USA Today - 07/31/1998
"...Eastwood and Geralding Page are co-starred with contentious perfection in an underplayed original..."
This bizarre Gothic Western, made the year before Clint Eastwood's equally eerie PLAY MISTY FOR ME, makes one wonder what was happening in the actor's personal life during this period. Set in the Deep South during the Civil War, the film stars Eastwood as John McBurney, a severely wounded soldier who is near death when discovered by a teenage girl. She takes him to the mansion that serves as her boarding school, where he slowly begins to regain his health under the care of headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) and the dozen or so girls who live there. As McBurney gets better, he begins to charm the girls, all of whom are starved for affection because of the war's claim on their men. At length, powerful undercurrents of jealousy saturate the atmosphere as the girls, and even the headmistress, begin to vie for McBurney's attention. He first becomes involved with one of the oldest of the girls, Edwina Dabney (Elizabeth Hartman), but ultimately finds it difficult to resist the charms of some of her schoolmates. His promiscuity becomes his undoing. A fascinating mixture of eroticism and horror, THE BEGUILED is perhaps the most uncharacteristic of either Don Siegel's or Eastwood's career; its evocation of castration anxiety provides an interesting angle on the dark side of these tough-guy filmmakers. Eastwood give one of his best performances, and Page and the ill-starred Elizabeth Hartman are superb.
A wounded Union soldier, John McBurney, is found and taken in by the residents of a decaying Southern school for girls. His presence brings to the surface the women's repressed sexual fantasies and jealousies, which he attempts to manipulate to his benefit. When he eventually seduces two of them, the women then decide to exact a strange revenge for his promiscuous actions.
Commenting on his purpose in making the film, the director wrote, "Women are capable of deceit, larceny, murder, anything. Behind that mask of innocence lurks just as much evil as you'll find in members of the Mafia."
The original screenplay, a romantic comedy, was written by one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, Albert Maltz. Maltz's screenplay, written under the pseudonym John B. Sherry, was rewritten by Irene Kamp, who worked under the pseudonym Grimes Grice. Associate producer Claude Traverse was also rumored to have contributed to the final script.
Geraldine page died in 1987, just three days after co-star Elizabeth Hartman committed suicided by leaping from her apartment building in Pittsburgh.