"The Beguiled" is one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films, and a departure from his typical early roles. Directed by Don Siegel, with whom Eastwood collaborated on several films, it was made a year before Eastwood's directorial debut with "Play Misty For Me". An alternate title considered for the film was "Pussy-Footing Down At The Old Plantation", which thankfully was not used, otherwise I am sure raunchy jokes about the fact that it takes place at a girls' school would be difficult to avoid. I first saw this movie in one of my college film classes in the mid-1970's, and was immediately taken with it. I only had an old battered VHS tape of it until I recently purchased the widescreen DVD, which also includes the hilarious, awful trailer that makes the film come across as a "Peyton Place" soap opera, and conveys none of the creepiness of the film.
Interesting notes: Eastwood and Siegel had to battle with Universal Pictures to keep the original ending, and they won out; and, the film was billed as a standard Eastwood western, which it certainly is not. It is a Gothic tale of deception and horror set in the time of the Civil War, with an underlying tone of eroticism and sexual tension running throughout.
I'm not putting any spoilers in this review, and if you want to see the film as it should be seen, then be careful of looking it up on the internet, as spoiler reviews of it do abound.
Clint Eastwood portrays John McBurney, a Union soldier who is shot on Confederate ground and discovered by a young girl from a nearby girls' school. She rescues him and takes him back to the school, but instead of notifying the local patrol of his presence so that he will be taken to prison, the headmistress, Miss Martha (Geraldine Page), her assistant Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman), their black servant Hallie (Mae Mercer), and the mostly teenage girls take him in, heal him, and fall under his spell. The film sets its tone of creepiness and Gothic horror right from the titles, as it shows real battleground shots from the war, while Eastwood's voice is heard quietly singing a funereal song of the time.
The opening scene of his encounter with the little girl who saves him sets the tone of his character, and the tone of the entire movie. To say any more than that would spoil the surprises in that first scene. To say much more about the film itself might ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it...if you are into creepy, Gothic tales, find it and rent it. Eastwood is excellent in the film, and it is interesting to see him in an early role, or any role, where he portrays a character that is for the most part very unsympathetic.
Geraldine Page had a plum role in the film as the headmistress, and I cannot imagine another actress of the time being as good in the role; a long shot could have been Piper Laurie, but I don't think Laurie could have embodied the role in the same manner as Geraldine Page.
Elizabeth Hartman (whose wonderful performance in the film "A Patch of Blue" as a blind girl who falls in love with Sidney Poiter's character is another high point in her short career) is at her prime here, delicate and masterful at the same time. Unfortunately, her delicacy on film was also a part of her real life; she committed suicide at age 45.
I end this review with this observation: one manipulative, lying Yankee man is no match for a houseful of deceptive and libidinous Southern belles.