RETRO REVIEW: “Play Misty for Me” (1971)

It’s not a stretch to say that Clint Eastwood has had an extraordinary movie career. Perhaps best known for his work as an actor, he has also excelled behind the camera. It fact, it may surprise some to know that he has directed nearly 40 feature films. Even more, Eastwood have received four Academy Award nominations for directing alone, winning two of them (“The Unforgiven”, “Million Dollar Baby”). As I said, he’s had an extraordinary movie career.

Eastwood’s directorial debut came all the way back in 1971 with the psychological thriller “Play Misty for Me”. The film was a hit with critics and a modest success at the box office. Despite being his first time behind the camera, it’s easy to recognize certain characteristics of Eastwood’s direction that would become his trademarks. And while it’s hardly his best directed film, you get good tastes of the filmmaker he would become all throughout “Misty”.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Written by the duo of Jo Heims and Dean Riesner, “Play Misty for Me” sees Eastwood playing Dave Garver, a popular disc jockey for KRML radio in Carmel, California. After another successful evening show, Dave stops at a bar owned by his good friend Murphy (Don Siegel). While there, a woman catches his eye and the two have some drinks. Sounds innocent enough.

The woman introduces herself as Evelyn (Jessica Walter) and first claims to have been stood up at the bar. But she soon admits she’s really there to meet Dave. It turns out she’s a fan and the same woman who has been repeatedly calling his radio show to request Erroll Garner’s “Misty”. The two leave together for a no-strings-attached one-night stand. At least that’s what Dave thinks. Unfortunately for him, Evelyn feels differently. She begins calling him and paying unannounced visits to his house. But what starts as inconveniences quickly evolves into a disturbing and dangerous obsession.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

To complicate matters, Dave’s ex-girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills) returns to town after four months away. Dave’s crazy about her and wants to get back together. But she’s weary about getting involved again, especially after his history of womanizing. Still, he’s determined to make their relationship work – something that gets significantly more difficult with the increasingly unhinged Evelyn around.

As the story unfolds, it’s pretty easy to predict where things are heading. And occasionally Eastwood will make a peculiar choice that can feel out of sync with the rest of the movie (such as an extended scene showing Dave and Tobie at a music festival). Yet his direction keeps us on our toes, and watching him maneuver us around some intriguing late twists really emphasizes his facility for filmmaking. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he gives a really strong performance. But to have such good senses behind the camera in his first turn as a director is both surprising and impressive.


11 thoughts on “RETRO REVIEW: “Play Misty for Me” (1971)

  1. Rest In Peace to the great Jessica Walter. I still haven’t seen Play Misty for Me, really need to change that.

  2. I’ve always wanted to see this film as I do like a lot of Clint’s work as a director (despite some of his recent work being very mid) while I’m also interested in seeing the late Jessica Walter’s performance. I always think of That ’70s Show whenever the film is mentioned in the third season when Fez was dating this crazy girl in Caroline who saw this movie as romantic yet is obsessed with Fez in the most insane way.

  3. The godfather (or close to it) of the psycho stalker subgenre in my eyes. I’m sure I’m forgetting something before it, but it’s always been weird to me that this doesn’t get brought up as often as Fatal Attraction—which I like and is probably done better technically, but this kind of created the blueprint.

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