Play Misty for Me (1971)

Um…yeah. Ok…I guess accomplished directors have to get their start SOMEWHERE. Besides being well renowned as an actor and jazz pianist, Clint Eastwood is very highly regarded for his skills in the director’s chair, and more often than not…his films are of a surprisingly solid quality. Having said that, I do have to mention that I strongly believe that this skill set was worked for, nay…strove for,…not genetically imprinted into his very being, like…say, someone like Steven Spielberg. All the evidence I need to support that theory lies right here in the 1 hour and 42 minute run-time of ‘Play Misty for Me’. This isn’t to say that it’s a BAD movie…it’s more to suggest that this is a movie that could’ve SERIOUSLY benefited from some more aggressive trimming in the editing phase. Also, in 1971, I could see how this flick would’ve had more of an impact, given that ‘stalker’ movies hadn’t really become a genre at that point. Nowadays, we’ve seen plenty of effective ‘stalker’ titles like ‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987), ‘Basic Instinct’ (1992), ‘Fear’ (1996) and their ilk, enough to anticipate the now-expected tropes of the genre and, really…not be surprised by ANY of it.
‘Play Misty for Me’ introduces us to late-night radio DJ ‘Dave’ (Clint Eastwood) as he goes through the motions of his night-to-night existence. One evening, at his local ‘watering hole’, he encounters a woman named ‘Evelyn’ (Jessica Walter), who admits to being the same lady that frequently calls into his show to request a specific song (‘Misty’). It doesn’t take long before Clint is giving her the ole East Wood, after which he just chalks her up to being nothing more than a disposable ‘groupie’ type. In short order, it seems that ‘Evelyn’ didn’t get the memo about her ‘cast off’ status, and starts unexpectedly showing up at highly inopportune times, often causing an uncomfortable scene of some kind. As this continues to increase in frequency and intensity, ‘Dave’ tries to push past it while working toward rekindling a relationship with his back-in-town ex, ‘Tobie’ (Donna Mills). ‘Evelyn’, blinded by her violent delusions of infatuation, gets wind of this and sets her maladjusted sights on disrupting ‘Dave’s life in a spectacular fashion.
As I mentioned, this type of ‘thriller’ is nothing new, but what really stood out was, at least ‘back in the day’, how unimportant ‘tight’ editing and concise visual story-telling seemed to be. Now, I’m savvy enough to recognize that the late 60’s and early 70’s was a different time in cinema, as Society moved at a far slower pace than today’s hectic ADHD-afflicted, ‘instant gratification’-laden world. As a result, movies tended to take their time getting to the point. Having said that…what the hell, Eastwood?! There is SO much useless ‘fat’ on this flick, it’s distracting. Many times, the pace just ground to a halt as we’re forced to sit through scenes like a seemingly endless ‘romantic couple walks through woods / has sex in waterfall’ sequence that added NOTHING to the overall story. Or endless ‘pick ups’ of dancing hippies or playing musicians at the actual Monterey Jazz Festival. Clint…we get it…you love music. Who doesn’t!?! But c’mon, dude…don’t overload us on shots of this event that serve NO PURPOSE AT ALL in the context of this thriller! Many scenes in this one just drag along…and I felt it. That’s not to say that there are NO thrills to be found. There are a couple of mildly effective ‘jump scares’ and scenes of tension, but these are hampered by dumb-ass decisions made by select characters, especially ‘Dave’. Pretty early on, it becomes apparent that ‘Evelyn’ has a ‘hair trigger’ hold on her anger and delusions, and demonstrates accordingly. Right there, alarms should’ve gone off in ‘Dave’s head. Nope. He just keeps going back and falling for all her wack-a-doo bullshit. I caught myself grumbling at the screen whenever the logical choice was right in front of him…but he ended up doing the opposite. When the crazy bitch is REALLY starting to become an issue…don’t screw her AGAIN, you idiot!!
It could’ve been that Clint was too preoccupied in trying to find his stride as a Director for the first time, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of extra effort went into honing the performances or line deliveries. This is REALLY apparent in the first Act, before the crazy shenanigans really fire up, when characters had to interact and get specific pieces of exposition out to us. The performances were surprisingly flat, from Eastwood on down. Once Jessica Walter was allowed off the chain to go ape-shit as ‘Nutty Evelyn’, then it becomes something of a spectacle and the energy level does pick-up (only to be smothered again by bad pacing and useless scenes).
All in all, ‘Play Misty for Me’ was an interesting ‘watch’ if for no other reason than to see the flick that got screen legend Clint Eastwood into the director’s chair. It’s definitely not a perfect film, or even a particularly good one…but it’s interesting to see how far the man has come since 1971. There’s some unintentionally hilarious shit in this, along with some ‘nice tries’ when it came to the cinematography and editing (just not enough where it really counted). There’s also some weird choices when it came to the music score. In the beginning of the movie, you’d be forgiven if you thought you’d just thrown on a comedy, given the weird vibe the soundtrack instantly conveys. There was also a borderline 1970’s porno-style tune playing over a ‘knife-in-hand’ stalking scene…and it just…didn’t…work. Which can pretty much be used to sum this first attempt at directing for Eastwood. He shows ‘technical’ prowess straight out of the gate…but it’s clear that he still needed to learn about pacing and concise story-telling. There’s no need to search this one out unless you’re a die hard Clint Eastwood fan… or just plain bored if/when you stumble across it.

*The final ‘coups de gras’ comes about so abruptly and with such undeniable finality, that I laughed out loud, in spite of myself. The simplicity of the solution and the way it was shown bordered on comedic Gold!! *Stalk, Stalk…*PUNCH*…(stumbles)…*SMASH*…”AAaagghh!!”…*THUD*. You’ll know what I mean…if you see it.

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