Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Classic Throwback: Play Misty For Me (Clint Eastwood, 1971)

I was visiting my family yesterday and my mother and I decided to watch a film together. As a big Clint Eastwood fan she has a six film Eastwood Collector's Set including some of his earliest works as a director. We went with Play Misty For Me but Coogan's Bluff, Joe Kid, High Plains Drifter and The Eiger Sanction were some of the options.

Play Misty For Me, the directorial debut of Clint Eastwood, is a decent psychological thriller that showed glimpses of Eastwood's skill behind the camera. It caused a stir when it was released, chronicling some sordid business and a torrid affair between Eastwood’s character Dave Garver, a KRML radio disk jockey, and an obsessed fan, which takes a dangerous turn when he continues to reject her. Though imperfect - there are some pacing issues and a stagnant block that doesn't develop the narrative at all, and some corny dialogue - there are several creepy moments and scenes of palpitating suspense. Eastwood is always watchable and Dave finds himself helpless and in a very unpleasant situation.


Dave, who broadcasts nightly from his studio in Carmel, California, meets a woman named Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter, Arrested Development) at a bar he frequents. She shows interest in Dave and declares to be a fan of his show. After he drives her home, she reveals their meeting was not a coincidental one but one orchestrated by her after hearing about his favourite bar on his show. He realizes that Evelyn is a regular caller, a woman who requests he play the song ‘Misty’. 

Dave, a womanizer not wishing to complicate his life while he waits for an ex-girlfriend to return to town, is coerced into spending the night with Evelyn. The following day, with Dave feeling a little uncomfortable but sure there were no strings attached, is surprised by Evelyn’s visit to his studio with his lunch. It is just the beginning. Evelyn will not let up, attempting to ruin Dave's life, and threatening his girlfriend, Tobie (Donna Mills), when he doesn't reciprocate her affections.


Who doesn’t enjoy watching Eastwood getting angry, and the scenes shared by Eastwood and an excellent Julie Walter are easily the most compelling in the film and are actually really uncomfortable to watch. When they aren’t together the story is far less interesting, though Dave's colleague Al Monte, played by James McEachin, provides plenty of humour to his scenes and John Larch's Sgt. McCallum is also an amusing supporting character. 



To accentuate that Evelyn is destroying both his personal and professional life, Dave tries to make a deal with an out-of-town agent who enjoys Dave’s show and requests a recorded tape to help considerations. Their meeting, which is going well, is ruined when Evelyn turns up in a jealous rage claiming he is cheating on her. Dave, from the beginning, is resistant, and it is both aggravating and entertaining to watch him be manipulated by Evelyn's blind obsession, unrelenting persistence and unhinged grasp on the reality.

The plot meanders to a distracting extent at times. This is especially evident during a ten-minute block in the second half (an overlong erotic forest romp followed a seemingly pointless visit to a Jazz festival), which didn’t need to be there at all. This might result in a viewer completely losing interest, and is an all too evident calm before the predictably intense finale.

Eastwood also appears to be in love with the locations surrounding his home city, with a lengthy opening credit sequence capturing Eastwood’s character simply driving and an array of aerial shots. On several occasions, Dave and Tobie wander through the forests surrounding his house and studio, and there seems to be deliberate attempts to push this story to a feature-length runtime. 102 minutes is far too long, though.



There isn’t a lot new here, but given it is over 40 years old I guess it had some influence on films like Fatal Attraction. Eastwood effectively utilises the brand of suspense-driven cinema with quite a dose of bloody violence and creepy captures of Evelyn spying on Dave during the day, and crafts an intriguing tale. On a technical level there isn't much more to say, but Dave's house is especially interesting, and an intimidating feature all on its own. It is made up of one large room, with the front courtyard and his bedroom connected. A lot of scenes take place at night and in poorly illuminated locations, further adding to the tension.

Play Misty For Me is not a great film, but it is an easily digestible genre flick and one that offers up enough thrills and surprises to remain compelling enough. It allows Eastwood to experiment with his craft and give us something different as a performer; a smooth-talking DJ and charmer who finds himself suffocated and any semblance of his masculinity destroyed by a psychopath, and a frighteningly unpredictable one at that.


My Rating: ★★★

14 comments:

  1. I've always been curious to see this one, though your review makes it suspect it's not completely necessary.

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    1. Oh its not necessary viewing, but I'd still check it out you see its on late night TV or something.

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  2. Just caught this for the first time a few weeks ago. You're spot on - what was up with the jazz festival scene? I left the room after a few minutes into that scene and didn't come back for a while.

    I definitely felt this was a precursor to Fatal Attraction. Somebody involved in the making of that film saw this movie.

    One thing I thought was ridiculous is the ending - without giving too much away, I can't believe Eastwood's character stopped to put an old recording of his show on the air before leaving his studio, although I suppose that was to set up the ending a bit.

    Couldn't get over Jessica Walter as Gangi :/

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    1. Yeah Clint putting on the tape was hard to accept. Gary makes a great point in the comment below, which justifies Clint's decision with the jazz scene. I found that stretch to be quite dull, but it serves a purpose, I guess. Jessica Walter was great, and she's great in AD too.

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  3. I remember liking this film when I saw it, but that was well over a decade ago. It's one I've been meaning to watch again.

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    1. Its worth another look. Next time I go back to my parents' place I'll pull out another early Eastwood.

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  4. In complete agreement with you here, perfectly decent little flick, but nothing spectacular. I do like the fact that before he became famous for directing all of those classic westerns, he notched this one out first. Essential for die-hard Eastwood fans only, I'd say.

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    1. Yeah it is very different to anything else I have seen him in. He plays a womanising DJ, but he is known for Harry Callahan and the Man With No Name. I was impressed by his direction...sort of.

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  5. Poor Clint... he had equally strange THE BEGUILED that same year. Life is tough for poor innocent guys, yessir. Fortunately, he's had a lot of company before that, and as well noted FATAL ATTRACTION is a good follow-up, but BODY HEAT (1981, Kathleen Turner as an ultimate femme fatale)) and BLACK WIDOW (1987 with Theresa Russell, Debra Winger) are lessons that guys might learn about very beautiful women.

    Earlier film examples have been just as deadly.

    There's Ava Gardner in THE KILLERS (1964), waiting for all the guys to kill each other off and she could take the loot. Poor ol' Burt Lancaster.

    Mary Beth Hughes in the excellent THE GREAT FLAMARION (1945), leading on man after man and if some of them kill each other, oh well, there's always Mr. Mr. Next. Poor old Erich Von Stroheim - oh well, in a few more years, he's working with Norma Desmond and at least he survives. That's more than William Holden can say!

    Jane Greer was just as dangerous in OUT OF THE PAST for two guys - Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, who once again just can't pick a good girl. Even if his life depends on it, which it does. (Psst, Burt - y'know, you could do better in prison and have more success working on real birds - the ones with feathers!)

    There's GUN CRAZY (1950), where cutey Peggy Cummins is a bit more psycho with a gun in her hand than anyone expected - even hubby's out of his league.

    Of course, Bette Davis starts THE LETTER (1940) off by blasting away at her beau as he walks out onto the front lawn. The nice thing? Well, us guys in the audience know immediately that we shouldn't walk out on Bette with a gun in her hand.

    The most beautiful Janis Carter gave guys a lesson in how Total Beauty can get us poor sweet guys to do anything, even if Glenn Ford's too drunk to realize it. Barry Sullivan, alas, wasn't drunk - he was only looking the wrong way.

    Rhonda Fleming wasn't the best thing for ex-con Dick Powell to meet up with, either, in CRY DANGER (1951). She's his ex-cellmate's beautiful wife and, well, sparks could easily fly except Powell's a loyal friend. But who'd have known Rhonda would take 'polar opposite' to a whole new level?

    Gene Tierney's not a great swim-mate for those of us young lads who fancy her charms in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. Just row the boat a little closer, Gene! Just a little closer!! glub glub...

    Poor innocent guys... film beauties get us every time...

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    1. Wow, there really are a lot of examples of guys being taken advantage of my beautiful women. Thank you for your extensive listing of them all. I will keep them in mind in the future.

      I really liked Body Heat. That was a sexy film. I'll certainly check out Beguiled. I found myself getting very uncomfortable for Clint in MISTY.

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  6. I haven't seen the film though I do remember that it does play to a hilarious storyline in That 70's Show when Fez and his crazy-psycho girlfriend Caroline went to see the film because Caroline thinks it's the greatest love story ever and she gets really insane if someone is after her Fez.

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    1. Haha. I haven't seen that episode but I imagine it is very funny.

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  7. "This is especially evident during a ten-minute block in the second half (an overlong erotic forest romp followed a seemingly pointless visit to a Jazz festival), which didn’t need to be there at all."

    I think Clint is being rather more clever here than you give him credit for. The point of the jazz sequence is that it's where Tobie reveals to Dave that she's found a new flatmate. But because of all the local colour the audience barely registers the remark. Take the distractions of the jazz sequence away and it would be instantly apparent WHO the new flatmate was. So what Eastwood and writer Jo Heims are successfully doing is concealing a crucial plot point in a sequence that appears superfluous - but actually isn't. The other thing I liked about the sequence is the loose, spontaneous quality of the footage which is so typical of Eastwood. It's a style he has employed repeatedly throughout much of his career. Even now his movies are not meant to be polished but retain their slightly rough edges.

    As for the 'erotic forest romp' I thought it was rather sweet and a fine fit with Roberta Flack's number, the song that actually became a big hit as a result of Play Misty For Me.

    All in all I think it's an excellent film that has stood the test of time rather well (as its constant late night tv showings attest) and aside from Eastwood's shrewdness in setting his directorial debut in his own hometown it demonstrates how Eastwood was interested from the start in casting himself against type and trying to subvert his own persona. I think it was John Wayne who asked him why he would want to play a role where the women was persecuting him. Wayne could never conceive of himself being in that position but Clint, so often touted as the heir to Wayne, had no problem with it.

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    1. You make some excellent points, especially regarding the merits of the jazz sequence. You have made me appreciate that scene much more, because I now see his intentions.

      Having those two scenes back-to-back just altered the pacing a bit too much for me, and I looked at my mother and we both said: "what is going on?"

      Thanks for the comment Gary. I agree, it stands the test of time well and it frequents on late night TV.

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