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).
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.
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.