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Play Misty for Me

Posted on the 17 March 2016 by Christopher Saunders

Play Misty for Me

"The thing I hate the most in the whole world is a jealous female!"

Clint Eastwood's directorial debut came with Play Misty for Me (1971). It's an uneven high-toned thriller playing on familiar male anxieties, with Clint terrorized by a spurned lover.
Disc jockey Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) meets a longtime fan, Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter), at a local bar. Their one-night stand turns into trouble: Evelyn falls for Dave and has no intention of moving on, stalking him around Carmel, California and threatening drastic action. Dave initially indulges Evelyn, trying to reconnect with old flame Tobie (Donna Mills) without causing a scene. But Evelyn's behavior grows more unpredictable and violent, forcing a confrontation.  
Play Misty for Me thematically builds on The Beguiled, where Eastwood is tempted, emasculated and killed by a coven of repressed females. Eastwood and writers and Dean Riesner focus blame on Evelyn, an obvious psychopath: she strips on Dave's front porch, insults a radio executive (Irene Hervey) and attempts suicide. Dave's womanizing makes him hard to root for: he's bedding Evelyn and courting Tobie, with others on the side. It's not the worst cinematic example of '70s chauvinism but it dulls our sympathy.
Eastwood's direction is uneven, as expected for a freshman effort. Bruce Surtees provides gorgeous shots of Carmel-by-the-Sea: the seashore, the forests and the town itself are beautifully captured. But often Eastwood lets scenes run interminably; it's scenery porn, pretty visuals without purpose. This culminates in a ludicrous romantic montage, a forest idyll out of Ryan's Daughter. Luckily, Eastwood quickly learned directorial discipline.
But Misty nails its set pieces. Eastwood hits his stride showing Evelyn's attack on Dave's housekeeper (Clarice Taylor), shot in handheld close-up with unnerving, Psycho-style quick cuts. This Hitchcock influence carries into the finale, where Evelyn attacks Tobie and lays an ambush for Dave. Eastwood and editor Carl Pingitore dives into this scene, intercutting Evelyn's depredations with Dave walking into the trap, culminating in a wild finale.
Clint Eastwood has fun playing with his image, a womanizing tough guy victimized by a vengeful conquest. Jessica Walter is scary enough, though Evelyn switches too easily from lover to psychopath. Donna Mills makes a bland alternate love interest. John Larch's tough detective and Clarice Taylor's sarcastic housekeeper provide some humor; Don Siegel, Eastwood's directorial mentor, plays a bartender.
Play Misty for Me's evil woman story is more crude than objectionable. It's a theme Hollywood revisited in films like Fatal Attraction, Misery and Gone Girl, with more sophistication if not believability. As for Eastwood, he quickly moved on to bigger and better things.

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