Review: Play Misty For Me [1971]

Dir. Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood,
Jessica Walter, Donna Mills

Now, many of you will be asking yourselves, why is this film turning up on a site committed to genre movies? Well one of the many ambitions of VisualCrack is re-discovering dispossessed genre titles that may have got lost behind the sofa of mainstream Hollywood. I tenaciously declare this is the case with Clint Eastwood's directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, this is the film that spawned a score of 'trendy psychological thrillers', most unsuccessful but a few going on to comprehensive box office domination like Fatal Attraction. So please, allow me my indulgence, and read on...

Dave Garver (Eastwood) is a provincial disc jockey in a small California town, aside from playing tunes and spouting deep poetic verse, Garver is also perceived around town as a bit of a lady’s man. His former love interest Toby (Donna Mills) has been out of town for some time and has made no endeavors to reach out to him, so, when faced by Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) at his favorite bar, he’s at first intrigued by the implicit possibilities with this fresh girl. Unfortunately for Dave this turns out to be the same girl who calls him ceaselessly at the radio station, always requesting the same song, "Misty". Making it perfectly clear from the first date that he’s not looking to be tied down, Dave finds that Evelyn not only approves this ultimatum, but also accedes with it herself, or so it seems...

Their relationship persists and it soon becomes apparent that Evelyn is a little too attached and has a potentially unnerving temper. Meanwhile, Toby has returned home and Dave swiftly lets her know that he’s interested in rejuvenating their relationship if she’s amenable. There’s just one thing the two former lovers don’t count on: the depth to which Evelyn’s obsession reaches. It soon becomes evident that if she can’t have Dave, Toby, or anyone else, will not have him either. The last half of the film unfolds in a series of shocks, well choreographed bloodshed, and the finalization of one of the doomed relationships. What can a man do to escape the acrimony of a castigated woman?

Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut is an unexpectedly commanding thriller, Hitchcockian in influence, but nonetheless innovative enough in it’s execution to standout. The capaciousness of the movie’s success lies in the casting of Jessica Walter as Evelyn, her adroitness to portray a delicate symmetry of coquetry, sexuality, and sheer murderous obsession is intrinsic to the films success and she succeeds with impeccable ease. The profundity of her character unfolds at a skillful pace that allows the viewer to debate her intentions without completely portending where she’s headed by the third act.

The only concrete deficiencies in the film revolve around a couple of ill-conceived and rapacious montage sequences, one seeming to just enhance the notion of Garver's devotion for jazz, the other just a slow appreciation of Eastwood's bare body. Both of these sections seem to drag on and only succeed in depredating the taut pacing of the movie.

Play Misty for Me is a more than capable thriller and as such is deserving of correlation with the suspense genre. While the film may seem a little tame by today’s bench marks, there are abundant tangible "jumps" and twists to hold your interest throughout, not forgetting a great frenzied performance by Jessica Walter.

Verdict: Revisit and enjoy.

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