Last week I settled in with Don Siegel‘s The Beguiled (’71), which I’d seen in portions but never all in one session. This was necessary homework prior to the Cannes Film Festival showing of Sofia Coppola’s remake, which Focus Features will open stateside on 6.23. I’m presuming every Cannes-bound critic has done (or is doing) the same.
Honestly? I didn’t like it all that much. I was mildly intrigued by the perverse tangle of it all (repressed libidos, subtle hostilities, shifting alliances) but I didn’t care about the story or the characters, least of all Clint Eastwood‘s somewhat creepy Union army corporal. He’s mostly focused on which of the seminary women he wants to fool around with, except he’s indecisive or even lackadaisical about it, and after a while I was wondering “what does he want to do, fuck all of them?” Not to mention thoughtless. These women are giving him care and comfort, and all he can think about is Mr. Happy.
The seminary students and their headmistress, played by Geraldine Page, are all eccentric in one way or another, beset by erotic curiosity or stifled longing, but they’re so constricted and corseted that it all turns demented before long, and certainly by the final act. I just didn’t care for their company. After a while I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
Then I began to fantasize about the Union cavalry brigade from John Ford‘s The Horse Soldiers dropping by and saving Eastwood from himself. I wanted to see muddy John Wayne stride into that Confederate mansion and tell Eastwood to snap to attention and report for duty, or at least put him under the care of William Holden‘s Maj. Henry Kendall.
The only thing that really got me was Phillipe Le Sourd‘s cinematography.
Form Vincent Canby‘s N.Y. Times review, dated 4.1.71: “The most deprived woman is the seminary’s headmistress (Geraldine Page), whose initial flashback, as she stares at the bloody, maggoty soldier, is to the bed in which she and her brother made frenzied, slow-motion love. My favorite fantasy, however, is Miss Page’s wine-induced dream in which she, Eastwood and Elizabeth Hartman make love and then assume the positions of a pietà, more exhausted, I suspect, than sorrowing.
“This is very fancy, outrageous fantasizing from the man who gave us Riot in Cell Block 11 and Baby Face Nelson, and must strike horror in the hearts of those Siegel fans who’ve made a cult of his objectivity. The Beguiled is not, indeed, successful as baroque melodrama, and, towards the end, there are so many twists and turns of plot and character that everything that’s gone before is neutralized. People who consider themselves discriminating moviegoers, but who are uncommitted to Mr. Siegel, will be hard put to accept it, other than as a sensational, misogynistic nightmare.”