The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan (1966)
The Beguiled directed by Don Siegel (1971)
The Beguiled directed by Sofia Coppola (2017)
I heard the book was originally titled A Painted Devil, but the last forty years it has been known as The Beguiled and I wasn’t even able to find first editions with the original title.
John McBurney is a wounded Union soldier who is found by a girl who belongs to the Farnsworth school for girls. She takes him back there where the women help his leg heal. The women and girls are affected by McBurney’s presence and he beguiles them with his lies and false flattery and he in turn is beguiled by them.
At one point he is found in bed with a girl named Alice and the one who finds him, Edwina, had thought he was in love with her. So, she pushes him down the stairs and his leg is made even worse.
The woman in charge-Miss Martha, decides she has no choice but to amputate his leg.
When he awakens to see he is missing a leg, he decides to get revenge. He makes things uncomfortable for all of them and continues to manipulate some.
In the end, they tell him they are having a birthday dinner for him, and purposefully serve him poisons mushrooms and he dies later that night. The school then proceeds as if nothing has happened.
Parts of this book felt like some kind of dating show, like The Bachelor or something. One man, with multiple women who are interested in him. Each gets their time alone with him, during which time he tells her how great she is and how he is falling in love with her, which the woman (or in some cases, girl) believes. Then he has time with the next one and the same sweet nothings are said.
It does play out like a male fantasy in some ways, aside from having the man die in the end.
I did find it anticlimactic though, when the big moments happened, it wasn’t described in a way that really built the tension and the drama. Some scenes aren’t even described, and instead we are just told about it after the fact. Cullinan was a playwright, and that explains why he sometimes wasn’t great at describing scenes.
During the course of the novel we also learn different secrets about the women and none of them were all that juicy and I wish it would have been more interesting.
1971 Movie Review
I was most excited to watch the newer movie, but I decided to watch the ’71 movie first. It is directed by Don Seigel who has worked with Eastwood many times, including the movie Dirty Harry. There are some interesting shots and camera zooms, and some weird scenes we will get into, but overall, I was impressed! The performances were fantastic and there was such a feeling of unease as all of the characters seduce, betray, and get revenge on each other. Unfortunately, this movie was marketed as an action movie rather than a psychological thriller and so it did not do well because it was not what people wanted from an Eastwood/Seigel movie.
2017 movie review
Similar to Guillermo Del Toro said with Nightmare Alley, Coppola said her adaptation was more of an adaptation from the book rather than a remake of the first movie .After hearing that about both films, I was surprised how much they each took from the original film even though they said it was based on the book not the first movie. (I love Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley though, so I don’t mean that as an insult, but it just didn’t seem entirely true). I get though that a lot of viewers didn’t read the book but did see the movie and so they want to include references to old movie as a tribute. Having said that, I was hoping Coppola would make the story her own, while staying true to the book. She did include scenes from the book that hadn’t been in the ’71 movie, but what she chose to include were just random things that weren’t all that meaningful. There were other scenes that would have been so much better to add!
This movie is beautiful though. Amazing shots, fantastic costumes, and very atmospheric. Yet it lacked the unease and the tension that first movie had. It also felt much more rushed and could have benefited from being a bit longer than it’s 90-minute run time.
In the book McBurney was using false flattery with all of the women. Telling each one how he can relate to her and how no one understands them. Us against the world kind of talk. Also telling a few of them that he is in love with them. We also have McBurney quoting Shakespeare, but it is later revealed he had memorized that passage in that moment but when asked about it later he couldn’t remember. Just so many more examples of him being beguiling and telling each woman and girl what she wants to hear and not being genuine with any of them.
The ’71 movie does a great job showing this. Eastwood will be telling Miss Martha something about his past, but then as he is talking, we are shown a flashback to what actually happened, which is the opposite of what he is saying. He is once again, very much the false flatterer and is loving the attention from each of the women and is telling each one how much he likes them.
I’m not sure if Coppola was wanting McBurney to be a different person in this adaptation or what, and I don’t know what Farrell’s direction was from her, but he just does not come across as beguiling at all! At least not as much as he is supposed to be. He seems too genuine and seems to really be interested in Edwina. His lines are pretty cheesy, and he does end up going to Alice’s room. But we didn’t see enough of him with Alice to fully see his intention to betray Edwina. In the book he had a lot of flirty interactions with her and they were kissing in the parlor as well, which both movies show. But overall, in the ’17 movie McBurney didn’t seem as dishonest.
In the book, it is said of McBurney,
“It was hard to dislike him. He had such an open friendly look about him, that even when you knew for a positive fact that there was guile behind his innocence, it was difficult to think of it as anything but a boyish trick. And the guile was there, no doubt about it. Whatever Corporal John McBurney said, you had to ask yourself—is this the way Corporal McBurney really feels?—or is this the way he wants you to think he feels?—or is he even more clever than you suppose and is allowing the edges of the trick to show, hoping that when you see it, it will make you feel superior to him in cleverness. And you’re really not. Or at least he thinks you’re not. Because what he really wants is your misjudgment of him.”
Since I mentioned Alice, in the book when he goes into her room, we hear about it through Edwina. We therefore don’t know if it was his intention all along to go to her room or not. In the ’71 movie, he is on the second floor and is deliberating, when he sees Alice behind him so he goes with her. Alice in the ’71 movie comes across as the “crazy” girl who gets jealous and is manipulative but is also really sexy and so guys can’t resist her, but they are also scared of what she will do if they do resist. Jo Anne Harris is great in the part, but that trope is one that annoys me so I didn’t love it.
The ’17 movie is like the book and we see Edwina getting ready for McBurney, thinking he will be visiting her room, when she hears noise from Alice’s room and goes to look. Alice in the new movie doesn’t come across quite as seductive as she did in the ’71 movie, but also not as much as she had in the book either and I think her relationship with McBurney could have been shown more.
In the book, after his amputation, Alice feels sorry for him and tells him she still likes him and would still want to be with him. He is mad at her though and hurts her and tells her to get him Miss Martha’s keys which unlocks the cellar and will also make him in charge of the place. Maratha also has the gun locked up, so with the keys he will be able to have it. Though it also seemed like he was going to act like Martha’s sister had stolen the key, trying to pit the women against each other. This doesn’t happen though.
The ’17 movie shows him being mean to Alice and telling her to get the key, but I guess he just wanted the key to his room which was being locked.
The ’71 movie has McBurney go get the keys himself, along with some of Miss Martha’s letters and jewelry. In the book, Alice gets the key, and Edwina is there with her. Edwina takes some money, and Alice takes the keys and the locket necklace both of which she gives to McBurney.
Moving on to Edwina, there are a lot of differences here! The ’17 movie decided to base her character on the ’71 version more so than the book version which I was disappointed by.
In the book, Edwina is part black, like probably a quarter black. It has caused her to be on the defensive and not trust people because she is worried they will realize the truth about her. The way she is written, as hating that she is part black and how she doesn’t want people finding out the truth, is definitely problematic. But at the same time, living in the super racist south in the 1800’s, it seems like a realistic way to think about it.
She is not a teacher, but a student, though she is one of the older ones. She is described by many as being the most beautiful there and McBurney takes an instant interest in her. Parlty because of her beauty, but he also overheard that she might be bi-racial and it seems he is interested in learning more about that as well.
He convinces her he loves her, and when he thinks he will be leaving soon, seeing as how he is feeling better, Edwina thinks he will come to her room in the night.
When she sees him with Alice, she pushes him down the stairs, and is then in her room the rest of the time and isn’t even aware of the amputation. Honestly, after pushing him down the stairs, she doesn’t do much more. I’m sure she talked to McBurney after the amputation, but I don’t remember it specifically so it must not have been much.
In the ’71 movie, Edwina is white and is a teacher. She is shown to be a waify kind of person and is known to be a virgin. We learn she doesn’t trust men because her father was not a good person-sounds like he cheated on her mom a lot. But McBurney wins her over, and again, when she sees him with Alice, she pushes him down the stairs. She is there when the amputation happens. And later, when McBurney is being difficult, she goes into his room and offers herself to him. This softens him, knowing she still “loves” him despite everything. When they arrive to dinner later, McBurney truly seems like a changed man and is being genuine.
In the ’17 movie it is very similar to the ’71 movie. There is no backstory with her dad, but the rest is pretty much the same. Coppola does incorporate some scenes from the book that hadn’t been in the original movie, but it is just random conversations between the two that the other movie hadn’t included.
The leg amputation
Some things in this story I just couldn’t help comparing to Misery by Stephen King. An injured man is taken in by a woman, or women, and at some point, she ends up cutting off a limb.
Stephen King is of course the king of horror and the way he describes that scene is incredible! I was on the edge of my seat and so tense as I read the scene and the pain is described so vividly, as well as the shock of it all. We do not get anything anywhere close to that in The Beguiled.
In the book, we don’t even have the scene described. We have a scene where they are reading from the anatomy book and that goes on for a while as they discuss where to cut, where the bones and are things like that. Then when it gets to the good part, it skips ahead and we instead just get Miss Maratha reflecting on it after the fact. It isn’t horribly written, just not at all tense. She says how at one point during the removal McBurney had woken up but they got him back to sleep. If him waking up in the middle of his amputation had been described in the moment, that could have been such a great moment! We also don’t see when he wakes up the next day! Once again, it is just referenced how he woke up and was yelling but they gave him more wine and he went to sleep. What?? Give us the details!!
In the ’71 movie, they actually do show the scene. They keep parts from the book such as Miss Martha looking at the anatomy book and before she begins, she asks for his face to be covered because she can’t operate and see his face. Then the movie shows the scene indirectly by showing the faces of those present and showing Miss Martha doing the cutting but without actually being gruesome. Then they of course have the famous scene when McBurney wakes up the next day and he tells Miss Martha his leg is hurting and asks if she can fix the splints. She says he doesn’t have splints on and he says, but how could you have fixed a broken leg without splints. It is then revealed that his leg is gone and wow! Such a great scene, the horror and anger on Eastwood’s face as he sees his missing leg and yelling at the women for what they have done.
The ’17 movie does what the book does, but even worse, we don’t get any pre-surgery scenes or surgery scenes. By the way, this movie is rated R, but it could have been PG13 because there wasn’t anything R rated about it as far as I could tell. But definitely a wasted opportunity choosing to skip that scene entirely. When McBurney sees his missing leg, Farrell gives a great performance, but the scene doesn’t pack the punch the ’71 movie did. We do hear him later just yelling, in pain and anger, and all these sounds of him throwing things about in his room which was a good touch.
That scene from the ’71 movie has become almost as iconic as the ankle scene in Misery, and it is the most well-done of the three.
Oh, and a change is that in the book, the night he falls they put him downstairs and she tends to his wound as best she can. It isn’t till the next day she looks at it again and thinks it needs to be removed. McBurney is awake but drunk to ease the pain. She tells him it needs to be removed and he drunkenly tells her to chop it off. She takes this as consent, even though others say it is wrong and he is blacked out and it isn’t real consent. Nonetheless, later that day she goes through with it.
In both movies, it is right after he falls, she decides what needs to be done and cuts it off that very night.
In the ’71 movie McBurney and Martha kiss and she tells him to come to her room. That is the night though that he goes with Alice. McBurney then accuses her of cutting off his leg because she was jealous he didn’t go to her room. Side note, in the movie, we see a dream Miss Martha has which involves McBurney and it was just a weird scene which ends with her, McBurney and Edwina recreating this painting of Christ. Could have done without that part.
In the ’71 movie we also discover that she had a romantic relationship with her own brother and McBurney finds this out when he reads some of her letters.
In the book, McBurney learns of this because when he was thought to be passed out, Harriet had told him about it. Even though both show this, it is portrayed very different from book to movie. In the movie, her and the brother are both into it whereas in the book she was manipulative of the brother and forced him into doing things he didn’t want to do. It is also said that after a night together, Maratha would fine as always, but the brother would stay in his rooms for days and not want to come out. In the book, he disappears. Some suspect he is dead, and that is what Martha claims, but it seems he likely ran away and made it so Martha couldn’t find him.
This is left out of the new movie entirely. We do have a scene where McBurney asks her if she had a love interest before the war and she says yes but it is left at that.
In the book we also find out that Martha wears a wig and McBurney finds out and calls her names about it. This isn’t that interesting of a secret, and it is left out of both movies.
I just mentioned Harriet telling McBurney about Martha and the brother, and if you hadn’t read the book, you are probably wondering who that is! Well, in the book the second teacher is Martha’s sister, Harriet. Harriet is an alcoholic and that is one reason why Martha keeps the keys on her, to prevent Harriet from getting to the wine cellar. McBurney attempts to seduce her as well and tells her he is in love with her. He also learns of her past and tries to use it to manipulate her. When she has a clear head though, she calls him out on his lies. He then grabs her neck and she passes out. Though there are different accounts on whether McBurney was truly trying to strangle her.
After this, one of the girls, I forget who, are upstairs and go into the parlor because they hear crying and talking. When the door is opened, they see Harriet naked with McBurney and he is crying telling her to stop but she is in a drunken stupor and seems to be in her own world.
Speaking of characters who aren’t in the movie, in the book there is a black woman named Mattie living with them because she had been their slave. She is in the ’71 movie, but they change her name to Hallie. In ’17 movie left her out completely and Coppola said that , she felt slavery was such an important topic and she didn’t want to treat it lightly, she felt she should focus on these women who are so cut off from the world and she didn’t want to “brush over such an important topic in a light way,” and that “(y)oung girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African American character I would want to show them.”
In the ’71 movie, McBurney was able to beguile Mattie as much as the other women. Whereas in the book, she never trusted him. In the ’71 movie things take a turn when he is drunk and unruly and he threatens to rape Hallie. In the book and old movie, each character has a moment which leads them to be okay with poisoning McBurney and this was her’s. This made more sense than the book though where the interaction that made Mattie lose it with him was when he asked her if she was secretly Edwina’s mom, and if not, was she somehow related to the Farnsworth, like if she was their brother’s daughter. Mattie is upset by his questioning and won’t answer him and it makes her dislike him even more.
After the amputation
In the book McBurney recovers very quickly. Seems very unrealistic, especially since they have no pain killers. But before long, he seems to be himself and is planning revenge. The best he can think though is to get Martha’s key, drink the wine, and walk around the house, being an unwelcome presence. Honestly, I wanted something more to happen.
In both movies there isn’t too much time between the amputation and the mushrooms. So, he is just unruly for a few days, getting drunk, brandishing a gun and saying mean things. Whereas in the book it does go on for longer. I get he makes them all uncomfortable and on edge, and he has secrets about some of them he could reveal if he chose. But it just seemed anticlimactic once again that it wasn’t something more interesting. I also didn’t feel much tension as I read the book so that was disappointing.
Amelia is the one that finds McBurney when she is out in the woods. She was probably my favorite character form the book because she was so honest and truly wanted nothing from McBurney but his friendship. I also loved how much she loved being outside and observing insects and creatures and she wasn’t bothered by picking up bugs to feed to her pet turtle. Though she keeps poor Randolph in a box which seems mean.
In the ’71 movie, when Amelia finds him, some troops walk past and to keep her quiet he kisses her! The actress was only 11 and as if that on its own isn’t bad enough-she did not say it was okay to be kissed in that scene. The director told Eastwood to do it but didn’t tell the actress because he wanted to get her real reaction. So weird and messed up. But throughout the movie, Amelia seems to be in love with McBurney and childishly thinks he loves her and feels betrayed by him. In the book, Amelia was not romantically interested in him and had no interst in the sexual relationships going on in the house. Saying she isn’t interested in human biology, only the biology of animals and insects.
Anyway, in the book, when Miss Martha is wanting to get rid of McBurney, Amelia and her roommate, Marie, try to get McBurney to go into the woods because Amelia has a little hideout, he could stay in. He doesn’t see the situation as romantically as Amelia does, because he has no interest in living in a log watching animals. They had told McBurney that the women were discussing how to kill him, hoping that would motivate him to just run away. Instead, he gets angry that they are discussing killing him. To calm him down, Amelia gives him her turtle to hold. He is angry though and throws the turtle and it dies.
In both movies, he walks into the dining room and is yelling at them, and in both he ends up throwing Amelia’s turtle.
In the book, after the turtle is thrown, Marie comes downstairs with mushrooms and says Amelia has asked that these be prepared for dinner tonight for McBurney. It isn’t said, but everyone can sense what kind of mushroom they are.
In the old movie, after he throws the turtle he leaves, Edwina follows, and Maratha asks Amelia about finding him some special mushrooms. In the new movie, Marie suggests they make him a dinner with some mushrooms and Amelia agrees to get them.
The mushrooms are talked about so often throughout the book, Cullinan made it very obvious the poisonous mushrooms were going to come into play later!
In the book they have the dinner, and no one eats the mushrooms but McBurney. It is his birthday, so that is why they tell him they are having a special dinner. They even have a cake. McBurney is touched and is truly enjoying himself. They have a great evening, then all go to bed. In the morning, they wake to find his dead body.
In the movies, Edwina isn’t there when the mushroom decision is made, but in the book she was there. In the movies she is busy having sex with him and when she comes to dinner with him in the old movie, she has a bite of mushroom as well. Martha yells out at her not to eat them and the scene gets tense as Edwina and McBurney realize what is happening. He then starts feeling sick, gets dizzy and dies.
In the new movie, Edwina says she will have some mushrooms, but one of the other girls are like, but you don’t like mushrooms Edwina, and she says that’s true and ends up not eating any.
McBurney then suddenly can’t breathe and dies.
In all three, after his death, things return to normal.
I liked in the book that the meal continued as normal and he died in the night. But I also loved the scene in the ’71 movie as well.
In the book when they are readying his body to be buried, they find a letter his mother had written him as well as a letter he had begun writing back. We also see a page from a magazine ripped out showing a doll or something for sale that he had planned on getting for Marie since he had promised her he would get her something. This shows how McBurney wasn’t really the monster they thought he was and didn’t deserve death. This also makes the women out to be the villains even moreso. I don’t love that Cullinan redeems John in the very end with this.
Something from the book the ’17 adaptation does have that the old movie didn’t, is the talk about the insect invaders which Amelia observes. This is of course a metaphor for John invading their home.
“Well,” said Amelia thoughtfully, “sometimes [the invaders] win out. I’ve seen a hunting wasp invade a nest of grasshoppers and kill or at least paralyze all of them with his stinger, so that each of them could be hauled away at leisure to be eaten…On the other hand,” Amelia went on, “quite often the intruder doesn’t win. I’ve seen a caterpillar invade a nest of tiny red ants and be charmed by them or diverted in some way until he was entirely at their mercy. The little ants seemed to be stroking the caterpillar with their feelers until he was quite relaxed and after a while he released a few drops of liquid from somewhere near his tail, and then all of the ants partook of this liquid which they seemed to enjoy very much. Then, having milked him, they joined together to drag that helpless caterpillar underground, intending, I suppose, to use him for future feedings.”
Coppola wanted Dunst to lose weight for the role, but Dunst told her no because she doesn’t like exercising or dieting. I thought this was awesome lol.
Dunst also said that she hates doing sex scenes in movies. She said is was a better experience having a woman director, because men directors usually want to do so many takes, from all these angles whereas Coppola only did three takes. Dunst still hated the scene but was glad it was done over and over. Honestly, I don’t get the point of the scene. It could be alluded to without having to show it to us.
Coppola won best director for this movie at the Cannes Film Festival.
Colin Farrell had a great experience on this set, saying, “To be surrounded by talented, decent, smart, insightful creative and serious women – I was spoiled by Sofia Coppola who set a particular mood of comfort, ease and trust. It allows you as an actor to play and explore.”
On a sad note, the actress who played Edwina in the 1971 movie, Elizabeth Hartman struggled with depression and committed suicide in 1987.
Jo Anne Harris, who plays Alice, and Eastwood had an affair that lasted a while.
Universal Studios wanted Seigel to change the end of the 1097 movie and have McBurney survive. Seigel stuck to his guns though and thankfully kept the ending in place.
Book vs Movies
Between the three, the one I keep coming back to is the ’71 movie. It has some things missing from the book, but overall, I thought it was a faithful adaptation and Eastwood really conveys the dishonesty and the beguilement that just wasn’t as present in the ’17 movie. The book was good enough, but as said, some scenes were just left out and I wish we had them described to us. Meanwhile other parts we are given more details than is needed (like the discussion about the anatomy book).
I feel bad picking a movie over the book, because lately that seems to be happening so often and after picking the movie again and again, I feel like I am betraying my name! But I almost do what to say the ’71 movie wins. Or it at least is a tie with the book.