…like a woman scorned. And another… and another… and another…
Estrogen overload! Clint Eastwood fights for his life behind enemy lines! Yes, he’s trapped in a school full of women!
BEGUILED finds wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Eastwood) seeking refuge at a Confederate home for girls, led by spinster Martha (Geraldine Page), who, against her better judgment, tends to his wounds and allows him to recover in hiding in her girls’ home. And every female within sniffing distance – from 50-year-old Martha to the 19-year-old virgin, to the 16-year-old slut to the 10-year-old innocent – wants a piece o’ dat beef Clint-cake!
McBurney encourages every flirtation with that twinkle in his eye and a never-ending stream of compliments for all the women on his oh-so-kissable lips. Even the cynical black slave gets it into her head that she can take a bite outa that white meat.
Of course, McBurney is playing them all, planning to desert his regiment and sit out the war in their figurative and literal embrace.
Any other actor in the role of McBurney, this would have been a somber drama of obsession and womanly retribution. But because it’s Clint, it’s dangerously hilarious, as he spreads his man-musk with that Philo Beddoe charm. We always knew that anyone who could burn down so many men would be a master juggler of women.
McBurney’s constant stream of lies and false promises would be his undoing. He tells Martha he was wounded carrying an enemy soldier to safety, while in fact he was sniping; he promises to run away with No.19 (Elizabeth Hartman), then accepts the lecherous advances of No.16 (Jo Ann Harris); he promises innocent love to No.10 (Pamelyn Ferdin), then smashes her turtle against a wall. And when Martha’s fantasies of sliding her aged skin against that taut chest are dashed by discovering No.16 in his bed, it’s hell from so many angles at once that no man – not even The Man’s Man Clint – can withstand its emasculative fury.
The most amazing aspect of BEGUILED is that it’s filled with women and doesn’t get screechy or intolerable. Yet it is scarier than any horror movie with its castration allegory – for the sake of petty scorn. And never has an allusion to Michelangelo’s Pieta been so hot hot threesome hot.
There are no shots fired and no bombastic battle scenes, even though it’s set during the American Civil War. Revenge doesn’t have to be a mushroom cloud, it can just be… mushrooms…
From the novel by Thomas Cullinan, BEGUILED is a study in betrayal, and director Don Siegel not only paces it with a solid mix of tension, pathos and black humor, he fits the female cast perfectly to their roles – from Page’s yearning spinster (with a very dirty secret), to Hartman’s naive nineteen-year-old with the chaste romantic fantasies, to Harris’s teen slut with the upturned nose, upturned lips and upturned breasts. (I think we have a winner…)