In the same year where Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood have formed a name for themselves through the iconic Dirty Harry comes something of a much slower, more melodramatic pace in The Beguiled. But unlike their usual pairing this wasn’t an action film, just a slow-moving wartime drama. If anything had come out from watching what it was that The Beguiled had presented though, it comes from how this transition had proved more on behalf of Clint Eastwood’s end as an actor given as he would already have been made a more recognizable name from the fact he was made a star from western films or action films. In The Beguiled, a more refined side to him is shown and the results from this rather unexpected Seigel-Eastwood collaboration are at the very least, extremely pleasing. Maybe in some extent it’s from the point of view I’m less interested in, but nevertheless it was nice to see another side to Clint Eastwood here.
I think when I note that the film is from the wrong point of view, perhaps it could be from the fact that the film’s premise revolves around all of these women living within a wartime setting and the occurrences within the house as Clint Eastwood’s own Cpl. John McBurney shows up at their home, in need of aid. They come in, and then they form a romantic interest in him, but he isn’t complying and thus his own leaving is made all the more difficult. I’d take issue first hand with the fact that this is told from John’s point of view rather than within a shared perspective from the females, and it’s not because I don’t carry any sort of sympathy for him. The problem that’s being told here in The Beguiled resides within the fact that their point of view isn’t really explored properly and thus I come to question at times what Don Siegel would have aimed for in creating a supposedly more refined route. The problem just seems to arise within the fact that from John McBurney’s point of view, it feels too much more like a horror film rather than a melodrama.
What’s commendable about The Beguiled, however, arises within the fact that it plays upon sexual desire from a new light that wouldn’t be common at the time. It wasn’t limited to showing how men wanted it, but from the women’s eyes and how it has come to change how they see their own life in some manner. It’s nice to see Don Siegel didn’t create a presentation with these women as monsters, but innocence waiting to be shattered. There was perhaps a point to which I’d imagine their strength was something especially unfamiliar to audiences from the period and there’s a certain point to which I want to say it’s handled like the way Douglas Sirk would portray their own struggles a la All That Heaven Allows, but I want more from this point of view considering the fact that so much of this is being told from Eastwood’s own eyes. He’s a man that doesn’t seem to understand why the women are the way they are, but unfortunately we don’t always either.
However, there’s a critical point to where The Beguiled is finding its greatest strength: the sense of shock. It was shocking almost to a sense that it brought back memories of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, but the fact that it seems to have been built around what happens upon the notion a figure like John McBurney has now come into the house of these women almost in a manner that he might be a guest, now to become an intruder – something interesting has come about because it seems Siegel is interested in challenging morals here. They lay themselves out from how well-put everything is from their own introductions to the setting, then we watch this foundation crumble upon itself as curiosity finds itself at a greater peak. This sense of curiosity is what drove me closer to The Beguiled and what it was aiming for because it plays out in a manner that it questions this sense of desire, although it never goes without condemning the male point of view here.
It was nice to see that Clint Eastwood moved away from the typical action hero that he was seen as for The Beguiled now to play someone so repulsive and manipulative here. It’s impressive already enough on the count that this came out during the same year Dirty Harry was released, but I was more focused with what Siegel wanted his audience to make of his female characters here for they were the best part. The performances from them all across the board were wonderful, but a thought came to my head about what Siegel wanted to say about their characters in general. It was just about this sense of control, and who has it: was Eastwood really the manipulator or was he the one manipulated by these girls to fill out their own sexual desires? If that was what The Beguiled was truly about, I wish it was clearer because I’m sadly not too fond of the point of view this story was told from.
Don Siegel’s The Beguiled is something that I should love and to an extent I do, but at the same time the fact it’s told from a point of view that I don’t find as intriguing as the other only left me at a level of emotional detachment. This would have worked better had I known it was all melodrama, but the point of view just seems to come in and make it feel too much like a period-set horror film. We don’t understand the reasons for desire as shown by Siegel in here, but perhaps it still finds a greater strength in how it displays this sense of innocence as it falls upon itself. Nevertheless, it was nice to see Clint Eastwood moving away from the action hero that he was known for playing in order to play a role as repulsive as John McBurney in The Beguiled. Siegel has made something interesting enough here, but I feel if he recognized that this may have worked better as a woman’s story, maybe something greater could come.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by Don Siegel
Screenplay by Albert Maltz, Irene Kamp, from the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas B. Cullinan
Produced by Don Siegel
Starring Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris
Release Year: 1971
Running Time: 105 minutes