The Films of Don Siegel: The Beguiled
During the Civil War, somewhere in the state of Louisiana, a Union soldier John McBirney (Clint Eastwood) is seriously injured in battle and on the verge of succumbing to his wounds. Luckily he is discovered by a young girl Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) who is able to get him back to the all girls boarding school run by Ms. Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) where she resides.
As McBirney slowly recuperates with the help of Ms Martha and her maid (Mae Mercer) he comes to know the small community of women more intimately. Several of the girls are immediately smitten with him and he happily accepts their admiration. One of the women McBirney seems to actually have serious feelings towards, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) is a teacher at the school and soon falls deeply in love with him. Another younger girl, Carol (Jo Ann Harris) tries to woo McBirney by flirting heavily and tempting him to come to her room. The innocent game McBirney indulges in soon turns into bitter jealousy and hatred since most of the women are in fact sexually repressed. As McBirney gets bolder with his various trists, Ms. Martha and the others begin to lose their trust of him (who is actually their enemy as Southerners) and the friendly haven he was brought to instead becomes a prison that he may not get out of alive.
Clint Eastwood who was known for playing tough rebellious characters like The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry was suddenly shown in a vulnerable state. It wasn’t somewhere in an Old West town but at an all girls school of all places, showing that the conflicts between men and women can be as equally deadly as any gun battle.
The supporting cast are extremely good, especially Elizabeth Hartman who was chosen mainly because she had played innocent, waifish characters in other movies like A Patch of Blue (1965). Due to McBirney’s promises of love and his betrayal, she goes from sensitive and scholarly to seething with blind fury. Then there’s the late great Geraldine Page who’s always interesting to watch. She brought an underlying evil to her role as Ms Martha with an attractive, motherly side and also someone who can turn treacherous. The Beguiled literally shows what the saying “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” means.
FURIOUS FILM TRIVIA
– Don Siegel’s favorite of all his films.
– Other titles contemplated by Universal Pictures were “Pussy-footing Down at the Old Plantation” and “On One I Walked”.
– During the making of this film, Clint Eastwood directed his very first film, a behind the scenes look at his director Don Siegel at work called The Beguiled: The Storyteller.