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?