“Al, you ever find yourself being completely smothered by somebody?”
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. The famous statement/altered quote may be slightly misogynistic, but 1971’s Play Misty for Me totally captures its meaning. Dave Garver, played by Clint Eastwood, is a super cool, suave, and gravel-voiced late night radio jockey in Carmel, California. He seems popular enough, but there is one fan who always requests that he plays “Misty” (jazz standard) for her. One night after the show, Dave has a drink at the local bar that he advertises, and catches the eye of a woman by the name of Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter). Little chit chat, little drive to her place, and Dave cannot shake the feeling that Evelyn sounds familiar. That’s because she is; she reveals herself to be the Misty caller, and that she was waiting on him as he talks about this bar on the program. Slightly creepy, but she’s attractive, so the playboy Dave goes along with it, and they do the deed. Casual sex and a mutual understanding of the situation…what’s the worst that could happen?
Oh, I don’t know…everything? After their tryst, Evelyn starts to slowly—no immediately—display serious mental issues. She shows up unannounced, calls either at the worst times or never at all, stalks incessantly, and disrobes in plain view of the neighbors. Dave does his best to distance himself without hurting the poor soul, but the poor woman cannot, or maybe just will not, take a hint. What makes matters worse is that Dave is attempting to get back with his ex-girlfriend, Tobie (Donna Mills) who broke up with Dave because of his inability to keep it in his pants. There is obviously a strong connection between the two, but Miss Draper lurks, literally, in the back. What was believed to be a one-night stand/possible friends with benefits has for all intents and purposes devolved into something more horrific.
Play Misty for Me marked Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut. It is pretty straightforward and fairly concise, save for a portion in the second third of the film, which I will get to. It does not take too long to get going, and once it does, my oh my it never lets up. There are not many characters in this film, but there doesn’t need to be. We get a few minor characters who supplement the main ones, but by and large the “love” triangle is featured prominently. Clint Eastwood does fine here; he is a little too cool at times given the situation in my view but I truly felt for him. I do not believe it was a hard acting role but I enjoyed him, and he had some really good lines. Donna Mills as his ex is a little suspect during certain points but nothing to completely draw me out of the film. At the very least she was competent and served as a pretty face.
But let’s face it, the star of the show is clearly Jessica Walter. I mean, look at that face? To see her go from sensual and eccentric to menacing and piercing in a matter of seconds is truly astonishing, as this role was not easy. Her delivery of lines (some really memorable ones by the way) is definitely on point, and her facial reactions are nothing to scoff at either. Some detractors of the film and character in general point out that Evelyn is too one-dimensional as a character, with no back story to speak of that would indicate her mental stability, or lack thereof. While it is true that there is no back story to her, I am of the thought that not every character in a film has to have one. Some characters are just crazy people with no particular rhyme or reason, and that is all I need to know. If anything, that makes said person even more chilling.
You could argue that her performance is a bit funny at times, and for the record I did chuckle here and there. But I didn’t chuckle because her performance was bad or over-the-top; I chucked in a “What the f**k I cannot believe what her character is doing!” type of way. In other words, I didn’t see an actor, I saw a character. I saw Evelyn Draper in this film. This is one of my favorite female performances in any film, period, and it is comparable to Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was a damn shame that Walter wasn’t nominated for an Oscar in the film’s year.
At times, we do see Clint Eastwood’s inexperience behind a camera. While he nails the general tone of the feeling of always being watched, occasionally it feels a bit too obvious, or set up as an excuse to show some the beauty of the California countryside terrain. There’s only so much of it. And as mentioned earlier, there is a 10-12 minute stretch in the late second third of the movie that ran on a bit too long. I am OK with its inclusion, but it could have been cut in half and the film would definitely be the same.
The movie is not perfect, but highly enjoyable and one that never gets old. And, its impact on other films must not be understated. It really did craft a new genre, and movies such as Fatal Attraction , Swimfan and Fear owe their successes to it. Even other films such as No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits do not show the thriller aspects featured in Misty, but they do feature the consequences that could arise if one person gets too close. Kudos to my father again for turning me on to this film. It has left an indelible mark in my mind.
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