Ladies just can’t help themselves around the Clint-man.
Out somewhere in the deep South, during the Civil War, lies a school for girls where, for the most part, the word of the gospel is spoken about. Managed by Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page), the girls all stick together, depending on each other to not just get by in a rough time like this, but remember that at the end of this dreadful war, there will be a life to continue on living. But being tucked away from the rest of the world and society, even during a time like this, can be awfully dangerous. And it all comes to head when an injured soldier by the name of John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is found by the girls and eventually, taken in. He has an injured leg and rather than going right back out there into the battlefield, the ladies all decide to help him out, feeding him, bathing him, clothing him, and yes, allowing him to eventually heal up to near-perfection, so that he can be back on fighting the good fight. But McBurney’s got a little something more on his mind and considering that there’s about five or six women, all alone, in a house with him, he decides to take total advantage of the situation at hand.
The original Beguiled will probably always and forever be known as the first instance in which we got to see a new side to the ultimate bad-ass of bad-asses, Clint Eastwood. See, before the Beguiled, it was all tall, lean, mean, soft-spoken icons in Westerns for Clint and while he owned them like anyone’s business, they were also the kind of roles that would have had people turn on him for not really trying anything new and, well, getting pigeonholed. It could have happened to John Wayne who, unsurprisingly, started messing around with other genres here and there, while still staying true to his old nature that everyone knew and loved him for, but it didn’t. And it could have happened to Clint Eastwood, but thankfully, it didn’t.
And a part of me thinks why Eastwood is so good here isn’t just because he’s given something new to try on for size, but for once, he’s actually playing someone who could closely resemble a villain, so to speak. Granted, he was always perfect at playing the anti-heroes before this, but as John McBurney, Eastwood gets to shine a darker light on his good looks and charming ways, proving there’s something deeper and sinister going on than ever before. In a way, when McBurney is messing with these characters, Eastwood is messing with us, having us think and believe in him as the main hero, who’s going to come in and save the day, but it turns out, that’s not true at all.
In fact, he’s the sinister one this time.
But director Don Siegel, a constant companion to Eastwood and some of his truly good films, knows better than to lead with that. Instead, he keeps the simmering tension moving and constantly building, even when it seems like he can’t help himself from getting all worked up and snickering at the idea of sex, or better yet, nudity. You can call it childish if you want, but the Beguiled can be a pretty intriguing movie with how it depicts the battle of the sexes and, well, sex itself. There’s a far smarter movie stuck somewhere in here, but of course, it never comes out.
And that’s just because the movie’s also too busy being a little fun, which isn’t such a bad thing after all. Cause on the opposite side of Eastwood, there’s Geraldine Page’s Martha, who feels like the perfect counterpart to this sly devil of a man. While everything about this Martha makes it seem like she’s a totally stuck-up, boring pain, she finds ways to surprise us; she can be just as dark as McBurney and, in ways, even more sexual, too. Page is great in this role, as she often was in every role, because she not only shows how a woman can play a man’s game, but also do so, while still remaining to her true values and ideas.
Once again, the movie’s trying to say something. But it’s also enjoying it’s time on Eastwood’s perfectly-shaven body, so okay, whatever.
Consensus: Undeniably silly, the Beguiled is also a steamy, fun little erotic-thriller featuring a good performance from Page and a nice change-of-pace for the always exciting Eastwood who, even early in his career, was trying to figure out how to shock audiences.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Overdue Review | Better Late.