You can’t borrow your cousin’s Netflix password anymore, but just imagine Dirty Harry as a DJ being chased by Lucille Bluth with a knife.
A radio DJ beds an obsessed fan who turns out to be mentally unstable and turns his life upside down. Let’s dig into 1971’s PLAY MISTY FOR ME, directed by Clint Eastwood!
As I See It
This was Clint Eastwood’s first film as director, which he won based on his acting success in films by Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) and Don Siegel, who he cast as the bartender and friend of his own character Dave. This was Siegel’s first and only acting role.
Eastwood was granted quite a bit of freedom with this film and was able to move the location of the shoot and setting to Carmel by the Sea instead of Los Angeles (a town he would later be Mayor of). It’s an odd little coastal town but not as odd as the house he shot in, which looks like some upscale shanty that a child designed with gold-wrapped walls and a peculiar layout.
You may question whether this is a horror film. I argue that it is.
It’s got the requisite tension, and Jessica Walter plays her role well. She’s unhinged, and when she’s got a knife in her hand, you really believe she’s going to slay everyone within striking distance.
The fact that the gender roles which have made up the horror genre for generations are reversed — making the “tough” male the victim — is refreshing, especially when you count the caveman-like diction of Eastwood’s character.
The women in his life are there to serve his needs, and when that bites him in the ass, he’s got little patience for it. In that sense, Dave should have had a bit of blood spilled to teach him a lesson. But just like the rumored refusal by Steve McQueen to play the lead character because the female lead was a stronger part, Eastwood doesn’t let Dave have many or any moments of weakness. He’s riddled with misgivings and mistakes, but they never let on that it is any fault of his own.
In the end, it’s the access that Evelyn gains to Dave and his life and how much tumult she can cause, which is the most frightening element of the film. You never quite feel like Dave personally is in any physical danger, just that his life will be inconvenienced and those around him are in more peril of being slain or injured.
A music postscript, the song Misty referenced in this film is by Erroll Garner, one of my favorite jazz musicians. If you have the chance, check out his Concert By the Sea album on YouTube. It’s worth it.
Let’s start with perhaps the most famous face that has appeared on a Dig. Clint Eastwood is a household name and the cinematic representation of masculinity for decades.
Jessica Walter (Evelyn), who passed away recently at the age of eighty, brilliantly played the role of Lucille Bluth in the hit TV series Arrested Development.
Donna Mills (Tobie) most recently played Bonnie Clayton in Jordan Peele’s Nope.
Don Siegel (Murph – the bartender) is more famous for his role behind the camera as the director of such films as Dirty Harry and Hemingway’s The Killers.
Of Gratuitous Nature
It’s status quo for a Clint Eastwood film in the seventies (or any era for that matter) for macho, arguably misogynistic dialogue to be rampant throughout. This one seems to dial that up to eleven as Dave (Eastwood) gets his rocks off with the unstable Evelyn (Walter) and is surprised and frustrated by it being anything more than a romp.
The character’s self-centered nature is on full display when his housekeeper Birdie (Clarice Taylor), is stabbed, and he doesn’t seem to care for more than a few seconds.
Donna Mills (Tobie) seems to have a spell cast against aging. She’s sweet, innocent, and endearing in this film and still looks vibrant and gorgeous some fifty-plus years later.
Ripe for a Remake
Obsession with celebrity and the deification of entertainers is, unfortunately, a timeless concept. You would have to imagine some YouTube personality or Twitch streamer would be the one stalked in a contemporary version of this story.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Kino Lorber has a limited edition Blu-Ray available with a decent amount of extras, including a documentary and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Play Misty for Me is currently streaming on Netflix.