1971: Play Misty for Me

Straw Dogs and Two-Lane Blacktop were up there on the list, but I had issues accessing an instant copy to watch. No to Dirty Harry, so I decided to revisit Play Misty for Me. I forgot it was Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut. I was eight in 1971 and did not first see the film until the 1980s. I forgot the cast, and the plot–dare I say the film was a misty memory? Okay, I’ll stop.

Universal image of Jessica Walter as Evelyn

Clint Eastwood as director: He was like a boy in a candy shop choosing every kind of shot he had ever admired and stuffing them into his movie. This is evident from the opening sequence of shots of Carmel-by-the-Sea on the Monterey Peninsula. We are on vacation, cruising down the highway in his vintage convertible with the salty wind blowing through our hair and jazzy vibes on the radio. He’s a cool cat, and I want to be there.

By the way, how does a radio DJ afford to live in a house on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean? What does Dave do in his off time? He hangs out at the Sardine Factory (still a famous restaurant) in Monterey. He resurrects a relationship with Tobie (Donna Mills) who is “the foxiest chick on the peninsula” says his friend and fellow DJ, Al Monte (James McEachin). What a way to establish the character Dave as the most enviable bachelor alive. That is until an obsessed fan stalks him with dangerous consequences.

Jessica Walter as Evelyn: “Do you know your nostrils flare out into little wings when you’re mad?”

Kudos to Jessica Walter who brings the word “needy” to a heightened, disturbed level. Evelyn is everything at once: beautiful, mysterious, manipulative, and unrelenting. Evelyn can’t stop herself from trying to win his love. She verbalizes her delusional fantasies and insists they are in a relationship while Dave is stunned but reluctant to turn her away. She reminds me of that lost cat that won’t leave your yard after one feeding. Not Evelyn. Unrequited love stabs her sanity. I felt sad for her. After all, haven’t we all embarrassed ourselves with shameless wooing? But we take the hint. Not Evelyn. If Evelyn can’t have Dave the DJ, she made sure no one would.

It’s a psychological thriller, but I see it more as a mirror of Clint Eastwood’s favorite passions. Skinny blondes with blue eyes. Jazz music. Showing off the beauty of his town and the local secret spots. Waterfall sex. Cool bars and laid-back action. For example, the audience takes a break from the soul-sucking Evelyn by going to a Monterey Music Festival. His use of tight shots of instruments, toes tapping and the ins and outs of a shaky camera look inexperienced, but whatever, I loved the music. Again, Clint takes us on an escapade, and I want to be there. But then, what to do with Evelyn? How was it possible she was released from the asylum?

Is the movie good? Is Clint a good actor? What about his directorial efforts? I’m glad I’m not a professional film critic and have to list what’s wrong with the film. A criticism would be he tried too hard to tell a simple story. I got dizzy from his collage of close-ups, pans, and ins and outs with the camera.

Let’s meet for dinner at the Sardine Factory on Cannery Row. We can talk about the book.

Clint Eastwood. He is old-school macho with crazy experiences and dubious virtues, but you love him anyway because he shows you a good time. Clint is an endearing caricature of himself. I read recently he’s been MIA for over a year. At 92, I feel sad at the thought of cinema without the touch of Clint Eastwood. With all this nostalgic goo filling up my heart, I will say it was a good movie.

I’m humming to Roberta Flack’s voice in my head loving the Monterey Peninsula and the Hallmark Card love embraces. What a brave start at directing.

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