THE BEGUILED was the third of five collaborations between star Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel. It’s definitely the most offbeat, a Gothic Western set during the Civil War. Clint plays John McBurney, a wounded, half-dead Yankee found in the woods by one of the girls from Miss Martha’s Seminary for Young Ladies. What unfolds from there is unlike anything the duo ever did before or after, a tale of sexual desire and vengeance that’s one of the most unusual entries in the Western canon.
Clint Eastwood has one of his most unsympathetic roles as McBurney. Although we feel bad about the condition he’s in, we soon realize what an amoral, manipulative scoundrel he is. Flashbacks reveal his lies about his role in the Union Army. Even as he suffers some major “misery” (hint, hint) at the hands of Miss Martha, Clint’s McBurney isn’t a likeable figure. This offbeat casting probably contributed to the film’s box office failure, as audiences were used to seeing Clint being a mythic hero rather than a flawed human being.
The ladies of THE BEGUILED all have their secrets. Miss Martha (Gerladine Page) was romantically involved with the school’s co-founder, who happened to be her brother. Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) is a sexually repressed virgin, while Carol (JoAnn Harris) is completely uninhibited. Hallie (blues singer Mae Mercer), a slave working for the school, has been abused by white men. Doris (Darleen Carr) is a staunch supporter of the Confederacy who finds Miss Martha’s harboring of McBurney an act of treason. Then there’s young Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin), the 12-year-old woman-child who falls hard for the handsome “Mr. McB”, only to have her love turn to hate when he drunkenly kills her pet turtle, and she becomes the instrument of the women’s revenge.
Geraldine Page had a wonderful career on stage, screen ,and television, and is regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her generation. I especially enjoyed her work in HONDO, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, and the NIGHT GALLERY episode “The Sins of the Fathers”. Nominated for eight Oscars, Page finally won for THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. Elizabeth Hartman is best remembered for A PATCH OF BLUE and WALKING TALL. Darlene Carr and JoAnn Harris were prolific TV actresses during the 70’s. Melody Thomas (Abigail) went on to a 37 year run on the soap THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.
Young Pamelyn Ferdin plays Amy, the little girl who finds McBurney. The scene where 41-year-old Clint kisses 12-year-old Pamelyn to keep her quiet while the Confederate patrol passes borders on pedophilia, and made me kind of queasy. Ferdin was a child star of the 60’s-70’s who made the TV rounds (she was Felix’s daughter on THE ODD COUPLE), and voiced Lucy in three “Peanuts” specials and movies. She also known for her performance in another creepy 70’s tale, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS.
THE BEGUILED isn’t your typical Eastwood/Siegel outing, but it will hold your interest. The acting and direction are top-notch, and the atmospheric material will please fans of Westerns and horror, and is well worth viewing today. Clint and Don failed only at the box office, as fans didn’t want to watch Clint Eastwood in such an unsavory role. They did better with their next collaboration, a little cop movie called DIRTY HARRY. But that’s another story for another day…