Don Siegel’s THE BEGUILED is a mean sweaty movie lathered in southern Gothic thrills. The director of such macho fist pumpers as DIRTY HAIRY and THE KILLERS directs a crippled yankee Clint Eastwood into the hands of a group of women that live in a large southern mansion smack dab in the middle of the civil war. Clint the Actor comes pre-packaged with his own set of traits: Cool, a ladies man, and ready to kick ass when the time comes, but here they’re filtered through the lens of him being a straight up dick. He lies about a pacifist past, smoothly operates himself into the hands of of one of the fragile girls for gain, and threatens violence when the need suits him. It’s only when the women are spurned enough to retaliate (a page that Stephen King took for MISERY, but watered down) that things really get mean. It would be easy to paint this as another ‘crazy women’ film (which Eastwood would tackle with his directorial debut PLAY MISTY FOR ME), but the reality is that Siegel masterfully plays the viewer’s sympathy with every character, jumping in and out of inner monologues, to paint a complex picture of male/female dynamics where everyone has a role to play into the film’s final fatalist denouement.
When it was announced that Sophia Coppola was going to remake THE BEGUILED it seemed like the perfect fit. It was a story that was begging to be adapted by a female director and when she won the BEST DIRECTOR prize at Cannes this year, it sounded like it had turned out great. She goes back to the minimalist style she used in MARY ANTOINETTE (minus the modern pop songs) and glossies up the visuals, give things a glacial pace, and sucks out the tension. The original THE BEGUILED could be described as a horror film. The remake has no interest in those kind of emotions. Instead of the feverish women at the center of the original, we are treat to the smoothed down personalities of stars like Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. Gone is the dichotomy between the North and South in the male character (here played by an affable Colin Farrell) as he’s from Dublin in Coppola’s version (but still part of the Northern Army) which makes him an other instead of an oppositional force. Coppola’s decides to make his role ambiguous, he’s a timid nice enough man on the surface, which leads to a flattened dramatic structure that has all the same beats from the previous film (and I assume the novel) without any of the suspense. And she cut out the only black character in a story set in the South during the American Civil War. Her logic of not feeling she had the space to deal with it would track if it wasn’t for the fact that Siegel did have that character and was able to give her agency and a presence. The new version of THE BEGUILED is pretty and empty, never pointing the material in a way the feels fresh or offers any additional insight. If the same story had been transposed to the modern day, or a different country, maybe there would be something a new film could say with the material, but alas. It’s the worse kind of remake, one that can’t prove it has a reason to exist.
I agree with you: pretty but empty. “Beguiled” The 2017 version vs. the 1971 version. I was blown away by the 1968 version of this movie with Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. It revealed so much about female sexuality and repressed desire and the relationships between women. The 2017 version completely undercuts this more psychological account by presenting the women pure as the driven lily white snow and the wounded Union soldier as the fearful brute and monster. What a shame that Sophia Coppola created the new story to emphasize the political correct view of the beguiling of women and their victimization, rather than the beguiling of a man by the repressed desires of proper Southern white women in the original version. Ironically, the women in the 1971 version are much stronger, smarter, more interesting and independent though less “innocent.”
Thanks for the comment!
To be fair, the John McBurney from the 1966 novel was an Irishman, who had immigrated to the U.S. and was “recruited” into the Union Army not long after his arrival. And yet . . . Eastwood portrayed the character a lot closer to the literary version than Farrell did. It’s not that Farrell couldn’t. This role should have been tailor made for him. But I think he was stymied by Coppola’s direction.
Just watched this film with hubby on the tv…boring and extremely pale in comparison to the original. I was so disappointed, I googled “The Beguiled Remake sucks” and ended up at your post. Even though it has literally been decades since I’ve seen the original film, it made deep impressions that remain to this day. Clint Eastwood’s soldier was one I both hated to love and loved to hate and that drew me into being the truest arm-chair participant in that movie. It was scintillating then and now. It crossed boundaries in it’s subject matter. The psychological aspects and interactions between the characters were hot, sticky and complicated. The storyline was wicked and showed that if normal relationships are hard to navigate, add in some forbidden lust, repressed desires, humidity, seclusion and a world gone insane vis-à-vis war, and you’ve got characters willing to cross their own lines with mesmerized fascination. This “newer” movie, which I won’t even call a remake, was a study in “what not to do” in filming a remake. The setting was the true main character rather than the humans and even that was poorly shown. Honestly, the story and it’s points were so watered down, it was as if someone re-filmed it so that it could be adapted to PG-13–and even then, that audience would have been bored, lost, and out the door after five minutes. All I can say is: Don’t waste your time on the remake; watch the original.
I can understand why people prefer the cold and impartial reading of the film that Coppola brought to the table, but it’s really not for me either.
What a disgrace this film was. The 1971 version with Eastwood had so much more to offer in the way of the backstory including Martha’s incestuous relationship with her brother and the ultimate reason John freaked out and threw Amy’s frog, Martha amputated his leg after his fall from the stairs! I just don’t see the reason for Colin’s “John” to get angry enough to toss the frog and leave Amy with the notion to poison him to death with bad mushrooms.
Forget about the fact Coppola left out the more gratuitous nudity, fine fine, but if you are going to do that, you must replace it with SOMETHING! This is very bad and the lighting in the film is so dark I had to shut off every light in the house just to make out the faces. Clint’s version was a classic, this is worse than the remake of just about any film that has ever been made.