Looking for a creepy, American Gothic story? This one is a good one. Beguiled (the 1971 version) is twisted, openly dealing with sexuality on a raw animal level. Very organic in feel. Directed by Don Siegel, the story is based on a novel by Thomas P. Cullman called Painted Devil (1966). Starring as the wounded Union Solider is Clint Eastwood.
As I said, this American Southern Gothic is set during the Civil War, 1863. The story opens with an injured Union Solider (Eastwood) who goes by John McBurney. He is rescued by a 12-year-old Amy who is a student at an all-girl boarding school set in rural Mississippi. The girls have been hidden away from the war and what’s going on in the world at Mrs. Farnsworth School for Girls. The eponymous headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) runs a tight school and has some outlandish ways of thinking.
Farnsworth reluctantly agrees to allow the wounded solider to stay only until he is healthy enough to leave. He must stay locked up in the music room as well as be kept under a guard watch. The girls immediately like John, especially Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman), the school teacher. Another one that falls very hard for the handsome McBurney is Carol (Jo Ann Harris), a teenager who is completely love-struck over John.
McBurney’s presence in the house-hold turns things upside down. Each of the women begins to experience sexually repressed feelings or needs where he is concerned. Some even remembering sexual taboos they had taken part in. As predicted McBurney bonds with them all including the only slave Hallie (Mae Mercer). The more his charms work on the women the more tense the sexually repressed atmosphere of the house grows. The boarding school becomes a pit of jealously, and deceit, forcing the women to turn on each other. Finally the ongoing jealously between the women begins to manifest itself in acts of revenge, and violence. All of this comes to a head when a jealous rage erupts between Edwina and Carol. Edwina catches Carol and John making love and she goes berserk. Edwina beats John with a candle stick causing him to fall down some stairs. Edwina in a panic seeks help from Martha. Martha insists John will die of gangrene as a result of his broken bone if they don’t act quickly. Martha gets no argument as she saws off the leg at the knee on the kitchen table.
John wakes up to find he is missing a leg and swears Martha did it out of revenge because he spurred her advances. In the aftermath of the amputation John and Edwina grow ever closer and plan to run away. At the same time Edwina and John are getting closer the relationships with the other women begins to deteriorate. Tension building and the household getting crazier by the day, John and Edwina get ready to run away. Sadly Martha puts an end to that idea in a big way. Needless to say poor John. Poor, poor, John.
Beguiled is a pulp psychodrama for sure. Creepy, backward, isolated and just strange. I began to wonder if John is a helpless victim or an aggressive man willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive and get the hell out of there? Either way I like this movie. I am really looking forward to seeing the new one out directed by Coppola. I recommend seeing them both.