This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Beguiled (1971)






"You beast!"
"That's right, but I don't run a school for young girls. And I just thought these girls might like to know what kind of woman runs this place!"
-Martha Farnsworth and John McBurney.



Just before he began his directing career the same year with Play Misty for Me (a superlative, ahead-of-its-time thriller which itself may have been relegated to the status of a little-known gem were it not for the fact that its then-novice director had already achieved worldwide fame as an actor), Clint Eastwood starred in this Civil War film which is, for all intents and purposes, the first great drama he did which was neither a western nor an action film. Add to that the fact Dirty Harry was released after Misty, thus making 1971 a very good year for Eastwood.
Here, he plays a Union soldier, one John McBurney, who is wounded behind Confederate lines. He is discovered by a young girl who is instantly taken with his rougish charm (although the audience learns via flashbacks that he's not the innocent victim he claims to be) and guides him back to her girls school in Louisiana, which is devoid of men as they are all on the front lines.
As he's nursed back to health, he propositions -and is propositioned by- some of the students, who aren't quite of legal age, as well as their sensitve school teacher, Edwina Dabney (Elizabeth Hartman) and even the stern headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page).
Things take a turn for the worse when Edwina sees John with one of the students one evening and, in a fit of rage, pushes him down a flight of stairs, fracturing his leg. Martha then uses this opportunity to basically assume power over him by unnecessarily amputating the wounded appendage. One of the film's best moments is the look of terror on Eastwood's face when he sees that he no longer has two legs. As far as I'm concerned, that moment marked the beginning of Clint proving that he wasn't simply an onscreen 'tough guy.'
Equally great is how John, having gained both Edwina and Martha's confidence when he first arrived, discovers Martha's incestous relationship with her late brother. The audience (but presumably none of the characters) also learns of her romantic feelings for Edwina. It also doesn't take him long to realize that their servant (Mae Mercer) isn't really that as she's treated equally and is as educated and as opinionated as the rest of the ladies in the school, which, in this time period, was a big no-no.
This leads to the great dramatic moment when John basically airs Martha's dirty laundry in front of the rest of the school. Hence, a delicous battle of wits forms between John and these women. They could easily hand him over to the next Confederate patrol that happens by, but he could expose their secrets at that point as well.
There is no way that this could end except tragically. This downbeat tone turned many viewers away in 1971, as they expected Clint Eastwood to triumph. Today, however, The Beguiled can be proudly seen as the precursor to Eastwood dramas such as Honkytonk Man (1982), Mystic River (2003), and even Unforgiven (1992); dramas in which, even if someone experiences triumph, nobody truly wins.

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