By Marc S. Sanders

Before Fatal Attraction and countless other stalker/possessive lover thrillers that continue to monopolize all kinds of entertainment mediums, there was Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty For Me.  Watching it for the first time in modern day, I can say that it pushes all the standard buttons of this kind of thriller formula.  The over enthusiasm of the mentally disturbed stalker, the uninvited appearances at inopportune times, the late night phone calls, and of course the knife wielding.  Nevertheless, I remain impressed with Eastwood’s interpretation.

Eastwood also headlines the cast as a late-night disc jockey named David.  Each night he gets a call from a devoted fan named Evelyn (Jessica Walter) requesting he play the jazzy tune, Misty by Erroll Garner.  Included in Dave’s regular programming are stanzas from poetry that he reads to his listeners and endorsements of favorite hang outs and bars that he frequents within the breezy coastal town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, California.  (Years later, Clint Eastwood would be elected Mayor of this community.)  Naturally, Evelyn shows up at one such regular hangout and the two have a one night stand under the presumption of no strings attached.  Of course, there would not be much of a film if Evelyn adhered to that policy.  Thus, the pattern begins.

Evelyn follows Dave around town.  She shows up uninvited at his house ready to prepare a steak dinner.  She’s knocking on his door in the middle of the night, naked under an overcoat.  There are phone calls along with disturbing, unexpected outbursts as well.  Complicating matters for Evelyn is that Dave is on his way to rekindling a romance with a former flame named Tobie (Donna Mills).  Then, it really gets frightening.

For a first time director, Clint Eastwood really shows some expert skill in Play Misty For Me.  The film opens with an overhead shot above the cliffs adjacent to the coastline, and then the camera circles around through the sky and finally zooms in on Eastwood standing on a veranda looking out to the sea.  It’s a glorious scenic shot and the director carries this theme throughout the course of the film.  A locale that impresses me is The Sardine Factory.  It is where Dave and Evelyn first meet, and Eastwood’s friend, mentor and often director, Don Siegel makes an appearance as a bartender.  The Sardine Factory is still there to this very day. 

Eastwood seems to offer a tourist guide and a photographic devotion for this quiet little town, and it contrasts well with the disturbing storyline.  Carmel-By-The-Sea seems like a comfortable and trusting area to live.  Therefore, it is all the more easy for an intruder to lay claim within the unguarded setting.  This film might be from 1971, over fifty years ago, but it makes me want to go visit.  We are treated to live footage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and it does not overstay its welcome.  Eastwood’s film work is gorgeous throughout the whole picture. Particularly during a midway music sequence featuring Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, playing over footage of Dave and Tobie spending time and making love together. 

Jessica Walter is especially good in her role as the menace to this man’s livelihood.  She’s alluring and relaxing with her first encounter with Dave.  Then, she’s upended by the disruption and unwelcome halt of her romantic tryst and outbursts come from out of nowhere.  Eastwood lives up to the thriller characteristics of the film by the way he shoots Walter in close ups that appear with no build up.  He includes shots of her face and brunette hair in nothing but darkness with an agonizing scream.  It’ll shiver you.  It just makes Evelyn’s appearances even more shocking. 

The film that comes to mind when I watch Play Misty For Me, is Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction from 1987.  I think that would be the go-to response for most viewers today.  However, it would be unfair for me to say I know what happens next.  Yes, I did know where everything was leading to.  However, Eastwood’s film is the pioneering installment, released years ahead of the other film.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about Fatal Attraction honestly.  I can’t take my eyes off it, especially because of the performances from Michael Douglas, Glenn Close and Anne Archer, but I frown heavily on the slasher ending that was pasted on to film.  Glenn Close did too.   Now that I’ve seen Eastwood’s movie, it astounds me how much Lyne’s picture lifts from the 1971 thriller.  Both films incorporate references to Madame Butterfly.  There’s a suicide attempt for attention.  There are phone calls and knocks on the door in the middle of the night.  There’s another lover who may be in harm’s way.  There’s an abundance of similarities in both films.

I have to wonder.  Should I now go back and revise my review of Adrian Lyne’s film? 


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager, and in his final acting role, Ronald Reagan
My Rating: 5/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 80%

PLOT: A hit man and his sadistic partner try to find out why their latest victim, a former race-car driver, did not try to escape.

…well, THAT was disappointing.

Fresh off watching the original The Killers from 1946, I dove into the 1964 remake.  Originally intended for television – indeed, this was supposed to have been the very first made-for-TV movie – it contained so much casual violence and sexual content that no network would touch it, not even the network that commissioned it, NBC.  It was imported to movie screens, pillarbox framing and all, where it cemented Lee Marvin’s status as one of the all-time great Hollywood tough guys.  (How tough?  He reportedly shot a scene while he was literally falling-down drunk.  That’s the take that’s in the film; you’ll know which scene it is when you see it.)

But while Lee Marvin is indeed tough, and even though his partner (Clu Gulager) plays a sociopathic killer who brings tension to every scene he’s in, I couldn’t get as worked up over this remake as I did over the original version.  Those two performances aside, this movie felt cliched and a little boring to me.

The story is the same as the original, with a couple of minor changes.  Two hitmen stroll into a school for the blind (!) and gun down Johnny North (John Cassavetes) in broad daylight.  Afterwards, Charlie, the veteran hitman (Lee Marvin) latches on to something he can’t figure out: why didn’t the target try to escape?  He does his own digging which leads him to a motley assortment of thugs and one duplicitous dame, Sheila (Angie Dickinson), who isn’t just a gold-digger, she’s a gold-strip-miner.  Turns out North was part of a million-dollar heist along with Sheila and some other thugs, including Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan).  The heist was successful, but after a series of double-crosses, no one seems to know where the money is.  With his seriously psycho partner, Lee (Gulager), Charlie tracks down the witnesses, and we get the same flashback structure as the original.  And the more he digs, the less he likes what he finds…

One major factor that didn’t score many points with me was the production’s obvious roots in television.  As you can well imagine, lighting on a movie set is very different from lighting for television.  And this movie looks like a TV movie through and through.  At the time, because of the relatively smaller screens of most televisions, it was believed that a movie shot FOR television needed bright lights and especially colors, so the pictures would be clearly visible on the tiny screens.  Well, in this remake, everything is so brightly lit and colorful it looks an episode of Star Trek or any other TV series of that era.  The very brightness of the surroundings drains a lot of the tension out of scenes that are meant to be disturbing or violent.  Blood doesn’t look like blood; it looks like Sherwin Williams.  I’m aware of the technical limitations of the time, but the shortcomings are just so obvious that it left me cold.

(By comparison, the original 1946 version is steeped in darkness and shadows and pools of light; it’s not only more beautiful, but it also just works better for the story.)

I also had problems with the casting of some of the big character roles, but my momma always said, if you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.  So that’s all I’ll say about that.

The editing was also a little distracting.  Again, this might be a factor of the period when it was made, as well as the fact that it was intended for TV, not the movies.  But one scene annoyed the heck out of me.  I don’t normally nit-pick bad editing, but here goes.

There’s a scene where someone has to drive a car down the length of a winding dirt road within two minutes, if not faster.  Zoom, off he goes.  And as we cut back and forth to various shots showing the car’s progress, instead of cutting directly to a different vantage point or camera angle, it’s cut with fades, which are normally used to indicate a passage of time.  But when the fades are used in what is basically a race against time, it has the effect of making the scene feel longer than two minutes, even though only 30-40 seconds of real time have elapsed.  It made the whole scene feel “off”, even amateurish.  Director Siegel had already directed 15 or 16 films by this time.  I think he should have known better.  Or his editor should have.

By the time we get to the end of the film, we’ve seen someone get dangled out of a hotel window from seven stories up, six or seven people get shot dead (one by a sniper rifle), more double-crosses than a Luftwaffe squadron, and a future hardline conservative President of the United States play…a villain.  But it all felt like an exercise in futility.  Sure, you get Lee Marvin playing a tough guy, but in three short years he’d get to play a really tough guy in Point Blank.  THAT’S the movie you wanna see. Or go find Dirty Harry, or even Escape from Alcatraz, both directed by Don Siegel, both superior films.

This one?  This one I only got because it came packaged with the 1946 version on the Criterion Blu-ray.  Do with that information what you will.


By Marc S. Sanders

The very first R rated film I ever saw was Dirty Harry. I was probably 7 or 8 when my brother introduced me to it, and it eventually led to my first R rated film to see in the theatres, Sudden Impact, the fourth film in the series.

The original installment had such an influence on me, and it remains as one of my favorite films. I did not necessarily understand at the time the complex, albeit simplistic summary, of the law and the barriers Harry Callahan breaks to get the bad guy. I was more impressed with the 44 Magnum he carried and sociopathic behavior of the serial killer, Scorpio.

All these years later, followed by numerous viewings, and I’m just grateful director Don Siegel’s film was actually made. Had it been considered today for a treatment, it would have never come to light. The film is too candid and frank in its liberties of racist undertones and the underworld of a seedy San Francisco during the 1970s. Harry just didn’t care about the sensitivity of any demographic. He also just didn’t care about what was at stake to capture a hardened, dangerous, apathetic killer. Arguably, and only in the fictional world of film, audiences were probably grateful for that. Cut the bullshit. We all know who the guilty party is. Let’s get him off the streets, regardless of what is mandated to avoid any further loss of life. At least through the first 4 of the 5 Dirty Harry films that has been the common theme. (I’m especially fond of Magnum Force for challenging Harry’s own code of law enforcement. There are great debates to think about in that film.)

Dirty Harry is a deliberately ugly film. Siegel shows the worst of people at times, including Harry. Yet, there are sick people on the streets like actor Andy Robinson’s Scorpio killer that treat murder, mayhem and extortion as a twisted game of insane pleasure. Robinson was perfect in this role, a precursor I thought for Heath Ledger’s Joker many years later. Only a guy like Dirty Harry Callahan is right to nab a guy like this.

The film offers great moral questioning on the rights of men whether they are clearly the culprit or not. Miranda and several amendments are appropriately referenced and questioned. Is it ever appropriate to exercise brute force on a suspect? Can a near impossible scenario justify any actions of that measure? “Well then the law’s crazy,” Harry says. Even by today’s standards you can’t help but wonder if Harry is right.

What would be Harry’s opinion of today’s ongoing theme of domestic abuse among NFL athletes? Fair trials, and innocent until proven guilty are necessary but (at least this is how I feel) the circumstances of these stories make it abundantly clear that the guy did it. He beat his girlfriend into oblivion. The evidence is so much easier to uncover these days. It’s easy for me to say this from the comfort of my own home and not on a jury box. What would Harry think? He always knew to see beyond the bullshit. Heck, if I ever got a chance to interview the guy, all he’d probably tell me is get out of here. He’s got work to do. Harry Callahan was never up for sharing anyway.


By Marc S. Sanders

Okay.  I’m gonna give this a shot.  Granted Escape from Alcatraz came out over a decade prior to that other famous prison movie with Morgan Freeman, but how do you not avoid a comparison?

Clint Eastwood is Alcatraz inmate Frank Morris who believes he’s uncovered a way to break out of the most inescapable prison located on an island that’s at least a mile away by San Francisco Bay sea water from civilization.  The film is directed by Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”) who depicts the true life inspired events that occur in the early 1960s.

Even before Morris begins to plot his steps to freedom with three other inmates, Siegel shows the brutal life of living in the Federal Government’s most notoriously secure prison.  The Warden assures Frank that escape is impossible.  Others who have tried were either shot or drowned in the ice cold waters of the bay.  Still, Frank Morris, who has accomplished prison escapes in the past, is certain that he’s found a way.

“Escape from Alcatraz” isn’t just about digging through walls with a makeshift tool combo of a nail file and spoon.  Siegel shows what occurs in a day in the life in the cafeteria, out in the yard and in the work shop.  Prison guards patrol with rifles.  The black prisoners have their spot on the bleachers.  An old guy paints portraits to occupy himself.  There’s even a library.  Look!!! There’s Danny Glover accepting a book from Clint. 

Actually, it comes off pretty tame all these years later when compared to many other prison films.  Frank is bullied by one bruiser, but also remember this is Clint Eastwood.  So this big guy doesn’t have a chance in a bare knuckle brawl.

The prison escape is calculated and you see step by step of how the guys climb through piping and vents and over fences and down walls.  Frankly, it looks a little too easy.  As Frank digs, all he has to do is turn off his light in his cell and the guards never catch a glimpse of what he’s up to in the dark.  Same could be said with the papier mâché dummy heads he and his cohorts make up to lie in bed.  The guards just don’t catch on.

“Escape from Alcatraz” doesn’t give me all the feels like “The Shawshank Redemption” or “The Green Mile.”  It’s simply another easy go-to watch of many of Eastwood’s 1970s tough guy flicks.  I did find it interesting, however, that this is based on a true story and when the conclusion arrives, I’m informed how in real life the result of the escape remained open and uncertain of what happened after the events of the film.  So I appreciate that the story kept me curious.  That’s saying something, and therefore I’m glad I watched the film.