PLAY MISTY FOR ME, 1971
Radio DJ Dave (Clint Eastwood) embarks on a brief fling with a woman he meets in a bar one night. Her name is Evelyn (Jessica Walter) and she is Dave’s biggest fan. After their night together Evelyn shows Dave that she has no intention of letting him go no matter what! Dave soon realizes that he and those close to him are in grave danger.
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Clint Eastwood’s second film as director is a primal story about a certain type of predator that exists in our society. The obsessed fan that goes too far is a familiar character in cinema and a chilling villain in popular fiction. There have been many memorable films dealing with the obsessive stalker: The Fan (1996), One Hour Photo (2002) and Enduring Love (2004). Like the serial killer, the stalker will always resurface in future movies due to the obvious cinematic possibilities they offer: action, chills, horror and suspense to name just a few. It taps into that primal fear of being watched by an unknown voyeur… who are they? What do they want with me?
One could argue that Play Misty For Me was a precursor to the notorious Fatal Attraction (1987). The idea of a one-night-stand coming back to repeat on you is a fear that many people can identify with. But whereas Fatal Attraction has been deemed “misogynistic” and you can see where the argument stems from! Play Misty For Me is a similar set up only it handles its subject matter more carefully. Glen Close’s Alex becomes a mindless movie monster (rising again from the bath tub with the knife) but Evelyn is more of a troubled individual with psychological depth. Eastwood shows her as someone who needs help not as someone who needs to be shot.
Clint clearly illustrates how his celebrity Dave while rich and handsome, is actually under the power of his fan Evelyn. It’s often remarked that the famous celebrity has the power, due to their ability to command such a following from the masses who throw themselves at their feet. Yet with Play Misty For Me, Eastwood argues that the opposite is actually true. Clint’s Dave clearly cannot handle his pursuer who is all the more powerful as a woman. A man could be punched out and would ultimately never get close enough to Dave. A pretty woman however, can seduce Dave under the covers and make him share the guilt with her as well as the bed. This sophistication in the material is what sets Play Misty For Me apart from similar films.
Another element to Clint’s Dave is that he isn’t simply a two-dimensional, sex-hungry womanizer. Like most people, Dave wants to forge a lasting relationship with someone special: Tobie (Donna Mills). Here Clint shows how effortlessly he can play a romantic male lead. In the Dirty Harry series and Dollar Trilogy his character is ordinarily without a serious love-interest but Clint makes the point with this film that this isn’t due to any limitations in his acting capability. In fact, Clint’s Dave gets through the entire movie without requiring the services of any of the standard “Clint Eastwood” traits. Even the way Eastwood delivers his lines differs from the trademark minimalist vocal expression of The Man with No Name we are used to. Taking this into account it’s brilliant how Clint plays against his typecast as a Radio DJ whose entire well-being rests on his ability to talk over long periods of time to a wide audience!
The final trap set by Evelyn is a fantastically cold, calculated web of deceit. Evelyn has befriended Tobie and with telltale clues over the phone (over wires just like the way she first lured him) Dave realizes the danger Tobie’s in. Having attacked the cleaner prior to this we can only dread what Evelyn may do to Tobie! The final showdown is made more deadly by the fact that we know Dave is not Dirty Harry and will have to deal with the criminal like anybody else would. On the direction front we can see how aware Clint is of the elements he’s putting into the scene and how brilliantly he deals with each character including his own. Like Chaplin, Eastwood can act, direct and compose all at a first-class level which is just one of the many reasons why Clint Eastwood continues to stand head-and-shoulders above his piers today!
Play Misty For Me is seminal viewing for people who have a taste for quality thrillers that tap into the primal fears that surround us in society today… it’s a film that will stand the test of time!