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Best Shot: The Beguiled (1971)

This week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot subject is Don Siegel's fascinating whatsit called The Beguiled (1971). It's little like Siegel's other collaborations with his muse Clint Eastwood and assigning it to a genre is also difficult both of which might explain its fairly quiet reputation. With the news coming that Sofia Coppola will soon be remaking it, our eyes drank every frame up. And wow is this story of a wounded Yankee grifter in A Confederate girl's school ripe for a revisit. You might say that imagining how Coppola's halflidded female gaze might view this is nearly as exciting as the movie itself but in some ways it already feels like a Sofia Coppola film. Profound interest in sensual and anthropological gazing at the desires of women who can't articulate their desires? Check!

Some of the English language posters are hilariously false, suggesting it's a shoot-em-up manly western. One poster actually has four men on it when Eastwood is the only man of significance in the movie and practically the entire film involves a group of women buzzing around and hypnotized by the sick man in their midst. So I've illustrated with a French poster that feels right.

Best Shot choices are after the jump...

But feeling right is not, as you quickly learn, in this movie's realm of interests. Everything is a little "off" from the very beginning with little Amy's (Pamelyn Ferdin) discovery of a wounded soldier in a forest which all plays theatrically enough to suggest that she ought to be wearing a red hood since he's eyeing her so lasciviously. Once Corporal McBee is in the nearby girls's school, most of the women fall immediately under his charismatic spell with the exception of a few girls who find his presence treasonous, and  the slave Hallie (Mae Mercer) who, in a fine shaving scene, suggests she's not an easy mark for this shady grifter. But otherwise the women are smitten including the  bossy spinster Martha (Master Thespian Geraldine Page), her second in command the virginal Edwina (A Patch of Blue's Elizabeth Hartman), and the sexually bold Carol (Jo Ann Harris). 

Sorta That Guy's ChoiceScopophiliace's choice
Antagony's Choice

The camera thirst is real for young Eastwood in this picture, as Sorta That Guy notes with his Best Shot selection. But this is also one of Clint Eastwood's best performances. You can see his mind working in each conversation, no matter how innocuous, to gather information for power and seduction. That said, his game is crafting "a prison of his own making" as Scopophiliac points out. And what's more, it's arguably not even his picture since, as Antagony & Ecstacy's spoiler free Best Shot essay points out, the desire he stirs up in the women is the main attraction.

All of this leads to a riveting midsection of the film when all the simmering leads to boiling over. MacBee's seductions amp up and Martha is willing to unlock his bedroom door, suggesting that hers is open for whatever as well...


I'll try not to dictate your personal behavior, Corporal.

And then this wicked shot of Geraldine above, one (bedroom) eye devilishly fired up by the lamplight. And this 'sex me up later' exit is punctuated by swallowing her up entirely into the darkness. It'd be another example of the cinema demonizing female desire if Page weren't so specific an actress, MacBee himself so nasty in his motives, and every character so essentially compromised throughout.

The movie peaks directly thereafter with a dream sequence that rapidly devolves into something like a communal wet dream including this amazing shot (my choice) of Edwina and Martha lewdly staring back at the camera following the dream's  most sexually florid moment.

gold. my best shot.Throughout the sequence director Siegel and cinematographer Bruce Surtees (who shot several Eastwood pictures) play with dissolves so slow they work like double exposures including a sly fusion of  Eastwood's naked torso with Page's sleeping face; they make one fleshy deformed being and, really, both characters are monsters, so, yes. 

But it's that shot of the female principles staring back at camera that sticks, a potent reminder of the movie's twisty narrative. Colonel MacBee is getting far more than he bargained for when he awakens all this latent desire.


Film Actually and Film MixTape both chose this shot which comes later in the picture as I nearly did. It's certainly a stunner, the stickiest visual moment of the film's abrupt but inevitable turn into something far darker for its final half hour.  Please note the way the shadow itself feels deceitful, like maybe it isn't actually cast from the violent foreground. Or that Martha herself is imagining the reality rather than living it. Which is, as the numerous whip quick flashbacks suggest, how she's lived her whole life with the man of the estate. 

On a scale or 1-10, how excited are you for Sofia Coppola's remake which will star Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Kiki Dunst? I'm a full 9, and I expect it to be delicious.

NEXT TUESDAY ON "BEST SHOT": Throne of Blood (1956), Akira Kurosawa's take on Macbeth. Join us!

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Reader Comments (25)

All three of those shots are amazingly evocative of the strange movie they are contained in.

Nothing against Coppola but the film is such a strangely unique blend of Southern Gothic, historical drama, psychological histrionics and western with a once in a lifetime cast I don't see what she can do that would match it, let alone improve on it. I don't think it will be a disaster but I'm not that excited for it either.

A small side note about the behind the scenes action of this. Clint and Geraldine Page apparently didn't hit it off too well during filming. When asked about it her quote was "Yes I have acted with Clint Eastwood. Or rather, I have acted opposite Clint Eastwood."

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Very, very late entry:

Joel, that Page quote is amazing, and I feel like that dislike between them not only shows up onscreen, but clearly works to the film's benefit.

April 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

Joel, YES. thanks for sharing that.

Tim & Ryan -- i have added your choices and links into the post. thanks for playing!

I'm disappointing more people didn't show up for this one because it's quite a fascinating picture and it's always fun to discover something you should've already known about!

April 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I thought it was another standard 70's Clint western as that is how it seems judging from uk advertising,I'd no idea Page was even in it.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

Mark -- crazy right. some of the posters are totally misleading. It's totally a women's picture. Men are either scary strangers with a couple of lines or absent entirely. Other than Eastwood.

April 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I was really anticipating the write up for this movie, I actually bought the blu-ray when the remake was announced since I've always wanted to see it anyway.

It's a wonderfully weird film and it's definitely my favorite that I've seen from ol' Clint. That dream sequence alone was worth the blind buy. It'll be interesting to see how Coppola reimagines it, since the story seems to be right up her alley thematically, but the tone and style of Siegel's film is so different from what we've seen from her. Hopefully more casting announcements are on the way, because I'm really interested in who will play the Eastwood and Mercer roles.

Sidenote: I love this series and all of the interesting pieces it inspires. If my laptop had an optical drive I definitely would've participated! I have no clue how to do screenshots when streaming on a Mac because whenever I do they come out blank/black.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Reading these as I wake up this morning makes me feel even worse that I wasn't able to get to this by last night. Last week was the week from hell, I had friends visiting from out-of-state this weekend, and theater dates the past two nights. GAH. If I'm able to get to it this week I might make next week a double, since it looks really evocative and interesting.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

thefilmjunkie - Macs are tricky that way. If you're streaming from Netflix or Amazon Prime, screenshot function will work on Google Chrome but NOT Safari. If you're using a DVD you have to get a secondary program (I use VCL) because the in-house "DVD Player" prevents screen captures.

April 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Don Siegel is excellent with actresses. He gave Shirley MacLaine on her best roles in Two Mules for Sister Sara.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

It's a bummer to see so few entries on this because I think there's about an option a minute in this film! I can not believe it was DP Bruce Surtees's first film!

April 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

+one of her best roles

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Eastwood's film in the uk have always been marketed on his sole contubution.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

BTW while I ended up with a shot of Eastwood's face as my pick, I was drafting a whole another entry that was Mercer-centric specifically the face she makes when she uttered her awesome line: "Then white boy, you better like it with a dead black woman cause that's the only way you'll get it from this one." WHEW.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I loved this movie... I was fairly young when I saw it... it left lasting impression on me.

Please do NOT remake it!!!

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Siegel is such an underrated director. He is known for action pictures, but he often adds a compelling and dark psychology to his narratives.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Thank you for choosing this movie Nathaniel, I watched it for this series and because I'm interested in that Coppola remake and I think it's really a special film in many ways. As I don't have a blog, here's my best shot: it's right before that last scene when we see the raven hanging dead from the balustrade.

I'd like to believe that Coppola is a person who'd only remake something where she thinks she can make it her own piece of art. So for that and for the cast obviously I am very excited about her take. While I can totally see Kidman as Miss Martha, I'm curious how Dunst will portray Edwina and to see Fanning in that Lolita role (guessing that will be hers).

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMona

Are any other TFE members/posters fans of Eastwood's first film Play Misty for Me? It preceded Fatal Attraction by 16 years and is superior in virtually every way. The reason I mention Misty here is that it was released later in the same year as The Beguiled (1971) and there are so many filmic and thematic similarities between the two. Don Siegel was even on set (and cameos) while Eastwood was shooting Misty in case he ran into trouble or needed to brainstorm ideas. While Misty doesn't go quite as far as The Beguiled in critiquing masculine "users", it's definitely in the same territory (and far smarter than Attraction in that vein). Eastwood's screen persona is used wonderfully in both films.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKate

@ Kate:

With the Jessica Walter ("Play 'Misty' for me!") and Donna Mills. It's not a genius directing debut, but a solid one. I've seen it several times, and there's always a stretch where I get bored.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

The Beguiled is a childhood favorite that on TV tons in the '70s. This was when Geraldine Page started turning up in pretty gaga TV and film roles: Whatever Happened to Cousin Alice?, Night Gallery appearances, If only Page and Shelley Winters had been paired up for a Method Acting Off for Aging Ham Actresses!

Also, I love how The Beguiled, like most Eastwood movies, is a period piece with grit over glamour...except boarding school sexpot Carol, who looks like she stepped out of a "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific!" shampoo commercial ; )

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

It's a pity the excellent Pamelyn Ferdin only had a limited career after her striking performance in The Beguiled.
The tone of Bruce Surtee's cinematography is very reminiscent of that of his father Robert Surtees in The Other (another masterpiece of the time).
BTW Nathaniel, Robert Mulligan's The Other is a worthy candidate for a future edition of Best Shot.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

rick -- omg. Page vs. Winters would have been A-MAZ-ING

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Rick, if only Geraldine had taken the Debbie Reynolds' part in What's the Matter with Helen? She and Shelley could have shared a beautiful smorgasbord of scenery.

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Nathaniel and brookesboy, it's too bad that southern boarding school didn't have room for one more, with Winters as an outrageously trashy maid along the lines of Agnes Moorehead in Sweet Charlotte!

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

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