The Film: Play Misty For Me (1971)
The Principles: Clint Eastwood (Star/Director). Jessica Walters. Donna Mills.
The Premise: Dave Garber (Eastwood), a popular radio DJ and all-around handsome guy, has a brief little tryst with Evelyn (Walters) – a long-time listener and repeat caller to his show. But when his old flame Tobie (Mills) shows back up, Garber wants to leave Evelyn behind and pick up where he left off with the other woman. But like Mick Jagger sang…
Is It Good: It averages out to that, sure, as there are some legitimately good (even great) things about it. The script is fairly solid and tells a compelling story at its base level, even if it does manage to get a teency bit predictable in places, sluggish in others and unintentionally comical at the big climax. But yeah – fluff and flutters aside – it’s good. And then there’s Jessica Walters, who’s capital-G Great. She manages to switch between charming, sweet, creepy, menacing, full-on terrifying, tragic, stable, homicidal and a whole bunch of other adjectives flawlessly and effortlessly, sometimes showing them all at the same time. Where a lot of other actors or actresses would (and have) gone straight for the scenery-chewing melodrama and never looked back, Walters never fails to make Evelyn an actual human being, even when she’s completely unraveled to the point of some truly holyshit moments. It’s a tremendous performance. I haven’t seen Klute yet, but Jane Fonda must have done something super-remarkable to have snatched that Best Actress Oscar from Walters back in ’71.
It’s not Jessica Walters’ name all over the movie – it’s Eastwood’s and, for better or worse, that’s not worth a whole lot, at least in this particular film. Not only does he star, but Misty also serves as his directorial debut, and it’s not that he’s bad in either capacity, but once you read that he took the helm because he wanted to take everything he’d learned – both good and bad – and put it to use on a film set, it’s hard not to wonder just what in the hell it is that he’d learned. There were moments – little flourishes – where you can tell that he’d been paying attention to the right people, but that’s about it. Walters aside, Eastwood doesn’t appear to have come out of the gate as a strong actor’s director, to the point where Walters’ performance is either a fluke or a testament to her own abilities. Nobody else (Eastwood included) came anywhere close to hitting her heights.
And it’s not just the performances – Eastwood doesn’t show a particular eye for geography, what with long strolls taken by the characters seemingly switching from a crowded city street to a blissfully empty beachfront without any sense of time passing. And even though it’s a minor quibble, there’s a clumsy thing going on in the sound mix where dialogue is full enough that it sounds like it should be coming from a close-up intercut scene, but is instead playing underneath a super-wide shot where the actors take up maybe a 16th of the screen. And then there’s the pacing – once a certain resolution is met towards the middle of the film, Eastwood takes what feels like a 20 minute detour to cover a jazz fest, even though the impact it has on the plot could have been covered in 5.
Again, it’s not that he’s downright bad, but when you become CLINT EASTWOOD in front of Sergio Leone’s lens, there’s a certain expectation when you branch out on your own. And, for the most part, it just wasn’t met.
Is It Worth A Look: It is, because there are a few good things about Eastwood at the helm, and that’s mainly his handle on the tone of the piece. There were moments where it could have easily drifted into a cautionary tale for swingin’ single dudes with about all the deftness and subtlety of war-time VD ads, but Eastwood manages to avoid that and never dehumanizes or unnecessarily vilifies Evelyn and he’s careful to make sure that Garber does the same. It’s rightfully impressive and gives you a good idea of where Eastwood’s head is at as a person, even if he’s a bit discombobulated as a filmmaker. And the climax is ridiculous but it’s worth seeing just for how bugfuck it is, especially with the contrast of the soundtrack over the final shots. Sure it’s a little on the nose, but no less effective.
Random Anecdotes: I don’t really have a whole lot – but the title is kind of great. A fact made even more obvious when the pseudo-spiritual-remake is called something as simple and uninspired as Fatal Attraction. Yawn.
Cinematc Soulmates: Fatal Attraction. The Prowler. The Crush. Hell the whole crazy stalker chick subgenre that spawned from this film, even if they did trade the nuance for lazy thriller sensibilities.