brother and imagining a threesome with Edwina. 

McBurney turns Martha away and is discovered in the bed with Carol Edwina. When McBurney tries to call her back, she beats him with a candlestick and pushes him down the stairs. His leg is hurt worse and Martha insists it must be cut off since it is gangrenous. McBurney awakes enraged by the realization and blames Martha for cutting off his leg out of vengeance since he didn't go to bed with her. He takes control of the household with a gun demanding that he have the company of any woman he desires. When he tries to take Hallie, she recalls when another owner tried to rape her and threatens to kill herself before McBurney can. The corporal exposes Martha's incestuous past to the girls and throws Amy's turtle across the room when she tries to calm him with it.

Edwina goes to McBurney and professes his love to her. The other women conspire against McBurney unable to let him leave since he threatened to bring back Union soldiers who would rape the women. They debate methods to kill him coming to the method of poisoning him by serving him mushrooms. Amy picks the mushrooms and the women prepare the meal.  Edwina and McBurney make love and go down to dinner together. They proclaim their love and tell the women that they are getting married. McBurney eats the mushrooms but Martha shouts when Edwina attempts to eat them. The girls finish their dinners as McBurney dies. They sew his body up and put out the blue rag to alert the Confederate soldiers.

The older version has characteristics of a movie from the 70s but stays more aware of certain aspects than the remake. The inclusion of a woman enslaved by the cruel culture of the South allowed for the film to comment on racism as the newer version avoided such a debate. Eastwood was certainly interested but all of the acting seems distant to me and different from what I am normally used to seeing in theaters. I enjoyed the film and story and hope to one day read the book that gives the basis for the motion picture. 

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