The directorial debut of Clint Eastwood, and the uncredited
FATAL ATTRACTION, was 1971’s seminal girlfriend-from-Hell
chiller PLAY MISTY FOR ME. It was and remains a fine, quirky film,
albeit one with many problems.
PLAY MISTY FOR ME, lensed on location in Clint
Eastwood’s scenic hometown of Caramel, CA, functions as a
companion-piece to another eccentric Eastwood project, the Don Siegel
directed THE BEGUILED.
Both feature Eastwood, then the world’s top action star, getting waylaid
by women. THE BEGUILED, I feel, is the better film, although MISTY
(which incidentally features Siegel in his first and only acting role)
was the bigger money maker.
The film’s precise influence on FATAL ATTRACTION has
never been fully disclosed, but the two films are suspiciously similar.
PLAY MISTY FOR ME was slated to be remade in the early ‘00s, but that
project thankfully has yet to materialize.
Dave Garver is a radio DJ residing in Carmel. He’s
constantly harangued by a woman caller who repeats the same request:
“Play Misty for me.” One night at a bar Dave meets the unassuming
seductress Evelyn Draper, the voice behind the Misty calls. Dave takes
her back to his beachfront home for what he thinks is a one night stand,
but she unexpectedly turns back up the following evening. Following a
second tryst he sends Evelyn off--this time, he hopes, for good. As she
leaves, however, she shouts at a neighbor in a threatening manner, thus
evincing a mean, and possibly psychotic, streak.
The next day Evelyn accosts Dave in the parking lot of
his favorite bar, and all-but moves herself into his house. He freaks
out and demands she stay away. She doesn’t, of course--in fact, she
turns back up at his house and slashes her wrists in his bathroom. She
survives, only to cause more trouble, eventually trashing Dave’s home
and stabbing his maid nearly to death.
Evelyn is shipped off to an insane asylum, which gives
Dave an opportunity to hook up with his angelic ex-girlfriend Annabel.
But it’s not long before Evelyn is released from the nuthouse, a fact
Dave is made aware of when she tries to stab him in his bed. Dave
contacts the police, but they prove ineffectual in stopping Evelyn’s
reign of terror, which inevitably comes to target Annabel.
This isn’t a great film, but it is a skillful one with
a Hitchcock-worthy grasp of the mechanics of suspenseful moviemaking.
It’s also quite unexpectedly quirky, with what has to be the wackiest
opening credits font ever utilized in a thriller, and extensive coverage
of the ultra-scenic Carmel locations. The latter make for a good
counterpoint to the horror, but they’re overused, especially in the
numerous wide shots in which the actors are dwarfed by the scenery.
The film further suffers from many annoying early
seventies movie conventions, most notably a pastoral montage set to
Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (which became a
hit single in the wake of this film). There’s also a wholly gratuitous
jazz festival sequence that lasts nearly a full five minutes, which,
given that the scene exists solely to impart a single line of exposition
(that Annabel has a new roommate), is around 4 minutes and 57 seconds
The spectacle of Clint Eastwood playing a romantic lead
is downright surreal, an effect magnified by the fact that he affects
many of his Dirty Harry mannerisms; the film derives as much of its
suspense from Dave/Clint’s long-in-coming explosion as does from
Evelyn’s psychosis. Jessica Walter is quite strong as Evelyn, so much so
that the role (much like that of Andrew Robinson, who played the psycho
in DIRTY HARRY) came to define her career--notice that despite a busy
television career she hasn’t done much else of note in the ensuing
PLAY MISTY FOR ME
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer: Robert Daley
Screenplay: Jo Heims, Dean Riesner
Cinematography: Bruce Surtees
Editing: Carl Pingitore
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, Jack Ging,
Irene Hervey, James McEachin, Clarice Taylor, Donald Siegel, Duke Everts,
George Fargo, Mervin W. Frates