The Beguiled ’71 vs The Beguiled ’17

I recommend reading Keith’s thoughts about the 2017 remake found here:

REVIEW: “The Beguiled”

The 1971 Version

Three years into the Civil War, handsome Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is discovered and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. At first, he is delighted to be surrounded by the cloistered beauty of varying ages. An African American slave, Hallie,  (blues singer Mae Mercer) who remains on the estate and assists headmistress Martha (Geraldine Page, Hondo, Sweet Bird of Youth), try to keep order among the girls who are drawn to their new guest. The girls learn French, garden, knit and embroider, and take the post to look out for Union soldiers while getting updates from Southern soldiers as they pass by the imposing wrought-iron gate that keeps the girls in like a prison.

The 1971 version was produced and directed Don Siegel (Eastwood and he worked together in five films) was based on the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The 1971 version focused on sexual taboos and sexual repression created by isolation of the war. The male is the victim and Eastwood falls into the den of the black widow and her spiders. The theme of castration is outwardly expressed.

The 2017 Version 

In this version, headmistress Martha is played by the wispy, haunted, out-of-breath Nicole Kidman.  Colin Firth is Corporal John McBurney. Kirsten Dunst is the plump, aging spinster who wants to escape her confining post as the teacher at the school and hopes John will save her.

The weakness of one version was the strength of the other so that trying to decide which was better was difficult. Sofia Coppola‘s outstanding effort was her directorship. Applauds all around for capturing the humid, suffocating setting of trees and brush and cicadas and for creating an authentic historical climate of 1863 even though she filmed it at Lousiana’s Madewood Plantation while the location was said to be in Virginia.  Fine, I’ll give that to her because the location made for an ideal stage. Sofia does well with costumes in her films and uses them to accentuate the personalities of her characters. In this case, her female cast wears white and it is appropriate as boarding school garb and innocence even though they are all a bit too starched and brand new for a timeworn, ragged estate three years into the war. The ending shot was outstanding. It was a daguerreotype, the outcome frozen and ghostly. White seemed to be a motif Coppola played with throughout the 90 minutes.

The 2017 film felt like a lot of short stories I’ve read over the years and loved. The ghost stories of George Eliot, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Virginia Woolf come to mind. Sin is insinuated rather than fleshed out and laid on the table. (sorry) You’d get more of that from the 1971 version. While I appreciated the camera angles from Eastwood’s perspective and the manual pull in and out of the lens from Dan Spiegel, the occasional harpsichord felt like you were in a Vincent Price film. Not that that’s bad, just dated. However, the acting was much better in the 1971 version especially the “hussy” Carol played by Jo Ann Harris.

The biggest contrast between both versions was the matchup between Miss Martha the headmistress and Corporal McBurney. The 1971 version is better because of Geraldine Page. The motivating events propelled her performance to a higher, memorable plateau while validating the decisions of the others. I felt Sofia’s screenplay softened and blurred the characters. Since this is a film about relationships, Coppola’s characters paled by comparison. If you took Sophia’s directing and inserted the 1971 cast into her Southern setting, you’d have an outstanding film. As it is, I’d rate the 2017 version as a 3.5 and the 1971 version a 4. 

Winter Project: The Final Five of Steve McQueen

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Thanks to everyone for joining me while I explored the filmography of actor Steve McQueen. The 60s and 70s movie icon had a slew of great films to his credit. Since both parents had died at age fifty, with a sardonic sense of humor, he was sure he wouldn’t pass the half-century mark. His prediction came true. He died at 50 from Mesothelioma on November 7, 1980. Breathing the asbestos filaments located in several workplaces and in his racing helmets and suits, the industrial disease raced throughout his body in the final months of his life. He never thought he’d live long. That helped explain his drive and insatiable hunger for life. He negotiated and made millions per film including a percentage of the gross proceeds. He had full control of the directors, actors, and say of his films. Most know he was stubborn and egotistical, but his generosity and kindness extended in equal measure to his two children who loved him unconditionally and to friends with whom he had established long relationships.

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The Cincinnati Kid (1965) After Papillon, this would be runner up as my favorite Steve McQueen film.  Edward G. Robinson is Laney “The Man” who teaches “The Kid”(McQueen) a few lessons about life. In the game of 5 Card Stud, what are the odds two men are dealt a Straight Flush vs. a Full House? Read about THE LAST HAND here. Add Ann Margaret as the sexy temptress and Tuesday Weld as the good girl and stir in Karl Malden as Shooter, the puppet and chump into the mix. The music, the tension, and Steve convincing as “The Kid”, made it a thoroughly enjoyable film.  4.5/5

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The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen are sizzling hot (It’s rated PG) in this billionaire bank caper. The split screen 60s technique, the dune buggy ride on the beach, the fashions, and that famous chess game scene full of sexual innuendos–it’s the stuff that made an Austin Powers parody possible.  It was the first time McQueen broke away from his poor anti-hero to represent the high-class anti-hero. Alone on his own plateau, this film helped cement McQueen as an icon of alpha male coolness. 4/5

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The Getaway (1972). This Sam Peckinpah film flows with interesting cinematography like close-ups, the loud machines grinding in the prison interior, the chase scenes, and the interior shot of a car with BBQ ribs, food fight. While Ali McGraw‘s performance left me cold, Sally Struthers and Slim Pickens were the best characters of the movie. 4/5

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The Towering Inferno (1974). It was the highest-grossing disaster movies of the seventies. They came to see the cast: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, O.J. Simpson, Rober Wagner, Jennifer Jones, and Susan Blakely. The star power, the escape plans, the collapse of the skyscraper was engaging enough, but it can’t compete with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the winner of the best disaster film of the decade. It took Steve fourteen years to beat out his blonde eyed rival, Paul Newman, for top-bill, but McQueen solved the problem of leading man by having his name listed first while Paul’s would be set slightly higher.  3/5

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Papillon (1973). Franklin J. Schaffner was known as an innovative television director/producer in the early years of T.V. by employing film techniques within the new medium of television. He was known in the film industry for popular films like Planet of the Apes (1968), and for Patton (1970). Schaffner’s best contribution and my top prison film is the one and only classic, Papillon (1973). Listen to the Oscar-nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith. Lovely.  

Almost all great films begin with great novels. Papillon (1969) was written as an autobiographical account by Henri Charrière. In 1931, he was sentenced in Paris for a crime he did not commit and exiled to a penal colony in French Guiana. Over the course of many years, Papillon, named for the butterfly tattooed on his chest, attempted to escape. Eventually, he was sent to the inescapable Devil’s Island surrounded by hungry piranhas, sharks, and crocodiles.  Henri Charrière’s story is an audacious human account demonstrating what conviction and willpower can do. His book became an instant success.

Steve McQueen gives his best performance of his career as Henri. His relationship with the inmate, Dega, played by Dustin Hoffman, is dynamic and heartfelt. It’s the cinematography that wows me. The use of black and white or the lack of sound show the solitary confinement of Papillon’s situation perfectly. When Papillon hallucinates, his dreams are horrific and the camera angles portray a true nightmare.

I find it amazing this film was not nominated for anything at the Oscars in 1974 except for Best Score which did not win. What were the contenders that year? The StingSerpico, and The Exorcist.  Yes, all great films, but, I still think Papillon is just as good. Certainly, Hoffman and McQueen deserved recognition for their roles. What an underrated film.5.5

“Blame is for God and small children.” – Dega

L13FC: 1970s Horror Movies

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IMDb cites The Exorcist (204.57mil) as the third highest grossing movie of the decade let alone the HORROR GENRE. We could have guessed that. Defining a horror movie has changed since the 1970s. Shouldn’t they be scary? Not necessarily. Creepy was more like it. Playing upon a phobia was popular in the 1970s like the fear of rats (Willard) or attacking bees (The Swarm) or a single animal that went berzerk like King Kong or Jaws. Shift the focus to Science Fiction and either space is a horrifying place (Alien) or earth is a destination spot such as the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Since I was a little girl, a horror movie involved vampires, mummies, and weird scientists bringing back the dead.  As a teenager, eroticism became a factor when I watched handsome Frank Langella stalking his prey in a swirl of fog on the big screen. Respected actors weren’t afraid to give credence to the horror film like Sir Lawrence Olivier crying over his gored Mina in Dracula or Gregory Peck in The Omen. Of course, careers boosted or began because of the genre: Jamie Lee Curtis, Sissy Spacek, Sigourney Weaver, Bruno Ganz, Jeff Goldblum, Roy Schneider, James Brolin, Donald Sutherland, Roddy McDowell, and Richard Burton to name a few.

Welcome, Kevin, aka Jack Death, who specializes in 1960s/1970s cinema and frequently appears as a guest host around the blogosphere. I’m much obliged you agreed to share your wealth of knowledge!

Kevin’s thoughts:

I favor those shiny nuggets told without splashy fanfare or aplomb. While settling firmly in the “Required Viewing” category. Such as Herk Harvey‘s shot on a shoestring, Carnival of Souls. And George A. Romero‘s B&W back yard Classic, Night of The Living Dead. Where mood, atmosphere, and shadow replace dialogue and special effects to move the tale to its conclusion. To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to reach deep into my Bag of Treats and reward the night’s collection of ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties, And things that go Bump in the night with:

#3: Deranged: I caught this little 82-minute gem at a Dusk ’til Dawn marathon at a drive-in between Jacksonville and Little Rock, Arkansas back in 1974. And was intrigued by its frugality and neatly trimmed approach in telling the tale of a seriously sick puppy, murderer, grave robber and experimenter with dead things, Ed Gein. The Ghoul of Plainfield, Wisconsin during the 1950s. Creepily, if not memorably brought to life by second stringer, Roberts Blossom as Ezra Cobb. Who lives alone of his family’s farm. With many rural locales around Ontario, Canada filling in nicely for those wooded, foggy surrounding stomping grounds. And has some strange things hidden, preserved and going on in one of its barns.

#2: Daughters of Darkness: An “Art House Flick”… If you can call the basement of the Student Union Building at Maryland U an “Art House”. An intriguing, plush, lush and seductive piece of 1971 storytelling along the French coast of Ostend and Bruges. Where a recently married couple, Stefan (John Karlen) and frigid blonde, Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) are the only guests at a seaside resort during the fall off-season awaiting a ferry to England. Only to have fate intercede with the late night arrival of the mysterious Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig). Who hasn’t aged a day since her last visit forty years ago? And her “secretary”, Ilona (Andrea Rau). Who, over dinner take an interest in Valerie and her something of a stiff, sadistic, privileged British prick of a husband, Stefan.

The tale travels at its own moody, atmospheric and often eerie pace as the Countess focuses on Valerie. And Ilona chooses Stephan. Then slowly begins to tighten as police begin to notice when the fruits of their pursuit of eternal youth begin showing up in the towns and nearby burghs.

Precipitating a situation of “Flight versus Fight” for The Countess and recently widowed Valerie. And an ending no one sees coming!

Which leaves the top slot open to a film which came out of left field. Arrived under cover of darkness to about six theaters between Maryland and North Carolina for two weeks before moving on in the summer of 1975. Perceived at first glance to be just another Hammer film, due to its cast. Yet proved to be so much more!

#1: The Wicker Man: Whereby the book, Sergeant Howie is sent to the Hebridean isle of Summerisle to investigate an anonymous letter regarding a missing girl. And is taken aback by the island’s agrarian population hasn’t entered the 20th century. And has given up Christianity for Celtic paganism.

Which rattles Howie. A devout Catholic and lay minister as he follows leads about the missing girl, Rowan Morison. Who Howie believes may be this year’s May Queen. And is in grave danger. While being led by the nose and distracted by Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, and Ingrid Pitt. Before a final, roundabout tete a tete with Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) which leaves more questions than answers. As Howie makes a last ditch attempt to find and free Rowan. Dons the waiting costume of Punch. A fool. And joins the island’s May procession…

Cindy thoughts:

What element of the horror film do you prefer the most and which 1970s film is a great example? For me, it’s Nosferatu the Vampyer(1979). Werner Herzog‘s use of real light cinematography and Klaus Kinski as the Count gives it an elegant, cold composition. It’s not scary. It drags a little at times, but I love that superstitious, Eastern European mountain setting and the actor Bruno Ganz.

Can you recall a scene from a horror film from the 1970s that has scarred your memory? Donald Sutherland‘s tell-tale silent scream at the climax of Invasion of the Body SnatchersI see vividly in my mind’s eye like it was 1978. What about David Lynch’s midnight, cult-classic, Eraserhead? It is black and white surrealism at it’s best; what better way to create horror than to focus on the theme of alienation? Society dictates traditional values such as the devotion to the family, when in fact, most childhoods are disappointing, and for many, quite painful. Society honors the miracle of birth, when in fact, it’s a gooey, bloody mess. Finally, parenthood is a marker for true adulthood but babies seem like foreign creatures and the responsibilities are so overwhelming. It’s the irony that’s the key–anyone can become a parent–but exposing the intrinsic fear of the whole process of birth, it is a fear deeper than any other life event, except for the moment of death, that makes the film brilliant.

Lucky 13 Film Club: October Topic

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Yahoo, I’ve heard from Kevin “Jack Death” who contacted me about co-hosting The Lucky 13 Film Club. We are going to discuss Horror Movies from the 1970s. So, as soon as I say that, classic gems like The Exorcist, Alien, and Carrie come to mind. But what about the other  “lesser” horror films from the 1970s? Let’s give them some discussion time. With Halloween around the corner, you are more apt to watch a classic horror film. Why not tackle a blind-spot or revisit an old favorite?

Kevin will focus on The Wicker Man, Daughters of Darkness, and Deranged. 

 I’m going revisit:  

We  hope you will join us October 13 and share your thoughts about horror films from the 1970s. 

Robert Mitchum, Boston Criminal

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle(1973) in all its bleakness showcases Robert Mitchum as a petty Boston criminal who sells firearms to the mob and becomes a pawn as an informer for the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) official, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan). Mitchum is believable as the tired crook surrounded by winter’s dead trees, gray buildings, and slimy characters. Actor Peter Boyle gives the performance of his career as the hit man assigned to bump off Eddie Coyle. Suspense builds at the Boston Bruins hockey arena; the live footage of Bobby Orr and the violence on the ice reflects the cold game unfolding in the stands.

This 1970s crime drama is nothing like Scorsese’s crime drama, The Departed.  There’s no zippy music in the background. No violet shirts or leopard robes worn by an eccentric boss. You’ll visit no classy neighborhoods or experience melodrama in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. This is a gritty world of hit-men, suppliers, and fickle officers of the law. In this dog-eat-dog world, train stations and bowling alley parking lots are the arenas where victims are as valued as a mucus stained handkerchief. 4/5.

Do you prefer the realism here or Scorsese’s colorful, pretty world in The Departed? 

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