The Evolution of Eastwood: THE BEGUILED


“You must understand that it was the wine that turned loose the devils in me.” – Corporal John “McBee” McBurney

For nine films (and years of network television) Clint Eastwood had been “a man with a gun”, whether that was in a war film, a western, or a police drama. At this point in his career, he was genuinely concerned about being overly typecast and he made two calculated choices to try to perform against type. The first choice was this Civil War drama, The Beguiled, and his second choice was to finally direct his first feature film.

The Beguiled is a unique entry in both the catalogue of Clint Eastwood and of Don Siegel, its director. At this point, the pair of them had collaborated twice already and had become good friends as well as a veritable mutual admiration society. The opportunity to try their collaborative magic at something quite different appealed to them both. Eastwood himself was a major force behind the project’s inception, having read and become captivate by the original source novel, A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The script went through a few different iterations (including one with a straight-forward “happily-ever-after” ending) before ultimately landing with the results for the final film.

The premise revolves around a badly wounded union soldier (Eastwood) during the Civil War who is discovered and taken in by a group of young ladies at a boarding school. The headmistress is rigid and occasionally oppressive, but the soldier’s presence sends the entire group of young women into distrustful disarray, inciting desirous intentions and deceit, eventually erupting in violence and disturbing behavior as the soldier rejects and accepts certain advances (while making one or two of his own at the same time). The tension and threats escalate to an irreversible degree and the soldier soon realizes that he must find a way to escape or he will be trapped there forever, if not dead.

One of the earliest shots in the film, immediately following the soldier’s being taken into the school, is of a raven tied by a sequence of thread to an upstairs bannister. We discover that this bird had a wounded leg and is being held there while it heals, but we occasionally witness the bird’s frantic attempts to break free of the restraints and fly away. This steadily increasing dread and ever-deepening threat extend throughout the film, and the result is both disturbing and compelling.

It is often a very uncomfortable film in its extremist depictions of relational desire. There are moments involving sensual advances by teenagers and even an incestuous thread (albeit by flash-back). The soldier, too, presents an unsettling attitude towards desire and entitlement, although his perspective is frequently portrayed within a survivalist context (i.e. he’s doing what he ordinarily might not do because of the pressure of his circumstances). This all makes it challenging to openly endorse or recommend the film, but the performances (particularly by Eastwood and Geraldine Page – who plays the school’s headmistress) are exceptionally complex and often captivating.

But the most prominent element of the film is its exploration of the discomfort of gender roles in positions of power. Siegel is quoted as having stated that the film contained in its central theme “the desire of all women to castrate men.” This makes for several outright emasculating qualities to the narrative, which is about as drastic of a departure for Eastwood as you could imagine, even more so than when he sang in Paint Your Wagon. The film disturbingly treats women within certain stereotypes and does no favors for any conversation about equity of value within relationships or society. But the film-craft at work through the production and performances are enough to maintain a highly compelling viewing experience.

The film is also frequently frightening. The narrative plot may be a period drama, but stylistically and tonally, this is a horror film, and nearly everyone is – at one time or another – a monster. It is a strong opportunity for Eastwood as a performer to play a variety of emotions, including ranges of terror and vulnerability that he had literally never shown before. And without tipping too heavily into spoiler-territory, I’ll vaguely mention that there are at least a couple of devastating predicaments in this film that his character doesn’t escape without irreversible consequences.

But the film was not terribly well-received by audiences (although critics praised it rather highly). Eastwood would eventually blame mishandled marketing on the part of Universal Studios and a sensibility from his fans that did not like to see him so vulnerable. Time has been much kinder to it in general (and renewed interest was sparked when Sofia Coppola remade it in 2017). But The Beguiled is a bleak, unsettling, southern-gothic thriller and it is very, very effective. With the disclaimer that there are some highly uncomfortable thematic elements and a few disturbing moments, it still comes with a pretty strong recommendation.

Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

What We Learned this Week: New Year’s Resolutions for the Movie Industry in 2018

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this seventh edition, this is my absolute favorite editorial to write every year.  I have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change.

Since last year, I feel like I’ve been writing a little bit of this every week all year over on the “What We Learned This Week” column contribution here on the Feelin’ Film Podcast website.  Readers and followers of that podcast and column will get my cadence.  I’m sarcastic, but I’m not the guy to take it to the false internet courage level of some Twitter troll.  This will be as forward as I get all year.

Some resolutions come true (a great deal of last year’s list is still relevant), while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. You would hope Hollywood would learn from those lessons going forward.  Alas, here we go again!  Enjoy!

1. Clean out your closets for good.

Without question, the most enormous and egregious issue to cross this industry this past year was the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations leveled against big names, small names, and studio executives.  I know I’ve preached patience in a recent Feelin’ Film “soapbox” to plead with folks to be in the camp of “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around, in terms of letting these claims play out to proven guilt before burning careers to the ground.  That said, let these exposures continue to be moral napalm to clean out a dirty Hollywood.  Purge the skeletons from the closets in a string of ugly years, if that’s what it takes, to advance equality and fairness going forward.  Pass the matches.

2. Continue the “Year of the Woman” into the “Era of Women.”

Last year on this column, I celebrated female protagonists.  Despite the ugly headlines, 2017 was an incredible year for women going ever further to lead the charge in film behind the scenes as well.  If voters were vigilant enough, you could fill the upcoming Best Director Oscar field with 80% women, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Dee Rees (Mudbound), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), and the category wouldn’t lose an ounce of talent or respectability.  Much like #OscarsSoWhite sticking around through Moonlight last year, Hollywood has to do better than a one-year surge or knee-jerk olive branch.  Turn this banner year into a string of them worthy of being called an era.  These ladies and others have earned it.  Reward them as such with opportunity.

3. There is room for objective to go with the subjective.

I might be gunning fairly high-brow with this one where I might be wearing too much of my film critic hat to go with my movie fan t-shirt.  I get the general foundation where loving and enjoying movies will always be greatly subjective.  Too each their own, all day.  I get that.  However, maybe it’s the capacity of the school teacher in me, but if I’ve learned anything doing this film critic thing is that there is room for objective to go with the subjective when it comes to reacting to a film.  I’ve seen movies this year like A Ghost Story, mother!, and Call Me By Your Name that I do not find entertaining, per se, or contain content I don’t condone or agree with from the seat of my personal values.  When that occurs, I’ve learned to take a step back and recognize the goals those films and filmmakers were going for and find ways to respect them, and even commend them, even when I don’t like the finished products.  I think general audiences could try a form of this reflection on for size too.  I think if people took a breath, stepped back, and looked at something other than their own expectations for a film, they might see purposes other than some self-serving ones and we would have a whole bunch fewer rants and raves of negative hyperbole.

4. Make smarter trailers and less of them.

Stop giving away too much in a trailer.  There are films from this past year where the trailer gave away 80% of storylines.  Where’s the mystery?  Less is more.  Take Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After Star Wars: The Force Awakens made over $900 million domestically two years ago, the sequel didn’t need the help of a lengthy trailer and could have sold itself on principle alone rather than a second trailer that even director Rian Johnson had to give a minor spoiler warning to.  Trailers like that aren’t worth it or necessary.  Between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and all the people who fussed about not getting an Avengers: Infinity War trailer until December, find some patience.  Trailer-makers, leave the audience wanting.  Make them wait.  Imagine the anticipation if there wasn’t a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Avengers: Infinity War.  Imagine the frenzy and the payoff, not just on the screen, but on the bottom line of box office receipts.

5. Drown out the click bait with creativity.

One of my satisfactions from Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that it shook off two years worth of superfluous noise and the endless conjecture of silly fan theories and think pieces to surprise just about everyone by sticking to its creative guns to blaze its own trail, not one caving to unreasonable expectations.  How I know it worked is watching the butthurt backlash from the two weeks of people trying to disown the movie because it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be.  To the click bait crowd, Rian Johnson and company made THEIR movie, not YOUR movie.  That was the objective goal and it’s a shame people can’t respect that or the differences, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi was just one example of many.  Pushing anything else is entitlement and not anticipation.

6. Don’t let Disney’s head (or portfolio) get too big.

Last year on this annual editorial, one of my items read “Disney/Marvel, please pay Fox and Sony whatever they want to bring your universe under one roof.”  By golly, I didn’t think Disney was going to go even further that that to entirely buy 21st Century Fox.  Disney is playing Monopoly with more money and property than anyone else with a token on the game board.  Be wary and mindful of that power beyond the wish fulfillment of X-Men and Fantastic Four possibilities in the MCU.  Disney hasn’t been a saint this year with the blackout of critics from certain publications, shuffling and firing directors, price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention, pulling their content from Netflix (while buying controlling stake in Hulu Plus), arranging their own streaming service, and more.  Maintain healthy competition and watch out for that bullseye on your back, Sony.

7. While we’re talking about superheroes, scale them down a touch.

Superhero films are the hottest tickets in town.  You don’t have to necessarily have studios slow down the pace of the film releases, just the size of the films and stories.  The best superhero film this past year was Logan, which striped all the spectacle away and told essentially a modern western to become of the best-ever entries to the genre and further proof that R-rated options were viable as well.  Until the big swirling finale of special effects, Wonder Woman was nearly the same for leanness and importance.  The counterexamples are Justice League this year and X-Men: Apocalypse two years ago, where the storylines are becoming overstuffed and piling on in an effort to constantly top themselves.  Logan is proof you don’t need to do that.  Tell a single good story.  Lead up from small to big, instead of from big to bigger.  Build from small for a few films and then get to the massive Infinity War level events.  That rumored Matt Reeves Batman detective story can’t come soon enough instead of the next intergalactic throwdown.

8. Put more depth of heart and less dumb antics in family films.

I’m bringing this resolution back verbatim as a repeat from last year.  I hear people (one of them sounds like me) all the time saying how annoying and unintelligent the movie options are for kids and families, particularly in the live-action department.   In 2016, Pete’s Dragon and Queen of Katwe showed audiences that not everything had to be 90 minutes of animated noise, but neither took off as big hits.  This year, Beauty and the Beast was a ready-made blockbuster and Wonder is doing great this holiday season.  They give me hope.  I just wish more folks could have seen and discovered the heart of Wonderstruck this year like I did.  Keep the efforts coming.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.



What We Learned This Week: June 25-July 1

LESSON #1: DON’T BUY THE DOOM AND GLOOM PRETENTIOUS PEOPLE ARE PUTTING ON ROTTEN TOMATOES AND NETFLIX— It feels like every week someone wants to pit the fans versus the critics and forget that critics are fans too.  This week it was a piece in Forbes.  Let me put this as simple as I can.  Reviews don’t make people pull money out of their wallet.  Products of interest do.  The content always sells itself first.  The frosting of random measured approval is second.  I will continue to be in the “want a better RT score, make a better movie” camp.  As for Netflix, people are forgetting about the huge access it grants independent films and documentary films.  Films like Okja this week wouldn’t get a puncher’s chance at the crowded multiplexes in this country.  A platform like Netflix lets it be everywhere.  In addition to being that kind of pedestal, the ability for audience buzz through binge and repeat viewing is something a theater cannot improve for a film.

LESSON #2: IF YOU REALLY NEED A NEW PLACE TO READILY AND AFFORDABLY ACCESS FILMS, HEAD OVER TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY— I’m not an avid reader, but I still frequent my local library through my children.   Especially if your library is part of a larger county or state system of shared material, the completely free access to both popular and hard-to-find movies is outstanding.  Before you pay that Redbox price with a time limit, a 24-hour Video On Demand rental, or even a full subscription to something like Netflix, Hulu, or Filmstruck, consider what you can mine and discover for free.

LESSON #3: SOUNDTRACKS CAN MAKE A MOVIE— There are films with cool soundtracks and then there are cool films with cool soundtracks.  The trick is not just having a cool soundtrack but using it to its fullest extent as a supporting layer of a film.  No movie in recent memory does that better than Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.  That film isn’t throwing obscure tracks and deep cuts in there for indie cred.  Each song is purposely piece of the storytelling and the effect is genius.  See and hear Baby Driver at your earliest convenience on the loudest movie screen you can find.

LESSON #4: LET DIRECTORS DIRECT— I encountered a great deal of double talk this week on many fronts that all talked about directors and led me to this lesson’s title.  First, The Beguiled‘s Sofia Coppola is getting flack for not including a slave character or addressing the politics of the Civil War in her auspicious remake landing in theaters this weekend.  Right off the bat, she’s the writer and director and deserves to make those calls for the vision she wants to create, period.  I’ve seen the film.  The slavery angle or more men are not what the film is missing.  Look at the material.  The “whiteness” is the part of the point.  Next, I don’t know what to make of the coming new direction of Warner Bros. under Toby Emmerich when it wants to avoid hiring “auteur directors who want final cut.”  Do they realize they just hired and leaned on Joss Whedon, who had that final cut trouble with Marvel, to save one of their films?  Do they not look back at their biggest critical successes this century and not see names like Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, and Christopher Nolan attached the end of the credits?  I get trimming budgets, but don’t clip the wings of the incredible people you’ve hired.  Tinker as a studio too far and people like Eastwood and Nolan are going to stop working with you and then you’ll get the “bad for business” label, Toby.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.


Feelin’ It: The Beguiled

(SPOILER FREE) Aaron & Don give their thoughts on this wickedly entertaining remake from Sofia Coppola. We try to inform you so you can decide whether this seductively complex, yet simple, film is one for you.


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Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

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