Written by: Daniel McDonald
Well, every once in a while, a cineast’s dreams do come true. From the tender age of 14, my best friend Jeff’s mom, who was waaay “cooler” than my mom, took he and I to see (if SHE also wanted to see them) the HOLY GRAIL of a young teenaged boy’s cinematic life, the R-rated MOVIE!! Dudes (and LadyGirls) you must understand the power, the notoriety, the sheer “too cool for school” aura this gave us in the cafeteria in 1971.
I got to check out things like THE GODFATHER, THE EXORCIST, SISTERS, SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT (the original title of Bob Clark’s mini- masterpiece BLACK CHRISTMAS), THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT and of course MANDINGO – movies other kids our age could only dream of. Her deep “hots” for Clint Eastwood got us in to see PLAY MISTY FOR ME (LOVED Jessica Harper’s “Screaming Mimi ” stalker in that one), and a ONE WEEK ONLY in theaters oddity called THE BEGUILED. I initially begged off from seeing it, as (SURPRISE!) Universal had not a clue how to market it and it looked vastly underwhelming. The print ads were of Eastwood’s (back then) damn fyyyne face holding a western style gun, done in red ink. But, the day before my “ratings buster” pals were going to see it, I read a local critic’s (RIP Mr. Cedrone) review that called it a mish mash of “pot boiler repressed sexuality and “Veranda” Horror”… that’s all it took, I was on board!
As I said (and like water on a stone, I am beginning to just be worn down repeating) the promotional team at Universal had either been drooling, cowardly fools – or hadn’t really seen the film at all. Folks, is it just me? Am I the only one SO TIRED of seeing people screaming as they’re dragged away from the camera, or from right to left doing the same? Does every establishing shot need to be the camera above a group of trees, or woods or forest slowly panning in toward said greenery? Do we ALWAYS need a pop hit from yesteryear accompanying editing so shoddily put together that it becomes utterly useless, as the song skips at “that point,” or the visual helps you understand…… or not… ohhhh it’s being played ironically… finally (rant almost over, worthwhile discussion of a worthwhile film is up next.). As I was saying, would some Hollywood big shot PLEASE pay for a chiropractor for all of that neck, knee or back crackling that seems to be permeating the horror community ALL THE TIME?!?!
THE BEGUILED wasted no time getting to the heart (ohhh boy does it) of the narrative. A severely wounded Yankee soldier, played by Clint Eastwood (and I completely understand why Jeff’s mom had the “hots” for him wowie wow, wow, wow, woooow) also giving in my humble opinion a terrific performance, finds himself behind enemy lines. He is discovered by Amy, a girl picking mushrooms for dinner. Pamalyn Ferdin, a very talented young actress at that time was cast in this role. In addition to the two leads, the film featured some truly outstanding young female talent of that era. In the key role of Edwina (Eastwood ‘s love interest in the film, Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Elizabeth Hartman shines… although to say Eastwood’s character uses his looks and charms on almost all of the girls at the boarding house/school would NOT be an overstatement. Which brings me to leading lady, Miss Geraldine Page. A multiple Oscar (she won Best Actress for A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL in 1985) and Tony nominee, Page was well known for her work in Tennessee Williams projects. In THE BEGUILED she effortlessly lets us see a woman who, on the outside is all take charge, management and order, but on the inside, is tortured by a demon from her past and a raging sexual repression that seems to have a strong impact on the women around her.
Don Siegel was never a director I would refer to as anything but competent, but here he goes for a more metaphorical style. Sometimes it’s sly and impactful (Eastwood’s full mouth first “thanks for saving my life” kiss on a 13 year old Ferdin as a posse of thundering Yankees on horseback rides by, and her stunned, then highly pleased reaction to it then, and much more importantly later is a nice touch. Eastwood always having a burning hot flame in any room he’s In, subtle as a Subway train. The use of voice over narrative information and visual flashbacks gives us key information efficiently, but is at times a bit confusing.
Since I don’t want to spoil the narrative, let me say that Siegel’s creative team – imaginative cinematography, courtesy of Bruce Surtees editing by Robert Pingatore, very effective score from the great Lalo Schifrin, the screenplay (solid, based on the novel A PAINTED DEVIL) was written by Robert Maltz and Trene Camp.
This Friday Sofia Coppola’s already award winning new adaptation of THE BEGUILED opens in theaters nationwide, and the original was so well received by others as well as myself (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), I’m going to follow up this TRAILER PARK/VINTAGE piece with a normal TRAILER PARK piece on Coppola’s adaptation early next week… I. J. S.