You waited long enough. Why Now? Well, that’s the funny thing with some movies, even the ‘classics’ is that you just don’t get around to them, for one thing or another. I’ve seen pretty much all of Clint Eastwood’s films (the only others I haven’t seen, that I can recall off the top of my head, are The Bridges of Madison County and White Hunter, Black Heart but I’m sure there’s a few others). Play Misty For Me is a film I’ve obviously heard about over the years, and is notable because its also the first film he directed.
So whats it about, then? Clint plays a radio disc jockey, Dave, in the coastal town of Carmel, trying to break into the big-time while enjoying himself having casual encounters/affairs with women. Unfortunately one of his female admirers, Evelyn (Jessica Walter) is a bit more, er, obsessed with him than is healthy for either of them. Its a bit of a precursor for films like Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct, but I’m sure it had plenty of antecedents. I imagine the film must have been a bit of a shocker back at the time.
Any good? Clint was 40, I think, when he shot/starred in this film, and clearly at his prime, coming off the Sergio Leone westerns and busy forging his career as a film-maker/actor away from them- Dirty Harry was also released in 1971, as was The Beguiled. I only note this because its fascinating, really, to see him in something ‘new’ when he was clearly physically in his prime- his screen persona and charismatic relationship with the camera is so assured, its something almost magical: this guy has Movie Star all over him, its obvious. The film itself is very effective- I’m not totally convinced all the directing choices were wise (a coastal/woodland interlude between Dave and his ‘true love’ Tobie (Donna Mills) feels like its from some other movie) but I did appreciate much of it. The fact that the film is book-ended at the same location (the cliff-side wooden decking balcony at his girlfriend’s home) is a nice touch, with the film ending with a reverse helicopter shot that mirrors an approach shot during the title sequence. Its no big deal, and possibly something that doesn’t even register with most, but I was quite taken by it. There you go, we always get struck by the smallest things.
So worth waiting for? Yeah, its a very good film. I always find a certain appeal in 1970s American movies, there’s something about the filmstock/lighting/pacing of those films, and of course the fashions of the time – sure, some of it hideous, like an orange jacket that Clint sports during the film, but the cars, the scenery, the decor… its just so cool. To me, anyway. I think a lot of it is seeing the fashions of all those 1970s tv shows I watched as a kid, the nostalgia of that. Jessica Walter is absolutely brilliant as the demented Evelyn; shes clearly got a few screws loose from the start but you can see why Dave succumbs to her advances – that said, Dave isn’t the most likeable character really. He’s too loose and easy bedding women, one suspects, and it seems inevitable he’s going to pick up the wrong girl eventually – I mean, hasn’t he seen Fatal Attraction? (you’re some kind of idiot, ghost, and you need an editor). Dave’s not really a sympathetic character in that respect- I always thought that he only had himself to blame but times were different back then, I guess (or maybe times haven’t changed, and its just me). Play Misty For Me is a very effective thriller, a little movie that packs a bit of a punch -especially, I’m sure, back when it first came out.
Worthless observation? I visited Carmel some twenty years ago when I was on holiday on the West Coast (really must dig out those old photo albums). I had no idea that it was the location for Play Misty For Me at the time, naturally, but I enjoyed some of the familiar scenery of the film – the coastline, the beaches with those trees. Clint Eastwood still lives there I think, and was of course the mayor of the town for a time in the mid-eighties.