Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Beguiled (1971)

Just like last week Nathaniel at the Film Experience hasn’t picked a movie for the Hit Me with Your Best Shot series and so I put it out to my twitter to decide. This weeks winner was Jacob Scott who suggested I watch the original The Beguiled from 1971. The remake is coming out any day now and won Sophia Coppola best director at the Cannes Film Festival. I really like doing this each week because it allows me to either reexamine a film from a cinematography perspective or look at something new I never would have seen otherwise.

So what about the original? It’s a weird little movie that I’m glad I saw but didn’t strike me as a classic romantic thriller. For a lot of the film it felt like I was watching a TV movie (the 70s version of a lifetime thriller) but then it would occasionally do cinematic things.

The Beguiled stars Clint Eastwood as John McBurney a Yankee soldier who is taken in by a ladies school run by Martha Farnsworth played by Geraldine Page. At times it feels more like a cult than a school. Nobody is allowed to leave and the girls don’t seem to be getting much of an education.

As John begins to recover he gets to know each of the girls including Martha, who has a very twisted backstory of her own. They don’t really cite scripture but it’s more the civility and social rules of the South are their gospel. They even read through the books of manners like it is the Bible.

Each of the girls approaches John from a different way. One is the innocent virgin, another is the temptress, another is a bargainer, etc. He even gets to know Hallie, the slave, who he bonds with as a prisoner but also is at odds with because he seems to have no power over her sexually. There are a lot of tense scenes in the film and they do a good job making it feel like a pot of water about to boil over. There is obviously sensuality but it is mostly about temptation than actual participation. Envy of course also plays a big role in the story.

In picking a best shot I wanted to go with something that showed both John and the women but it’s a film that has very few group scenes. It is mostly 2-shots and close ups. Often you will have a shot from behind a woman, panning from the woman to John or a fade out where you see a woman and then it fades into John.

So for the best shot I decided to go with a pivotal scene where we see Martha’s back and John and Edwina across the table.

Overall Grade- B

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