The Beguiled


1h 45m 1971

Brief Synopsis

Near the end of the Civil War, wounded Yankee soldier John McBurney is close to death when he is rescued by a twelve-year-old girl from a Louisiana boarding school. As John recovers, he begins to charm the girls, becoming the object of their awakening sexuality and jealousy runs rampant. After he rejects the headmistress of the school for a younger girl, John falls down the stairs breaking his leg, which eventually must be amputated. John begins to drink, and his behavior alienates both teachers and students. He makes an attempt to reform, but it is too late, as the headmistress and girls have decided to solve their problem by feeding him poison mushrooms.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Romance
Release Date
Apr 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: 31 Mar 1971; Los Angeles opening: 19 May 1971
Production Company
The Malpaso Company; Universal Pictures
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan (New York, 1966).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

In the war-torn South during the Civil War, twelve-year-old Amelia is the youngest of six students at the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, which is located in a secluded plantation mansion. While searching the woods for mushrooms, she encounters a severely burned and injured Union soldier, Corp. John McBurney. After they introduce themselves by their nicknames, Amy and McB, he playfully kisses her and she helps him to the school. Martha Farnsworth, the headmistress, at first expresses annoyance at having him there. However, she treats his leg injury and puts him to bed, but is careful to lock his room and board up his windows to hold him prisoner. Her slave Hallie watches skeptically, because she remembers the passionate Martha's incestuous relationship with her brother Miles before he left home, a closeness revealed in a portrait of the siblings hanging in the room. Although Martha is required to tie a blue handkerchief on the gate to alert the Confederates stationed nearby that an enemy is present, when the captain rides by, she fails to tell him about McB and justifies her action to the women, saying that he would die in his weakened condition. Stronger than he seems, McB immediately begins charming each of the women in the household, as he realizes that the only thing standing between him and a Confederate prison is their goodwill. His presence in the male-starved household prompts the girls to have thoughts about sexual matters. Although his room is off-limits to the girls, Amy sneaks in, kisses him on the cheek and tells him about her beloved pet turtle, Randolph. When Martha's twenty-two-year-old assistant teacher, Edwina Dabney, a sweet, inexperienced woman, lovingly ministers to his wounds, the oldest student, Carol, a sexually precocious seventeen year old, offers to give him a sponge bath in areas Edwina ignores. Martha, whose latent sexual desire for Edwina simmers unnoticed, tells the younger woman, who is grateful for being given a home, that she is to be her beneficiary. Martha asks Edwina to run the school, so that she is free to manage the money-making farm on the property. Later, McB prods Edwina into admitting that she doesn't trust men and asks her if she is a sleeping beauty waiting for a prince to free her, an idea she finds appealing. Aware that Martha's power is the key to his safety, he also continues to try to beguile her, which requires patience, as the woman is short with him. Too smoothly, he claims falsely that he is a Quaker medic and that he was injured and separated from his troops while saving a "Reb" from a fire. He almost wins her over, but she gets angry when he shows too much interest in the wine she offers for medicinal purposes. Carol sneaks into his room, kisses him, and tells him she knows more than the average girl her age, an admission he has no reason to doubt. Later, while Martha is away on business, the adoring Amy and Hallie retrieve crutches from the barn and allow McB to go outside. When Hallie admits that McB's presence reminds her of the love of her life, a slave who was forced to flee when Miles tried to sell him, McB offers to find him if she will help him escape. To Edwina, McB proclaims a fast-growing love and after he prompts her to claim similar feelings, he kisses her hand. When Martha returns, McB offers to help her on the farm, lying that he came from a family of farmers, and she accepts, although she still plans to lock him up at night. Carol again pursues McB to invite him to her bed. She kisses him, but he restrains himself, cautious about being seen. When Edwina discovers them together, she sends Carol away and, revealing her father's infidelities, demands to know if McB is simultaneously romancing them both. Carol sees McB kiss Edwina when she sneaks back and, jealous, ties a blue handkerchief on the gate. Three Confederate soldiers come to claim McB, but Martha asserts that he is her cousin from Texas. At supper, McB mentions how much he likes the mushrooms. Afterward, Carol lets McB know that she displayed the handkerchief because she disapproved of his attentions toward Edwina. When three lecherous Confederate soldiers come calling and offer to "guard" the girls, Martha politely and firmly talks them into leaving. Later, when alone with McB, Martha serves him wine and asks him to stay at the farm to fill her brother's vacancy. He guesses her implicit desire when she walks him to his bedroom, kisses him passionately and leaves his door unlocked. During the night, Martha has a lurid dream, and McB thinks about the three women available to him. As he knows she expects him, McB walks toward Martha's room, but when intercepted by Carol, follows her resignedly and commences to have sex with her in her attic room. Awakened by Carol's giggling, Edwina goes upstairs and finds them. In the stairwell, she yells at McB, waking everyone, and causes him to fall down the steps. Martha, now aware of McB's alliances with Carol and Edwina, claims that his leg will become gangrenous and insists on amputating it at once. When McB later awakens from drug-induced sleep, he apologizes to Edwina and Martha, but when he realizes his leg is missing, he becomes bitter and abusive, and is again locked in his room. Amy, who tells him about Union troops in the area, is confused, as she thought McB loved her. When Carol apologizes and expresses her continued interest in him, despite having told her housemates that McB forced himself on her, he convinces her to unlock his door. Once free, he shoots Martha's pistol and announces that he will have any girls he wants or he will alert the Union camp. When Hallie suggests he leave, he threatens to rape her, prompting bad memories of Miles's attempt to rape her. After getting drunk in the cellar, he confronts everyone, telling how each woman offered herself, and accuses Martha of cutting off his leg to keep him near her. Amy tries to appease him, but he throws her turtle against the wall, killing it, then feels ashamed. Edwina follows him to his room, blocks the door to assure their privacy, and proclaims her love for him. Meanwhile, Martha decides that McB is a danger to them in or out of the seminary, but vetoes the girls' various violent suggestions for getting rid of him. Instead, she suggests they make him an "excellent supper" and asks Amy, who is angry that he killed her turtle, to gather mushrooms for his favorite dish. Understanding her meaning, Amy says she knows just where to find them. At supper, McB is contrite and blames his behavior on the alcohol. Announcing that he plans to leave in the morning, he promises to arrange for the Union soldiers to offer them the protection extended to "friendly Southerners," and Edwina says that she is leaving to marry him. Unaware that no one else is eating the mushrooms, McB compliments the dish, and serves Edwina a helping. When she starts to take a bite, Martha yells out to stop her. McB rises, his head spinning, and leaves the room, followed by Edwina. The others hear a crash, but finish their meals. Later, the girls are taught how to sew a shroud. When they discuss how the mushrooms killed McB, Martha denies it, explaining that, because of all he had been through, his heart "gave out." For the last time, Edwina tells McB that she loves him, and the women carry his shroud-covered body out the gate to be buried.


Crew

Alex Alvarez

Leadman

Hayden "danny" Angline

Driver

Brad Aronson

Assistant Director

Burt Astor

Assistant Director

Burt Astor

Production Manager

John Austin

Set Decoration

Melvin "bing" Bingham

Driver captain

John Black

Grip

Julian Blaustein

Executive Producer

Kathryn Blondell

Hairstylist

Cecelia Burrows

Mr. Siegel's Secretary

Jack Casey

Unit Publicist

Joe Cavalier

2nd Unit Director

Joe Cavalier

Unit Production Manager

Carol Christie

Women's Wardrobe

Gae Clark

Hairstylist

Helen Colvig

Costumes

John Corso

Assistant art Director

Irwin Coster

Composer

Bill Cowan

Greensman

Jack De Bron

Special Effects

Clint Eastwood

Executive Producer

Larry Germain

Hairstylist

Perry "mike" Germain

Makeup

Alexander Golitzen

Art Director

Grimes Grice

Screenwriter

Bill Griffith

Recording

Gene Griffith

Crane crew

Hank Guzman

Auditor

Scott Hale

Dial coach

Ted Haworth

Production Design

Jim Hoover

2d Assistant Camera

John Hovanesak

Best Boy

Connie Izay

First aid

Earl Kennedy

Gaffer

Bob La Sanka

Casting

Jennings Lang

Company

John Mack

Sound

Al Marsch

Mike man

Al Martino

Camera mech

Jim Masoner

Driver

Russell Mccarthy

Generator op

A. R. Mclaughlin Sr.

Driver

Mae Mercer

Composer

Bill Morrison

Assistant Director trainee

Carl Pingitore

Film Editor

Kaye Pownall

Hairstylist

Ray Quiroz

Script Supervisor

Neva Rames

Women's Wardrobe

Forest Rankin

Props

Stephen Rez

Grip

Art Rimdzius

Driver

J. E. "blackie" Rosenkrantz

Props

Carol Rydall

Mr. Eastwood's Secretary

Jerry Sailor

Projectionist

Jack Scott

Driver

Jean Seaman

Welfare worker

John D. Sherry

Screenwriter

Lalo Shifrin

Music

Donald Siegel

Producer

Bill Simpson

Crane crew

Jean Spray

Titan crane driver

Frank Stanley

Assistant Camera

Sylvia Summers

Casting Secretary

Bruce Surtees

Director of Photography

Claude Traverse

Rewrite

Claude Traverse

Associate Producer

Buddy Van Horn

Stunt Coordinator

Tim Vanick

Camera Operator

Waldon O. Watson

Sound

Ward Welton

Painter

Bud Westmore

Makeup

Frank Westmore

Makeup

Marvin Westmore

Makeup

Glenn Wright

Men's Wardrobe

Dan Young

Timekeeper

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Romance
Release Date
Apr 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: 31 Mar 1971; Los Angeles opening: 19 May 1971
Production Company
The Malpaso Company; Universal Pictures
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan (New York, 1966).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening and closing cast credits appear in the same order; however, while the opening credits list all the actors, the closing credits list only "McB" and the women. The opening credits are shown over sepia-toned photographs of Civil War battles. The soundtrack during the credits begins with sounds of war: drumming, marching, horses whinnying, wind blowing and voices. Then shots are heard, as well as sounds of a battle, cannons, distressed horses and men yelling in agony. After the credits, still photographs of dead soldiers lying strewn on the ground are shown as a male voice-over quietly sings under his breath a "come all ye" ballad that warns against war. The singer finishes shortly after the actual film begins with a sequence of "Amy" searching for mushrooms in a misty woods full of hanging moss. The photography is black-and-white, suggesting sepia, and matches the shades of the old photographs. Just before Amy spots McB, the scene turns to color.
       As noted in the Hollywood Reporter review, director Donald Siegel and director of photography Bruce Surtees "establish a sort of magic fever [by making] extensive use of dissolves and superimposition of scenes, using the lighting as correlative of the character's internal feelings." The Beguiled was the first feature film photographed by former camera operator Surtees, son of cinematographer Robert Surtees, and the first of several productions he shot for Siegel. Surtees also photographed a number of films directed by Eastwood, beginning with Eastwood's directorial debut Play Misty for Me, released in October 1971 (see below).
The Hollywood Reporter review also pointed out that The Beguiled "conveys tension almost subliminally." Throughout the film individual character's thoughts are provided as voice-over, and several of the characters are shown in brief visual flashbacks. The character "Miles" only appears in flashbacks and in a portrait painting. The sensual, surreal dream of "Martha" is depicted in a slow film montage of a ménàge a trois of Martha with McB and "Edwina." The dream ends with the three characters posing in a tableau that echoes the Pietá theme of a painting that is hanging in Martha's bedroom. Near the beginning of the film, "Amy" is tending to an injured crow and has him tied to a porch banister until he is strong enough to fly away. One of the last images in the film is the crow hanging dead on the rope.
       The Hollywood Reporter review described Lalo Schifrin's score as "dominated by the correct spirit of opera." As the film's story descends into psychological darkness, the soundtrack adds organ music, which enhances the Gothic feeling of the piece. Only a snippet of the song "All My Troubles," which was written and sung by Mae Mercer as part of her portrayal of "Hallie," was heard in the viewed print.
       A July 1968 Daily Variety news item reported that film rights to The Beguiled, a novel by Thomas Cullinan, had been sold to Universal. The screenwriters' names, John D. Sherry and Grimes Grice, are pseudonyms for Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp. According to the New York Times review and Filmfacts, Maltz wrote the initial screenplay as a romantic comedy and Kamp did a rewrite with Claude Traverse. According to the Hollywood Reporter review and Filmfacts, the picture was shot near Baton Rouge, LA. Modern sources state that Universal wanted Siegel to shoot the film at Disney Studios' Southern plantation lot, but Siegel convinced them that it was cheaper to shoot in Louisiana.
       According to a March 1970 DV news item, LSU basketball star Pistol Pete Maravich appears in a bit role. May 1970 Hollywood Reporter news items add Bruce Schiffman and Ray Floyd to the cast. However, neither Maravich, Floyd nor Schiffman's appearance in the film has been confirmed. According to a modern source, Siegel wanted to cast French star Jeanne Moreau as "Martha Farnsworth," but she was vetoed by the studio heads, who wanted Geraldine Page.
       The The Exhibitor review reported that Universal made "a number of cuts" to the film, noting in particular, as did Filmfacts and the Los Angeles Times review, the gory amputation scene, which was cut after the preview audience expressed discomfort with it. The Variety review described the film as having "Charles Addams style with Tennessee Williams-type material," and the Los Angeles Times review, as "a witty and elegant parable of innocence and evil sustained by an intricate interplay of some strongly developed characters." The The Exhibitor review reported that The Beguiled was "one of the most eccentric and individualistic films to be released in the past few years." The Los Angeles Times reviewer asked, "Who is 'the beguiled,' really? Is it actually Eastwood, with his insinuating sexuality, [or] Miss Page and her young ladies who seem so much the acme of gentle Southern womanhood despite the battle that rages not so very far from their door?"


Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1971

Released in United States on Video May 23, 1995

Released in United States 1971

Released in United States on Video May 23, 1995