(0036X) Play Misty for Me

Play Misty for MeNovember 7, 1971 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A creepy thriller.

What did I get? I had my forebodings about Play Misty for Me. I don’t always react well to movies that depict intense mental states or anguish, and I was worried that the movie would put its audience through the ringer somewhat. I needn’t have worried — Clint’s first feature as a director is a very intelligent, enjoyable, measured movie with only a few stray moments of hysteria, which, given the subject matter, is only fair. The poster is markedly more lurid than the movie itself.

It took Clint a long time to earn his due respect as a top director, and in retrospect it’s difficult to see why; all the evidence you need is right here on the screen. After all, how many directors pretty much invent a genre — in this case, the stalker movie — on their first try? I did a little research on stalker movies, and almost all of the good comps come later. The original Cape Fear isn’t too far off. So give Clint credit for identifying a valid social issue and inventing a filmic syntax for it. It’s probably no coincidence that it was a movie star who first understood the subject’s potential for the movies. And Play Misty for Me is really much better, more human and relatable, than most of the ones that came after it, Single White Female and so on.

Jessica Walter does a terrific job as the cute and playful but disturbingly fixated Evelyn, drawing on the same battery of passive-aggressive manipulations that served her so well in her portrayal of Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development. And when her obsession necessitates physical violence, such as with Eastwood’s housekeeper, she never becomes inexplicably omniscient or some implacable force of nature; she always remains a normal human being. That aversion to narrative hyperbole is one of Clint’s trademarks as a director, and probably as an actor too. Walter communicates education and refinement while also harboring some serious boundary issues, and there’s no contradiction there; indeed, it works a little better because we have to look past the apparently mature exterior to see the unbalanced stalker within.

The object of Evelyn’s mania is Bay Area DJ Dave Garver, whose aggrieved victim status makes the role a tricky one to play. Garver has to be attractive enough to become obsessive about but not become caddish when insisting on his independence from entanglements from the likes of Evelyn. It would have been all too easy for Garver to become a dick, but in Eastwood’s unfussy performance that never happens; we identify with his sensible wish to be left alone (it helps that Evelyn is truly unhinged).

The “Misty” of the title — and by the way, what a great title — is an Erroll Garner classic, and Eastwood, a jazz lover, not only makes Garver a jazz DJ but sets an entire sequence at the Monterey Jazz Festival for no good narrative reason. There’s plenty of jazz in the score, and it has a soothing effect on the movie, keeps it on an even keel. This material could so easily have turned frantic, in that Psycho way. Everything in Clint apparently resists that impulse, for which I for one am grateful.

IMDB score: 7.0

My score: 8

What here smacks of 1971? Widespread jazz popularity.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Jo Heims and Dean Riesner

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, Jack Ging, Irene Hervey, James McEachin, Clarice Taylor, Don Siegel

IMDB synopsis: Disc jockey Dave Garver attracts the amorous attentions of a demented fan named Evelyn Draper. Evelyn lets Dave pick her up at a bar; later at her apartment Evelyn admits that she is the cooing caller who repeatedly asks Dave to play the Erroll Garner classic “Misty.” From then on, the film is a lesson in how one casual date can turn your whole life around. Evelyn stalks Dave everywhere, ruins his business lunch, assaults his maid, mutilates his house and all of his belongings, and finally threatens to butcher his girlfriend Tobie Williams. You’ll never be able to hear that song again without looking over your shoulder.

Get it at Amazon!

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3 thoughts on “(0036X) Play Misty for Me

  1. Sparky says:

    I totally agree with your 8 – this is a great one, and I like that we’re finally getting into a stretch of movies that I have seen (of the last batch I had seen just a few). This one is creepy and awesome. I can’t believe my parents let me watch it in the 8th grade.

  2. Paula says:

    I was a senior in high school and saw it with a friend who lived in the city. I was too scared to go home and she was too scared to stay alone. We slept in her room with the door barred shut. Probably the scariest movie I’d seen at that point.

  3. Wow! Now that is a powerful reaction to a movie! Love it.

    As with Last Picture Show, there was definitely something unprecedented there….. I’m sure the power of the movie is a bit lost on my generation. What’s striking about the movie is how much of a regular movie it is, for most of it, it’s not some hyper-souped-up “thriller.” It’s a real, regular movie. And at the end, there are some definite thrills. It’s really good. I was a little surprised.

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