Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris, Darleen Carr, Mae Mercer, Pamelyn Ferdin, Melody Thomas, Peggy Drier, Pattye Mattick, Charlie Briggs, George Dunn, Charles Martin, Matt Clark, Patrick Culliton, Buddy Van Horn
Written by: John B. Sherry (a.k.a. Albert Maltz), Grimes Grice (a.k.a. Irene Kamp), based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan
Directed by: Don Siegel
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/31/1971

The Beguiled (1971)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Soldier Down the River

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Don Siegel directs Clint Eastwood in the third of their five films together. It's perhaps their most atypical and most psychologically fascinating, showing Eastwood as more of a sexual being than most of his other, iconic films ever did. During the Civil War, Union corporal John McBurney (Eastwood) is wounded. Young Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) finds him in the woods and drags him back to her home, a strict all-girls school, plunked smack dab in the middle of Confederate territory. The women are all instantly entranced. The virginal teacher Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) falls in love with him, and the sensual teen Carol (Jo Ann Harris) wants to sleep with him. Headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) keeps a wary -- but equally fascinated -- eye on him. McBurney begins an erotic chess game, secretly telling each woman exactly what she wants to hear, hoping to gain a foothold of masculine power in the house. But Miss Martha is also very crafty. At the film's midpoint, Siegel turns things into a near-horror film, with the promise of sex suddenly backfiring and morphing into violence (this is war, after all).

Siegel started his career as a maker of "montages" for Warner Bros. pictures in the 1940s (including Casablanca) and he cooks up a whopper here, psychologically connecting and twisting the sex and violence. He uses canny flashbacks to illustrate the true nature of these liars and bluffers. He also brilliantly uses brightness and darkness, sometimes connected by the slats in a window, to highlight both sides of the film's physicality. And the insidiously effective music score by Lalo Schifrin does the same. Miss Page was one of Eastwood's worthiest female co-stars; she had four Oscar nominations at this point and would go on to earn four more, plus one Oscar.

In 2020, Kino Lorber released a spectacular new, restored Blu-ray edition with a rich, deep new video transfer. Film historian Kat Ellinger provides a commentary track, and actor Melody Thomas Scott gives a new interview. There's a short featurette on the collaboration between Siegel and Eastwood, and a whole batch of Eastwood trailers. Highly Recommended.

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