Thursday, September 21, 2017

THE BEGUILING BACKSTORY OF “THE BEGUILED”

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When producer-director Don Siegel’s The Beguiled premiered in 1971, the screenplay was credited to John B. Sherry and Grimes Grace. In fact, however, John B. Sherry was the name blacklisted writer Albert Maltz had taken on as a pseudonym in the 1950s. Maltz was a member of the infamous Hollywood 10 (the group of Hollywood writers and directors who were imprisoned during the McCarthy era for refusing to testify before a Congressional committee investigating “un-American activities”), and although the blacklist had seemingly been thoroughly scrapped nearly a decade earlier, as several producers disclosed the actual names of blacklisted writers whom they had secretly hired, Siegel, a self-described liberal, apparently felt obliged to maintain the political masquerade at a time when the U.S. was torn with dissent over such events as the Kent State shootings and the leak of the Pentagon Papers. As for Grimes Grace — that name, too, was a pseudonym for a writer named Irene Kamp. Little, however, is known about Kamp, but New York Times critic Vincent Canby, who called The Beguiled “a sensational, misogynistic nightmare,” observed that Maltz originally fashioned his screenplay as a romantic comedy and that Kamp was brought in to rewrite it. “This may explain some of the peculiarities of the completed film,” Canby concluded. On Wednesday, a remake of The Beguiled was screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, but instead of relating the story — originally a novel by Thomas Cullinan — from the male protagonist’s point of view (he was played by Clint Eastwood in the 1971 version), writer-director Sophia Coppola approached it from the point of view of the principal female protagonist, played by Nicole Kidman. At a news conference in Cannes on Wednesday, there was no mention of either Maltz or Kamp, but there was plenty of discussion about a more current issue that continues to smolder in the U.S. film industry — the lack of opportunity for female actors and directors. In particular, Kidman presented a number of statistics that underscored the issue.