Play Misty for Me (1971 United States)

play-misty-for-me-tcClint Eastwood’s debut as a director is very accomplished, skill-wise. Lots of inventive camera shots and segues to surprise the viewer. While Eastwood is rather flat as the disc jockey victimized by an over-zealous fan, it’s Jessica Walter who steals the picture in a fabulous performance as the sex-obsessed, frustratedly vicious sociopath, Evelyn Draper.

Finally realizing that she can’t have Eastwood for herself, she embarks on a spree of violence which is most shocking to say the least. I like this film a lot, except for some extra footage at the Monterey Jazz Festival that really does not add much to the film. I guess this was the era of adding “cool” footage, but it really does nothing for the unfolding story, and in my opinion should have been edited severely. He plays Dave Garver, a Carmel California disc jockey who regularly hears from a female caller requesting to hear “Misty,” a romantic standard.

One evening, he meets the female caller (Walter) by “chance” and indulges in a no strings attached sexual liaison even though he’s trying to work things out with his estranged girlfriend, Toby (Donna Mills). Before he knows it, Walter has attached herself to him like a barnacle and he can’t get rid of her. This kicks off a series of disturbing events that include interference with his career, vandalism and even assault. No one seems to be able to contain Evelyn from her evil-doings and, in time, Dave ceases to be her only target. Steve McQueen foolishly turned this part down so Clint became the leading man.

But he is not suited to vulnerability. He’s too physically imposing and unemotional to be a male damsel in distress. At one point he tries to plead with the woman he loves most: “What do I have to do? Give you a notarized statement?” Nothing doing on the feeling register though. Meanwhile, Ms Walter is a revelation. She has many moments involving quick changes from flirtatiousness to fury and handles them expertly. Some of her outbursts are hilariously inappropriate such as when she tells one of Eastwood’s neighbours to “go screw yourself” or exclaims that an elderly business associate of Eastwood’s “couldn’t get laid in a lumber camp!” It’s an electrifying, scary performance. The film’s location is another character, with the shoreline of Carmel being paid striking tribute throughout.

clint-eastwood-play-misty-for-me-3                                                                 (Girl Power 1971-style!)

The beach walking sequence has, at times, been accused of slowing down the pace. It is a love montage between Mills and Eastwood set to the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”  It tries to convey the relationship of the couple to the audience. And it is quite long and self-indulgent. The song suits the waves crashing along the shore. The sex scenes following on from this are annoying. The idea of Clint attempting to emotionally touch audience sensitivity is amusingly pretentious…watching Mr Dirty Harry reading romantic poetry over the airwaves is awkward indeed. Donna Mills is a little bland as girlfriend numero uno. She and Clint seem so casual, you don’t sense any real spark of chemistry there. A more nervous actress, like Sandra Dee, would have strengthened the character of Toby.

John Larch is funny and effective as a no-nonsense cop while Eastwood’s house keeper is a mouthy one. She is very familiar with her employer and gives him a lot of sassy talk. Music man, lover, caring boss  and friend, he’s trying to hit it on all levels here. Top marks to writer Jo Heims, who came up with such an engrossing story. It is easy to take the plot for granted in our time, with our knowledge of stalkers and OTT rip offs like Fatal Attraction, but back then this was new. Some final points: as nutty as Evelyn is, you do feel sympathy for her. You sense her loneliness. And her longing. Her penetrating stare. Its virtually physical.

Even the way she knocks on a door has desperation written into it.

She seems so broken that it makes for uncomfortable viewing. She has no back story either, a blank slate to channel evil, so many feminists might understandably see this as an example of Eastwood’s misogyny. Yes, she brazenly throws herself at him, but he is the man, she can’t force him. He should have rejected her outright. This might not have stopped her abuses, but it would have absolved his responsibility for what ensues. Even though he tries to get her OK for a no-strings attached union, and she verbally agrees, everyone should know you can’t get more intimate with someone than sex. It is like lighting a fire, connection – wise. He thinks she should just forget about their night of passion, or be on standby if he fancies a quickie. This seems cold to me. Odd to think this was written by a woman who appears to be defending a male chauvinist life style. Just forget about the sub-texts and enjoy the suspense.

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