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The Beguiled (Clint’s version)

I’m excited for the impending release of Sofia Coppola’s new version of THE BEGUILED, but I had never actually seen the 1971 version starring Clint Eastwood, and what am I, an asshole? So I made sure to finally see it.

Right before DIRTY HARRY, Clint and Don Siegel made this one which is less action packed than DIRTY HARRY because Clint is bedridden or hobbling on crutches for the entire movie. Also he’s confined to a girl’s finishing school, and it’s not a DIE HARD type picking-off-terrorists-one-by-one situation either. It’s mostly just flirting.

Clint plays Corporal John McBurney, a.k.a. Johnny, McBee or Mr. Yank, a Union soldier badly wounded on Confederate territory and rescued by 12 year old girl’s school resident Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS). Initially headmistress Martha (Geraldine Page, THE RESCUERS, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE) intends to hand him over to the Confederate soldiers who stop by periodically on patrols, but she decides he’ll die in their prison if she doesn’t help him heal first.

She only has six students, and her decision doesn’t go over well with all of them. Some think it’s treason, and that Yankees are rapists, and one girl says they have tails. They don’t see Union soldiers as the people fighting against the evil institution of slavery, but as the guys killing their dads and setting fire to places (which, we see in brief flashbacks, is something Johnny is prolific at).

I dig the psychedelic poster art.

But keep in mind this is circa 1971 Clint Eastwood, laying shirtless and helpless in bed surrounded by females. They’ve been holed up here with no men in sight except the sweaty yahoos who occasionally show up and act rapey around them. Some of the young girls are discovering themselves and Martha seems pretty confused, with implications of an affair she had with her dead or missing brother and some attraction to her second in command, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman, THE SECRET OF NIMH, WALKING TALL).

So basically Johnny is like a gender-switched version of one of those SPECIES or LIFEFORCE type succubi, shamelessly oozing male prowess to keep all these ladies in his thrall. I think it’s for survival: to keep them from turning him in, and to create an opportunity for escape once he’s healed. But it could also just be a weird mind game, or an uncontrollable horniness. He seems like kind of a devil character, like in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. In fact, he kicked this whole thing off by kissing little Amy on the mouth when she found him in the woods. What the fuck was that about? It’s sweet when he calls her his “little friend” and she shows him her pet turtle and stuff, but what was he doing there?

She treats him like a schoolyard boyfriend, or a pet. Martha is combative with him, but slowly admits her attraction. Edwina develops a seemingly real relationship with him, getting to sort of know him as she nurses him, making time to be with him but saving the hanky panky for a potential future together. And 17-year old Carol (Jo Ann Harris, Goober and the Ghost Chasers, THE PARALLAX VIEW), who has ’70s hot girl hair and has been called a “hussy” by Edwina, treats him as her personal sex toy. She introduces herself to him by sneaking out of Bible study to wake him up with her tongue in his mouth.

Basically they’re all tip-toeing around the house trying to meet up with him and he’s either taking advantage or leading them on, letting them think they’re the only one. Boy, he sure beguiled ’em.

In their defense, I say again, this is circa 1971 Clint Eastwood. He limps around in basically a nightgown and still seems manly. So intoxicating is his virility that the hens start laying eggs again from him being around. Seriously! And the school is partly run by a slave named Hallie (Mae Mercer, DIRTY HARRY, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS) who has an air of being smarter and stronger than all these dumb white people, and even she laughs and admits he’s good looking “for a white man” when she shaves him.

I guess Coppola doesn’t have Hallie in her version, because she says it’s about gender and not race, and she’s been criticized for that. On the one hand it sounds bad, because how do you set a story in a race war and say it’s not about race? On the other hand, Hallie’s part, as interesting as it is, does seem like kind of a side issue here.

I’m not sure what other people take from Hallie. This is not the type of movie where a slave is going to fight back or escape, and that’s always uncomfortable to see. But I love her power in refusing to let Johnny believe he’s her savior. He says “you and me should be friends” because he’s on the good side of the war, and she doesn’t let him get anywhere with that. She has him right, too. Much later he threatens her, and she tells him off in no uncertain terms.

I think it works partly because Mercer radiates such a sense of not-putting-up-with-your-bullshit. She’s great. And there’s a part where she sings while milking a cow, and her voice is incredible. Sure enough, she was a blues singer before she was an actress.

Things turn horrific when SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER Martha amputates Johnny’s broken leg. It’s not too graphic but it’s drawn out to feel like some Eli Roth shit. When he comes to and realizes what has happened he thinks it was a matter of medical malpractice to punish him for his sexual choices, a position I’ve seen endorsed in some reviews. But Hallie tells him the procedure was necessary for him to survive, and I trust Hallie.

THE BEGUILED got good reviews, but didn’t make good money. It probly didn’t help that some of the advertising had Clint holding a big gun like it was a western. People gotta go in with the right idea or they’re gonna be disappointed. But it’s cool that Clint, who liked the book by Thomas Cullinan and co-produced the adaptation through his company Malpaso, wanted to do something so different.

It’s a very unique story, especially for a Clint movie. It’s got some effectively disorienting filmatism to simulate being injured or drugged, a creepy, haunted atmosphere, little weird bits of interior monologue and quick flashbacks of war and perversity that, along with the score by Lalo Schifrin, make it feel like a horror movie. It has a male lead who is inherently likable but clearly not trustworthy, messing with and then menacing a bunch of women. At first they turn on each other. But he may regret messing with them. There’s a tiny bit of THE WICKER MAN here.

But also some humor, and a turtle named Randolph.

THE BEGUILED is one of those good outliers in the Clint filmography. I prefer the straight up genre stuff, but the occasional experiment makes you respect him even more. I’m glad DIRTY HARRY was the one that caught on, but it would be interesting to see what the sequels would’ve been like. I guess they would have to ignore the end just like MAGNUM FORCE ignored Harry throwing his badge away. So he travels around getting injured in different locations I guess. A nunnery, a women’s prison, space, etc.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 at 10:57 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “The Beguiled (Clint’s version)”

  1. Thanks for reviewing this one, I was curious about it after reading the stories about the new adaptation. Also, love that film clip, serious soul there!

  2. I got to watch the Coppola followed immediately by the Siegel and hearing an audience react to the weirdness of the 1971 was truly special.

  3. So, Mae Mercer doesn’t even have any tracks available on Amazon. But if she did, I would’ve bought them. Anyone who likes her–you should check out Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor, Arlean Brown, LaVern Baker and Bettye LaVette.

  4. Correction! Mae Mercer has two tracks available on Amazon. Searching for “Mae Mercer” didn’t work for me, but searching for “Mae Mercer blues” brought them up. Two tracks is still not a lot, of course. I wish there were more high-quality historical recordings of female blues singers… but I guess history doesn’t always treat artists fairly.

  5. I saw this – well, probably only part of it, when I was somewhere between pre-teen and teenager some Saturday afternoon when it was on TV. At that time I despised most things from the 70s and this had that grainy, washed out, soft focus look accompanied with 70s soundtrack and feathered hair that scraped against all my nerves. Then it was so trippy all I thought was, “What the fuck is this?” I’m not sure I could divorce myself from that gut feeling of wrongness to ever watch it again.

  6. I soured on Sofia Coppola after Maria Antoinette, which seemed like a tone deaf defense of economic privilege when I saw it a decade ago. Since then, I’ve only seen that Very Murray Christmas Netflix special.

    I’ve read a couple of critiques of Coppola’s Beguiled that took it to task for not including black characters, and they sound convincing, but of course I haven’t seen the movie yet. And apparently the real life “bling ring” included a Hispanic girl who was written out of the movie for whatever weird reason. I get that Coppola has her own experiences that inform her work, but it also seems like her movies are far too limited by her experiences of the world.

  7. I’ve never been comfortable with Eastwood’s attempt to be a lover boy in the 60s and 70s. He already knew by then what his strengths are, and the horny glint in his eyes makes it look like the character are faking it. Not a good look.

  8. Once I was in a Target or Wal-Mart (or whatnot), and in the $5 DVD section were the discs of the Clint box-set being sold individually, the one I picked up has Play Misty, Eiger Sanction, Coogan’s Fucking Bluff, and Beguiled.

    Whoever decided to package those movies together is obviously and intelligent, sensitive, and awesome individual.

    I was initially interested in the Beguiled re-make, but everything I read about it makes it seem completely de-fanged.

  9. Which set had Two Mules for Sister Sarah in it? There should’ve been a whole franchise of Clint/Shirley MacLaine buddy movies.

  10. It was the other disc of that set (Two Mules for Sister Sara, Joe Kidd and High Plains Drifter).
    The only weak link in the whole set is Joe Kidd.

  11. Regarding Sofia Coppola, if she was trying to adapt her version and cut out that black character because she was extraneous I would get that. Context optics might be unfortunate, but at least I would get that. But saying she didn’t because she didn’t want to take lightly a major historical issue or do it poorly, I’m sorry what bullshit. Nevermind that it was the same sort of weak logic/argument used by Marvel regarding the Ancient One whitewashing in DOCTOR STRANGE* last year, what happened to the seed of Francis Ford Coppola, a guy who for better or worse throughout large parts of his career went “fuck it” and gambled from ONE FROM THE HEART to giving Keanu Reeves a British accent?

    That’s the one thing about quote “White Feminism” that is unfortunately annoying sometimes, where it’s blind to POC folks (especially POC women) and its not like its maliciously intentional. Hell I even noticed that with WONDER WOMAN, even though it tried to take strains not to do that. (Think about it: WW shows us black women on that island. More than one in fact, which is a nice touch beyond “tokenism” that blockbusters are sometimes guilty of. But why is it say SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, the audience actually remembers the name of Liz’s character? Obviously screen coverage is a big reason, but remember the white Robin Wright’s character? She was in WW for what, 5 minutes? Her character still became a fan favorite. One of those things to keep in mind.)

    *=I like how the best argument against that was in the movie itself with Wong. Originally a tea-serving servant stereotype in the comics, rewritten into a drill sargent/mid-level management kind of guy. It worked.

  12. I disagree. I haven’t read the book, but in the original movie race does seem like a side issue that doesn’t get its full due. So while I don’t agree with Coppola’s choice I think her concern is completely legitimate. I’m also 150% positive that if she had had a slave in the movie she’d be getting ten times as much as shit as she’s getting for not having a slave in the movie.

    That said, watching the original shortly before the remake was a mistake. The remake is beautiful to look at and well acted but to me it feels underdeveloped with the ways she simplified it.

  13. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any way in hell people would tolerate having what essentially boils down to both a “happy slave” and “magical negro” character, even if its a good role. And not just in a politically correct blogger thinkpiece sort of way, but just that I think it would be so alien to a modern outlook that it would be enormously distracting. Coppola definitely made the right call, and I actually sort of loved her remake.

  14. How is Hallie essentially a magical negro character or a happy negro character?

    She gets forgotten after a certain point by the movie and doesn’t play into the conflict resolutions. But she comes off quite savvy at first. She acknowledges Clint’s charms, but she doesn’t exactly bite hard on the bait. She keeps her options more open, and she resists his seduction/bonding approach of trying to equivocate their slavery. I do get the sense from the movie that she’d leave with Clint if she knew she could fully trust him and all the logistics would line up for her getting freedom and having a better life. That might be conditional, but it also makes her the most realistic of all the women in the movie, even if that realism is certainly influenced by her race and position too

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