Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Film #120: Play Misty For Me

I have a vague idea why Clint Eastwood's Play Misty For Me is such a sentimental favorite of mine; I think it was one of the first horror movies I ever caught on the big screen (its original title, by the way, was The Slasher). But, seeing it now, Play Misty For Me is really only decent in very limited ways--a rarity among Eastwood-directed projects. The iconic actor debuted as a feature filmmaker with this 1971 horror movie that's obviously a progenitor to Adrian Lyne's more famous (and classier) Fatal Attraction. To wit: Eastwood plays a successful man--a smooth jazz disc jockey in Carmel, California--who finds himself bedeviled by a lovestruck wackadoo (Jessica Walter).

Here's where the problems begin--for the film's characters, and for the film itself. Eastwood's Dave Garver is supposed to be a player in the bedroom, but somehow he can't see that it's a mistake for him to ever get involved with this crazy woman. Evelyn begins their relationship mired in deception; this should have been his warning sign #1. Though they meet as "strangers" at his local watering hole, she conceals her identity from him--recognizing her voice, he finds out quickly she's the woman who's been calling him at the station, requesting Errol Garner's "Misty" every night. Okay, that's weird enough right there...but Davey-boy can't help letting the little head think for the big one. So they sleep together. Big mistake.

Soon, she's showing up unannounced at his hep, 70s-ed-out seaside pad, ready to make elaborate steak dinners for him. She lurks around in the seaside brush, following him on dates with his true love (Donna Mills), and even bursts in angrily as he's conducting an important business lunch (in one of the movie's best scenes; the film really perks up when Walters lets Evelyn get GODDAMN angry). Dave's pretty much had enough of her quite early on but, dammit, she won't get a clue. I guess this is before the time the law had the concept of "restraining orders" down, but Dave's reluctance to report her insanity to the police is nevertheless frustrating for the viewer. Eventually, things have to get much more nasty before Eastwood takes hold of the situation; when he does, the revenge is tasty but is meted out too quickly to be satisfying (SPOILER: Clint exposes of her with one punch). But Jessica Walter does such a yeoman's job of creating this clingy, frothing monster that we wanna see her get a little more stinging torture dealt to her.Still, Jessica Walter is superb in it; she makes you really wanna choke this woman's guts out (she's the film's star attraction, although the screenplay is not fair to her character; we never really get to know anything about her). The movie has other merits. Bruce Surtees' inky black photography is, as always, superb, and Alexander Golitzen's art direction is shabbily fancy (I love Dave's confusing, slightly sloppy place). We get to see footage of Carmel, the town which Eastwood called home for many years, and for which he was, in fact, elected mayor in the late 1980s. It's novel, also, seeing director Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, pictured right) being given marching orders by his famous protege; Siegel portrays Dave's favorite bartender (they humorously play an inscrutable--and wholly imaginary--game at the beginning of the movie called "Cry Bastion"). Also, Roberta Flack's Grammy-winning "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" makes for a backing track to a pretty, if inconsequential, love scene between Eastwood and Mills. Finally, I really get a kick out of seeing Eastwood in late-nite DJ mode; in another world, he would've made a excellent record-spinner, equipped with that FM-lite whisper of his. A thorny look at 70s sexual politics, Play Misty For Me has its pluses, but its implausible screenplay isn't one of them (it was co-written by Dean Riesner, who probably only polished Jo Heims original script; he authored better work on three other Don Siegel productions: Coogan's Bluff, Dirty Harry, and Charley Varrick). Still, it has enough of that good ol' 70s charm to be immanently watchable, at least once.


Phyllos60 said...


Good insight into this film. I confess I never got all the way through it, finding the 70'style battle of the sexes tiresome.

However, it sounds as if 'Fatal Attraction' took its cue from 'Misty' (a film with what I like to call 'the death of Rasputin' battle scene) what with the crazed woman stalking the man, freaking him out with lies and dead rabbits.

It's funny how Hollywood takes reality- most stalkers are usually male- and twists it, so we all end up fearing even a hint of crazy in the ladies. Short of a 70's style gender diatribe on your blog, let's face it: the dude with laconic manner and firearm is more likely to kill than poor old Jessica or Glenn Close.

Dean Treadway said...

Well, I think the movies have fairly well covered men stalking and killing women; that would cover almost every horror movie ever made. Only PLAY MISTY FOR ME, FATAL ATTRACTION, Roman Polanski's REPULSION and maybe Abel Ferrara's MS. 45 cover women stalking men--and the latter two are movies in which the females' psyches are very well documented. Only the first two are unexplainable- craziness films. But MANIAC, PEEPING TOM, BLACK CHRISTMAS, and on and on--all are about men stalking women. So I don't think that subject has gone unplundered. I just think that FATAL and MISTY hooked into something we hadn't seen before, and so they resonated culturally for a bit. But I don't think you'd find one man or woman out there who'd say that women were more likely to go off half-cocked and bury an ax in a man's head than vice-versa.

Lisa said...

I've always loved Jessica Walter and it was great to see her in a major role. She pretty much came out of TV and after "Misty" went back to TV and is still very busy today, including her comedic turn in "Arrested Development". Even though she's unbalanced in "Misty" she's kind of refreshing next to the gauzy traditional feminity of Donna Mills!

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