Play Misty for Me (1971)
Directed by Clint Eastwood • Written by Joe Heims and Dean Riesner
With Clint Eastwood, Patricia Walter and Donna Mills.
Clint Eastwood directs and stars in Play Misty for Me, a tense thriller about a radio disc jockey who becomes victim to a vindictive stalker (Jessica Walter). Released in 1971, sixteen-years before Glenn Close took up the hobby of boiling bunnies, Eastwood’s directorial debut is an occasionally silly, yet serviceable enough late-night watch.
The film begins by setting the scene. Eastwood’s character (Dave, for what it’s worth) is a bit of a playboy, although he has a relationship bubbling away with Tobie (Donna Mills), the nice girl of the piece. He lives a simple, largely uncomplicated life in his beautiful home by the sea. One night in a bar, he meets Evelyn (Walters) and shenanigans ensue. Unbeknownst to him, Evelyn has more than a few screws loose.
A percentage of Eastwood’s performance and overall demeanour seem awkwardly transplanted from a mix of Dirty Harry and one of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. Of course, many of us are drawn to Eastwood’s films because of his tough-guy persona, but it would be fair to expect his character to be a little more nuanced. One thing is for sure, Harry Calahan wouldn’t have stood for some of the shit his character has to endure.
As the stalker, Patricia Walter is suitably unnerving and strange. The title of the film alludes to the song, Misty – which she frequently requests on Eastwood’s radio show. We feel the sense that her obsession with him will stretch to any length. After just one meeting, she is oddly intrusive – turning up to his house unannounced, sitting in his parked convertible car, waiting for him to finish work. As you might guess, it isn’t long before her behaviour escalates.
Amid all of this, Eastwood’s direction gives the impression of an artist learning his craft and the influence of Leone is clear to see (sharp zooms on people’s eyes). The film also has a weird middle 8 slump as it veers off course with a section that features Eastwood and his on/off/on girlfriend (Mills) cavorting around a Garden of Eden-type setting. They snog, they roll around in the grass, they snog again – this time next to a waterfall. They take a sunset walk along the beach to the soundtrack of The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face (full song) by Roberta Flack. I think it’s all meant to symbolise some kind of cleansing for Eastwood’s character, away from the insanity of being stalked, but it just plays as a bit odd and overstated.
Another solid case for the female of the species being more deadly than the male, Play Misty For Me has some good moments of suspense, which are let down slightly by some of the aforementioned elements. It doesn’t have quite the same impact as 1987’s Fatal Attraction, but nevertheless makes for a competent late-night TV thriller. 3.5/5