Their third pairing together, director Don Siegel and actor/producer Clint Eastwood return for a slice of southern gothic psychological horror. A wounded Union soldier takes shelter at a girls' seminary not far from the battlefield. Alone, the headmistress, her teacher, and her small consignment of students aid the man, only as he starts to get better their fragile peaceful existence is shattered when love, desire, and betrayal pit them against each other. Kino Lorber Studio Classics serves up the Blu-ray release fans have long waited for with a beautiful new transfer and some worthwhile bonus features. Highly Recommended.
It's 1863 and the war is raging in the south. Miss Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) and her school for young ladies have been largely unaffected. They survive on what the sprawling estate can provide them with their slave Hallie (Mae Mercer) tending to their needs. Edwina Dabney (Elizabeth Hartman) teaches a small group of wayward young women like the sultry Carol (Jo Ann Harris) and Abigal (Melody Thomas Scott) the finer points of the etiquette of being a lady. Their fragile peaceful existence is shattered when young little Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) finds wounded Union soldier John McBurney while mushroom hunting and brings him back to the school for help.
The star of Rawhide, The Man with No Name Trilogy, Hang 'Em High - Clint Eastwood's career had been defined by action films notably playing steely-eyed tough guys. Aside from the iffy Paint Your Wagon, Eastwood wasn't exactly known for his range as an actor yet. After already working together with Coogan's Bluff and Two Mules for Sister Sara, he teamed up again with Don Siegel for a radically different kind of film. The Beguiled is best described as a potboiler horror/thriller. A slow burn that gradually turns up the heat. When you feel like not a whole hell of a lot is happening, the final act kicks in and the film doesn't let up for one second until it reaches its shocking finale.
I was way too young to appreciate The Beguiled the first time I saw it. I don't remember how old I was but by that point I'd already seen the likes of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Dirty Harry, Escape From Alcatraz and saw Unforgiven in the theaters - I had a pretty set expectation of what a Clint Eastwood movie was - and The Beguiled was not it! It felt like a lot of talking that wasn't going anywhere. Outside of some flashbacks, there weren't any guns, there wasn't any action, it just kinda plodded along. All my dad would say was "wait for it." And if you haven't seen this Beguiled or the rather solid 2017 remake, that's sound advice, it's worth the wait! The plot turn that sets the final thirty-minutes into motion is a pitch-perfect payoff for the hour and fifteen-minutes of setup that led to that shocking moment. And then the shocks just pile one on top of the other from there.
Today, The Beguiled holds as one of my absolute favorite Clint Eastwood performances. He's cold, calculating, and a bit of an asshole. On one hand, you forgive him because you feel like his survival depends on it. But then things get out of control and you see the real man behind the charming facade. Of the eras of his career, his Jon McBurney is the best of his rising star phase, with Bull Munny and Unforgiven defining his middle. For his later career, it's a tossup for me between Frankie Dunn in Million Dollar Baby and Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino. Both of those films showcased Eastwood's signature tough-guy-with-a-heart character. But then who knows, it's not like the man is done making movies! Age and a pandemic can't keep Clint from working apparently as production for Cry Macho is set to start filming soon in New Mexico! Hopefully this time next year we're all able to safely sit in a dark theater and enjoy his latest effort on the big screen.
And this is to say nothing of the rest of the talented cast! Geraldine Page is terrific here playing a woman with some deep dark secrets of her own. There's something about her eyes and her wry little smile you never quite feel comfortable with. Elizabeth Hartman also is a major standout delivering a genuinely innocent and tortured turn as the lovelorn Edwina. Then you have little Pamelyn Ferdin as Amy who is the heart and soul of the school. I especially enjoyed Mae Mercer as Hallie who always had a sense of what was going on calling bullshit when and where she saw it, but maybe not as loudly as she could have given her character's position. As great as Eastwood is in this film, it wouldn't have been anything without this cast of young women. Don Siegel always had a great eye for casting and that touch is on display with every character in this movie. If you haven't checked out The Beguiled yet, it's time you give it a whirl. But watch this one - the 2017 remake is fine, but you should start here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Kino Lorber Studio Classics scrounges up a new Blu-ray release of The Beguiled. A single disc-release, the film is pressed on a Region-A locked BD-50 disc and comes housed in a standard sturdy case with an identical o-card slipcover and reversible insert artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
As one of my favorite Eastwood movies, The Beguiled has had a pretty rough history on home video. The Universal DVD wasn't that impressive barely offering much improvement over VHS beyond a widescreen presentation. The Blu-ray Universal released in 2015 was practically a Greek tragedy of horrible DNR that scrubbed this impeccable production of any detail. I'm happy to report this new 2K master is a godsend! Instantly you can appreciate the work that went into bringing this film to life. Between the location shots in Louisiana to the in-studio interior sets, there's so much incredible design and costuming work for this period thriller that you can finally see and appreciate. Colors are rich and vibrant allowing for the dreary greens and browns of the school grounds to dominate the screen with terrific primary pops of blues, yellow - and especially red! Black levels are also greatly improved without the horrible crush problems of the previous disc giving this new transfer some appreciable depth. Film grain has a natural presence throughout, there are some moments where it's especially thick and noisy, but those scenes are few.
The source elements are in decent shape, but you can see that this film hadn't been well cared for. There are some vertical scratches on the right side of the frame that appear from time to time. They're not severe or distracting but still there. Speckling is apparent throughout but again nothing as bad as the previous release. The only real issue of note hits at about the 1 hour and 19-minute mark where John is convalescing that is very soft as if the entire scene was out of focus, and quickly after another shot is particularly rough with very loud grain and muddy details. To memory, those scenes have always looked off, so they could be cooked in, or these were inserts of the best elements available. Even with the relatively small quibbles detailed above, this is an overall terrific transfer that rights the huge wrong of the previous Blu-ray release and should more than satisfy fans of the film.
While I no longer have the 2015 disc available for comparison, this new release of The Beguiled doesn't sound as if it received a new audio mix. Truthfully the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track from the 2015 disc was the only thing good about that release and it works perfectly well here. Even in its modest state there's some great atmosphere as McBee hobbles around on his crutches through the school building. Dialog is clean throughout, perhaps a bit on the tinny side here and there, but there's a number of sequences where it appears the actors had to dub their lines. Free of any hiss or pops, it's a clean track that gets the job done.
While there may not be a massive assortment of extra goodies to devour here, there are a few highlights. Film Historian Kat Ellinger delivers an interesting commentary slipping in plenty of interesting tidbits of trivia with some great analysis of the film itself. After that, the interview with actress Melody Thomas Scott who really only had a relatively small role here is great stuff. She's an energetic presence with a lot of fun anecdotes about the movie and working with Don Siegel and Clint. All worth checking out.
The Beguiled was a major turning point for Clint Eastwood's career. Shedding his antihero skin, Clint was able to stretch his range and comfort as an actor while also challenging himself as a producer by tacking a project that was very different and even disturbing in many ways. A great film that still holds up nearly 50 years after its release. Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers fans the Blu-ray they've been waiting for. With a gorgeous new transfer, this film finally is given the care and appreciation it's long deserved. it may not be picture-perfect pristine, but it's far and away better than anything we've seen on previous releases. Toss in some worthwhile bonus features and you have a great new disc to add to your Clint Eastwood shelf. Highly Recommended.