Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Beguiled Novel by Thomas Cullinan - nice artwork too...?

Tom Hall's original painting
Relax, all the hard work is done on this cover art which represented Cullinan's 1969 edition of his novel. After last week's uncovering of the paperback art for High Plains Drifter I perhaps started looking at the paperback novels from a different perspective. The 1969 edition of Cullinan's novel was one that particularly stood out. The original cover art by Tom Hall is a very nice piece, and one which I could see working as a film poster. I also like the book’s tag line, 'A helpless man? Eight haunted women!' For me, this immediately kicks the imagination into gear. 
The first edition hardback of The Beguiled was printed in May 1966, and whilst there has been a couple of nice film tie in novels that feature Clint on the cover (See The Beguiled main page), this Tom Hall art cover is arguably the closest to a film poster design. Imagine if the wounded soldier had a closer resemblance to Eastwood - I could certainly see this concept working, it has the basis of an incredibly haunting and eerie depiction. We know that Eastwood was particularly unhappy with the way Universal handled the promotion and marketing of The Beguiled, would he had preferred an approach such as this? It is of course, all purely hypothetical, but it does raise some healthy and inquisitive questions of which there is plenty of room for debate.

It should have surprised no one when Thomas Cullinan’s novel was adapted into a movie. An instinctive feel for the dramatic situation lies at the heart of all of Cullinan’s work, whether conceived for the stage, the television screen, or the intimate mind space of a novel. Take a badly wounded Union soldier found in the last days of the Civil War by a twelve-year-old girl in the Confederate South and brought to an all-female boarding school, where the helpless man can be made more comfortable and his injuries properly tended to. Make that a good-looking soldier, and a house full of women deprived of normal relationships by the war, caught up instead in intensive rivalries and petty jealousies. Such a situation, giving a willing (but physically dependent) male, could lead to many interesting situations, and even, in a time of violence and brutality, to savage recriminations.
Eastwood and Don Siegel clearly saw the possibilities of Cullinan’s southern Gothic story. And it emerged though the 1970 film adaptation as an excellent tale of lust, jealousy and suspense. With a perfectly cast Geraldine Page as the repressed headmistress, Elizabeth Hartman as the frail teacher and sexy Jo Ann Harris as the seductive student – the film has since become something of a minor classic. 

Now, if only that artwork could be personalised to accommodate such a great cast…

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