Adult Movies II

film 3 of 4

The Beguiled

Film Review by Aug 21, 2014

Wow! Every craft and credit here is outstanding. We know about Coogan’s Bluff and Dirty Harry, but is this where that “to Don” dedication at the beginning of Eastwood’s later, masterful Unforgiven comes from? The Beguiled is kind of a genre picture, and you could even call it an exploitation picture of sorts. But those humble designations, and Siegel’s workmanlike reputation, aren’t adequate to the utter artful confidence on display here. This is a complete package: great location, design, powerful expressionistic direction and cinematography, really fine performances that render really well imagined characters. Eastwood is modest, but he’s a real actor, even at this comparatively early, pre-auteur date. Geraldine Page is positively Shakespearean, or elemental, humanizing a monster, or demonizing a human. Elizabeth Hartman is a revelation, and this Pamelyn Ferden kid really does give one of history’s great kid performances.

So far, so good—but there’s a complication.  The Beguiled is very frankly, very unblinkingly about sex, about the power and danger of sexual desire. As such, the subject is not only central, but it is also briefly, vividly illustrated. And so, accordingly, it would seem to be out of bounds to all sorts of parents and kids and conscientious moral conservatives. Right. Or, wait a minute.

Sex is a primal, even elemental subject. It’s tough to the point of impossibility for a neophyte, even an initiate, to rationally, calmly, even safely make her way through. But the frankness on display here is not only contemporary (70’s cinema), it’s also honest and instructive and even healthy. The Beguiled touches upon gender clichés, then subverts or supplements them. Myth and reality, archetype and particularity. The wages of sin are certainly clearly paid. But the emotional remainders, the emotional shards have removed us from the merely didactic and into the plain tragic. And in the end, it’s not remotely exploitative. Don’t see the film, then. And know that what you’re not seeing is true and real, communicated not only with great craft, but with great integrity.