The Beguiled (1971)
More Like The Bemused
Mr. Yankee, there was enough iron in your leg to shoe a horse! - Hallie
Maybe because when I received "The Beguiled" on DVD it was packaged with a couple of Clint Eastwood westerns or that with it being set during the American Civil war that I had preconceptions as to what the movie would be like. Whatever the reason "The Beguiled" ends up nothing like I expected and is in fact a rather strange movie which at times makes you feel more than a little uneasy. The reason is that this is Clint Eastwood playing a nasty, manipulative character, an injured Yankee soldier who is taken in by the women at an all girls school who he flirts with in order to protect himself from being turned in. At the same time the women and girls he flirts and romances are just as manipulative and nasty leading to some surprising scenes. But it feels wrong, very wrong and whilst it draws you in to the storyline you are never entirely sure how you are meant to feel, should you be repulsed or amused by Eastwood's manipulations. As such "The Beguiled" could be called "The Bemused" because that's how it left me feeling.
Having been discovered on the verge of death by young Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin), Yankee soldier, McB (Clint Eastwood - Kelly's Heroes), is taken to an all girls school where the women although scared of this enemy soldier take him in and nurse him back to health. But instead of turning him in the women decide to keep him prisoner and as he starts to recover he begins to work his way through the women and girls flirting with them causing trouble as they become jealous of each other.
Despite being left bemused by "The Beguiled" the actual storyline is in a strange way kind of fascinating. It's fascinating because basically whilst on one level all the characters have an element of charm about them they also have a nasty side. From the opening scenes where we watch 12 year old Amy, just a young girl, discovering the injured McB the element of nastiness is present when he kisses her on the lips. It shocks you because this is Clint Eastwood, someone who is usually a good guy, kissing a child and it makes you wonder why, is he trying to keep her quiet as troops ride by or is he flirting with her in order to get her help. And this nasty manipulation continues through out as having been taken in by the women in the girls school and recuperated he basically flirts, lies and charms his way through several of the women and girls to get what he wants whilst also saving himself from being turned in. It really is very surprising and shocking especially when McB ends up having sex with one of these women/girls he has charmed.
But the thing is McB is not the only nasty character as jealousy between the women begins to boil over when it becomes evident that he has been charming several of them. And this is where it becomes really fascinating because we then watch them turn the table on McB and start to manipulate him in some very shocking scenes.
The trouble is that whilst "The Beguiled" is fascinating it also feels very weird. It almost feels like it wants to be a dark comedy especially when the women take control of McB but it's not in the least bit funny, although the ending has a strange sense of irony flowing through it. At the same time it also feels like it's trying to be some sort of psychological drama/thriller as we watch McB charm, flirt and manipulate the emotions of the various women and girls he meets. And on top of this there is also an element of bunny boiler about it as the women turn the table on McB. But none of this comes together and makes "The Beguiled" a rather strange and at times unsettling movie which almost feels like it's trying too hard to be different.
With it trying hard to be different and being unsure what it really is it has a knock on effect when it comes to the characters. There is not a single character including Clint Eastwood's McB which is more than 2 dimensional and far too often they flick between being normal and sinister without a reason. It just doesn't work and sadly there is some serious melodramatic acting from some of the young girls who play the school children especially Pamelyn Ferdin who come across as over the top and false as Amy. Even Clint Eastwood doesn't come out of "The Beguiled" unscathed because it's as if he isn't sure how he should be playing McB and whilst his flirtatious behaviour is good it's not enough to make him a truly interesting character. And as already mentioned it feels very wrong that Eastwood plays such a manipulative character that he will stoop as low as kissing a young girl.
What this all boils down to is that "The Beguiled" ends up for me a very weird movie which isn't entirely sure what it wants to be. It is fascinating especially as it basically consists of nasty people manipulating each other in some shocking ways but it just doesn't come together to make a truly entertaining movie. As such "The Beguiled" left me completely unsure as to how I felt about it because for everything which is wrong it is so fascinating to watch with some great surprises.
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