The Beguiled isn’t only director Don Siegel’s favorite, it’s also his best since Invasion of the Body Snatchers and as close to an accidental piece of American trash art as we’re likely to get. In some ways it’s a little like D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox, only magnified as cheeky Southern gothic. Civil War Unioner Clint Eastwood seeks refugee from the Confederates in a girl’s school run by fluttering lesbo Geraldine Page, with assistance from man-hungry Elizabeth Hartman and a load of other starvers (including a little Melody Thomas, Nikki on The Young and the Restless). Clint is initially delighted by his good fortune in stumbling upon such a willing smörgåsbord—after all, he’s wounded and in need of some tender lovin’ recovery. Until jealousies erupt among the bitches in heat. Steven H. Scheur, in his guide Movies on TV & Videocassette, reminds us of the film’s similarities with Black Narcissus: “for all of Eastwood’s tattered swagger, he (becomes) more the prey than the hunter.” Eastwood holds his own against scenery chewer Page; semi-comicly droning on, this may be his most intriguing performance before The Bridges of Madison County and he’s definitely at his most shaggy dog attractive. Crazed Geraldine pulls out the familiar Page stops and they work better here than in any of her other tours de(sicko) force. Hartman’s pale, sickly thinness doesn’t alienate viewers this time out. Mounted with loving care, the movie’s weepy moss atmosphere is terrific claptrap photographed by Bruce Surtees, who’d shoot a dozen other Eastwoods but this one the first and still the most acomplished. The late Siegel gave this trashterpiece what he gave to the original Body Snatchers—a patina of faked, frenzied seriousness that sends us away giddy with pleasure. Took years to find an audience, as Universal mishandled its initial release.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.