The Beguiled (1971 film)

The Beguiled is a 1971 American Southern Gothic film directed by Don Siegel, starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. The script was written by Albert Maltz and is based on the 1966 novel written by Thomas P. Cullinan, originally titled A Painted Devil. The film marks the third of five collaborations between Siegel and Eastwood, following Coogan's Bluff (1968) and Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), and continuing with Dirty Harry (1971) and Escape from Alcatraz (1979).[2]

The Beguiled
Directed byDon Siegel
Produced byDon Siegel
Screenplay by
Based onA Painted Devil
by Thomas P. Cullinan
Music byLalo Schifrin
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byCarl Pingitore
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 28, 1971 (1971-05-28)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,100,000[1]


During the American Civil War in 1863, Amy, a 12-year-old student at the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies in rural Mississippi, discovers a seriously wounded Union soldier, John McBurney. She brings him to the school's gated enclosure where the school headmistress, Martha Farnsworth, first insists on turning him over to Confederate troops, but then decides to restore him to health first. He is initially kept locked in the school's music room and kept under watch. Edwina, the schoolteacher who has had no experience with men, takes an immediate liking to John, as does Carol, a 17-year-old student who makes advances with an experienced air.

John begins to bond with each of the women in the house, including the slave Hallie. As he charms each of them, the sexually repressed atmosphere of the school becomes filled with jealousy and deceit, and the women begin to turn on one another. After Carol witnesses John kissing Edwina in the garden, she ties a blue rag to the school's entrance gate to alert the Confederate troops to the presence of a Yankee soldier. When a band of Confederate soldiers see it while passing the school, Martha lies and helps John pretend he is a relative loyal to the Confederacy.

Martha also becomes infatuated with John, and a flashback shows her having an incestuous relationship with her brother. Martha considers keeping John at the school as a handyman. She makes sexual advances toward him, which he resists.

Late one night, Edwina discovers John having sex with Carol in her bedroom. In a jealous rage, she beats him with a candlestick, causing him to fall down the staircase and break his leg. Martha insists he will die of gangrene unless they amputate his leg. The women carry him to the kitchen where they tie him to the table. Martha saws off his leg at the knee. When John awakens and learns that his leg has been amputated, he goes into a fury, convinced that Martha performed the operation as revenge for his rejection of her sexual advances.

John and Edwina's romantic relationship deepens, while his relationships with the other women deteriorate. One night in a drunken rage, John, convinced that Martha plans to hold him prisoner, reads some of the letters she received from her brother, gets hold of a pistol and threatens them all, even injuring Amy's pet turtle, which he instantly regrets.

As Union troops camp within sight of the school, Martha convinces the others – aside from Edwina, who is not present – that they need to kill him to prevent him from denouncing them to the Union troops. She asks Amy to pick mushrooms they can prepare "especially for him" and Amy says she knows just where to find some. At dinner, John apologizes for his actions, and Edwina reveals that she and John have made plans to leave the school and marry. John has been eating the mushrooms and the others pass the bowl without taking any except for Edwina. When she starts to eat some, Martha cries out for her to stop. John realizes he has been poisoned, and leaves the dining room disoriented, and collapses in the hallway. The following day, the women sew his corpse into a burial shroud and carry him out of the gate to bury. They agree he died of exhaustion, and Amy denies she could ever pick a poisonous mushroom by mistake.



Clint Eastwood was given a copy of the 1966 novel by producer Jennings Lang, and was engrossed throughout the night in reading it.[3] This was the first of several films where Eastwood agreed to storylines where nubile females look at him adoringly (including minors in this film and Pale Rider).[3] Eastwood considered the film as "an opportunity to play true emotions and not totally operatic and not lighting cannons with cigars".[4] Albert Maltz was brought in to draft the script, but disagreements in the end led to a revision of the script by Claude Traverse, who although uncredited, led to Maltz being credited under a pseudonym.[5] Maltz had originally written a script with a happy ending, in which Eastwood's character and the girl live happily ever after. Both Eastwood and director Don Siegel felt that an ending faithful to that of the book would be a stronger anti-war statement, and Eastwood's character would be killed.[6] The film, according to Siegel, deals with the themes of sex, violence and vengeance, and was based around "the basic desire of women to castrate men".[7]

Jeanne Moreau was considered for the role of the domineering Martha Farnsworth, but the role went to Geraldine Page, and actresses Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris, Darlene Carr, Mae Mercer, and Pamelyn Ferdin were cast in supporting roles.

Universal initially wanted Siegel to film at a studio at Disney Studios Ranch, but Siegel preferred to have it filmed at an antebellum estate near Baton Rouge, Louisiana in Ascension Parish: the Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation, an historic house built in 1841, that was a plantation estate and home of Duncan Farrar Kenner.[8] Portions of the interiors were filmed at Universal Studios. Filming started in April 1970 and lasted 10 weeks.[9]

Eastwood had signed a long-term contract with Universal but became angry with the studio because he felt that they botched its release. This eventually led to his leaving the studio in 1975 after the release of The Eiger Sanction, which he directed as well as starred in. He would not work with Universal again until 2008's Changeling.

Eastwood said of his role in The Beguiled,

Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino play losers very well. But my audience like to be in there vicariously with a winner. That isn't always popular with critics. My characters have sensitivity and vulnerabilities, but they're still winners. I don't pretend to understand losers. When I read a script about a loser, I think of people in life who are losers, and they seem to want it that way. It's a compulsive philosophy with them. Winners tell themselves I'm as bright as the next person. I can do it. Nothing can stop me.[10]


The Beguiled holds a 88% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 17 reviews, with a weighted average of 7/10.[11]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "is not, indeed, successful as baroque melodrama, and, towards the end, there are so many twists and turns of plot and character that everything that's gone before is neutralized. People who consider themselves discriminating moviegoers, but who are uncommitted to Mr. Siegel will be hard put to accept it, other than as a sensational, misogynistic nightmare."[12] A negative review in Variety said that the film "doesn't come off, and the apparent attempt to mesh Charles Addams style with Tennessee Williams-type material cues audience laughter in all the wrong places."[13] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two stars out of four and wrote that Siegel "unfortunately elects to tell his story with a broad and leering humor that at times is barely distinguishable from a sexploitation shocker."[14] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times praised The Beguiled as "a film of psychological suspense laced with dark humor that is a triumph of style, totally engrossing and utterly convincing."[15] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post slammed the film as "anything but beguiling. Weird, yes; trashy, yes; pathetic, yes; beguiling, no."[16] Nigel Andrews of The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "a film that works best when it is most outrageous. Geraldine Page's piously neurotic Miss Martha and Elizabeth Hartman's sickly Edwina hover on the brink of self-parody for most of the film, and are pushed well over in Siegel's climactic dream sequence, which begins with multiple-exposure effects and triangular embraces and ends with a shot of the two women supporting a limply naked Eastwood in the pose of Van Der Weyden's 'Pieta' (which hangs ambiguously on Page's bedroom wall)."[17]

The film received major recognition in France, and was proposed by Pierre Rissient to the Cannes Film Festival, and while agreed to by Eastwood and Siegel, the producers declined.[10] It would be widely screened in France later and is considered one of Eastwood's finest works by the French.[18] The film was poorly marketed and in the end grossed little over $1 million, earning less than a fourth of what Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song did at the same time and falling to below 50 in the charts within two weeks of release.[10]

Made right before Dirty Harry, this was a bold early attempt by Eastwood to play against type. It was not a hit, likely due to uncertainty on Universal's part concerning how to market it, eventually leading them to advertise the film as a hothouse melodrama: "One a strange house!" "His love... or his life..." According to Eastwood and Jennings Lang, the film, aside from being poorly publicized, flopped due to Eastwood's being "emasculated in the film".[10] The film's poster, for example, shows him with a gun, suggesting an action movie, but the only action consists of a few seconds of flashback to Eastwood's character in battle before being wounded.

Other film adaptations

Sofia Coppola wrote and directed a film based on the same source material with Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. It had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2017.[19] The film was released by Focus Features on June 23, 2017.[20]

See also


  1. Box Office Information for The Beguiled. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 28, 2019.
  2. The AFI Catalog of Feature Films:..The Beguiled
  3. McGilligan (1999), p.185
  4. Hughes, p.98
  5. McGilligan (1999), p.187
  6. Ciment, Michel (May 1990). "Entretien avec Clint Eastwood". Positif (351): 5–11.
  7. McGilligan (1999), p.186
  8. Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. "Ashland Historical Marker".
  9. Hughes, p.96
  10. McGilligan (1999), p.189
  11. "The Beguiled (1971)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  12. Canby, Vincent (April 1, 1971). "Clint Eastwood Is Star Of Siegel's 'The Beguiled'". The New York Times. 48.
  13. "Film Reviews: The Beguiled". Variety. March 10, 1971. 16.
  14. Siskel, Gene (May 5, 1971). "'Mad Dogs' and..." Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 7.
  15. Thomas, Kevin (May 19, 1971). "'The Beguiled' Opens Run". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 13.
  16. Arnold, Gary (May 12, 1971). "'Beguiled': A Neo-Gothic Melodrama". The Washington Post. C10.
  17. Andrews, Nigel (January 1972). "The Beguiled". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 39 (456): 3.
  18. McGilligan (1999), p.190
  19. Tartaglione, Nancy; Evans, Greg (April 13, 2017). "Cannes Lineup: Todd Haynes, Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, 'Twin Peaks'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
  20. Kay, Jermey (November 2, 2016). "Focus to release 'The Beguiled' in June 2017". Screen International. Retrieved April 30, 2017.


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