Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page (known as the "First Lady of American Theater," SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, won Oscar for THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, wife of Rip Torn), Elizabeth Hartman (Oscar-nominated for A PATCH OF BLUE), Jo Ann Harris (XANADU). Music by Lalo Schifrin. Cinematography by Bruce Surtees (DIRTY HARRY, THE OUTFIT, WHITE DOG, THE SUBSTITUTE).
Tag-line: "One man...seven women...in a strange house!" Gotta love the studio trying to figure out a way to sell this movie.
Best one-liner: "Mr. Yankee, there was enough iron in your leg to shoe a horse!"
It's difficult to single out one film from Don Siegel's exceptional oeuvre (DIRTY HARRY, THE SHOOTIST, CHARLEY VARRICK) and call it his 'masterwork,' but my gut reaction after viewing THE BEGUILED is to do just that. It's an atypical work, not merely for Action/Western icons Eastwood and Siegel, but for studio-financed American cinema as a whole. It's the sort of film that sticks with you for hours, days, and weeks… Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan, it invokes the spirit and temperaments of Poe, Bierce, Hawthorne, and Capote, and the resulting film possesses a sort of 'Southern Gothic psychedelic existentialism.' It almost has the feel of SPIDER BABY combined with THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY.
As the Civil War rages, a small Confederate girls' school carries on with business (nearly) as usual, learning French and proper napkin etiquette even as cannons blast and patrols pass by. Their existence is interrupted by a wounded Union soldier, McB (Clint Eastwood), who isn't quite the saint that he pretends to be...of course, neither are they.
Stifling, hypnotic, even baroque, the film is presented from an omniscient perspective: different characters' thoughts, memories, and hypocrisies bleed into one another, like wreckage upon wreckage. You can blame it on the war or you can blame it on human nature, but no one- not even the sweetest, most innocent of little girls- emerges from this thing unscathed.
Clint gets a chance to really ACT this time: it's not chewing on a cigarillo, gunning down dudes, or growling one-liners; the legendary Geraldine Page maintains a calm exterior which brilliantly belies her inner tumult;
and Lalo Schifrin delivers his most mature, complex score (full of deep, echoey flutes, mournful oboes, and intricate harpiscords), and it perfectly complements the mood of the film. An eloquent meditation on survival, human folly, psychosexual longing, and race (and bookended by Clint singing, a cappella), THE BEGUILED is truly a masterpiece.
And check out the awesome Polish poster: