Welcome one, and welcome all to this, my 50th review for Filmwerk.
If I had had more time to prepare and think about it, I might have decided to pen something specific for the occasion. However, due to extreme fatherhood, and the resulting hopelessly impossible time management, it was not to be. With a commitment to authoring six of our Clint Eastwood retrospectives as well as reviews of the Tintin Soundtrack and a Blu-ray DVD review also on my ‘to do’ list, it became clear that the retrospective for ‘Play Misty For Me‘ was going to have to serve as number 50. This is fine, but If I had to choose which of my Eastwood movies I would ideally want to have as number 50, it would probably have been ‘Thunderbolt & Lightfoot‘, but as the series is already upon us, I have to write in the order of publishing to the site and do not have the luxury of doing them out of sequence.
Damn, time is a relentless and unyielding playmate ain’t it?
Anyway, this is the way it has panned out, and I am still very proud to have this movie as my big number 50, my Golden review (so to speak). It’s a classic and meaningful Eastwood flick for me, and one of those early pictures that I saw many times as a kid on TV and always found creepy and effective. It also happens to have come out the year I was born, not that this is in any way relevant!
So to the movie.
Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut was a great little, low budget psychological thriller, and for many reasons, was the perfect project for a first time director to take on.
The fact that he also starred (giving up his actor’s fee to direct), and delivered an effective piece of work is nothing short of amazing.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the movie; the story centres around a local late night radio DJ Dave Garver (Eastwood) in Carmel (yes, the same Carmel CA where Eastwood lived and would later become mayor), who after being unwittingly entrapped in a bar by an attractive but rather over obsessed (and as it turns out, completely mentally unhinged) female fan of the show (Evelyn), briefly becomes romantically involved with her. This is even after learning that she had contrived their meeting. Up until this point, Evelyn has been merely a regular and flirtatious caller on the show who’s MO is to ask Garver for the Erroll Garner song ‘Misty’ to be spun for her every time (hence the title of the movie).
Unfortunately, Garver in true old school macho style, lets his dick call the shots and against all better judgement; sleeps with Evelyn. For him, she is merely a brief distraction, a conquest (if you like). He has no real interest in pursuing a relationship with her, and after the (slightly contrived) immediate arrival in town of an old flame Tobie (Donna Mills) the next day, his mind is on rekindling his relationship with her. Evelyn meanwhile instantly starts to behave like they’re a couple, and smothers Garver with ever more tiresome, unwanted and creepy attention. Naturally, Garver wouldn’t be a man of the 1970’s if he didn’t sleep with her a few more times, even though she is weirding him out more and more. Of course, finally Evelyn’s increasing inability to control her own craziness results in Dave attempting to break off with her completely. But, as Evelyn is several bricks short of a full load; she won’t let that happen, and does not take this rejection well. So ensues a downward spiral of increasingly bizarre and disruptive behaviour, suicide attempts, emotional blackmail, stalking and savage violence. Poor Garver suddenly has a very crazy woman causing him and people he knows, all kinds of grief. The movie goes through a few more twists and turns before climaxing with a final and fatal confrontation between them.
I’m not sure how many times I saw this movie on TV as a kid. Probably not that many, but it certainly struck a vivid chord with my young self. My father was obviously a fan of Eastwood, and I saw many of his films sitting with my dad while growing up; forming a solid foundation of appreciation upon which to build as I got older. However, many of these early movies definitely melded and blurred together until much later on. To this day, I sometimes get confused as to which Dirty Harry film has a certain scene in, or which western has what line etc etc. Misty, however has always been more singularly vivid in my mind. This could be just as much to do with the more unique subject matter (within Clint’s resume anyway) as anything else, but there it is.
Jessica Walter’s portrayal of Evelyn was nicely nuanced and very well realised. She’s a pretty disturbing creation actually, and Walter does a fantastic job of combining all the ingredients in such a way as to make the character very interesting (although we learn almost nothing about her, in terms of back story). My only quibble I guess would be a little of what I call the ‘Jack’ factor. Meaning that, like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, Evelyn begins the movie already a little creepy, and only gets steadily more extreme. There is never any doubt that she’s a little touched, right off the bat. I wonder if there could have been a way to have begun her character in a wholly ‘non’ creepy way.
To any modern viewer who’s never seen it before, I guess the movie could be instantly likened to something more recent like Fatal Attraction (1987). Such was the power and cultural impact of that particular movie, that even today, it defines the ‘unhinged nutter woman scorned’ genre. While the similarities are plain to see, and some of the beats are similar; Misty of course predates it by sixteen years and owes it nothing. Rather, much of Misty’s style is clearly channelling Hitchcock. The beachfront ariel tracking shots (the long extended opening one is fantastic), one or two Matte paintings, and of course Evelyn’s frenzied knife attack on poor Birdie (the cleaning lady), are pure Hitchcock. That knife attack by the way is still quite shocking when it happens, and Eastwood’s fast cutting during the attack instantly references Psycho without seeming plagiaristic.
It’s so effective because up until now Evelyn’s behaviour has not been violent at all (other than to herself). Furthermore, although she has already exhibited what would now be called (thanks again to Fatal Attraction), ‘Bunny Boiler’ character traits; Jessica Walter has imbued Evelyn with enough vulnerability for us to pity her as well. Part of us want her to just heal herself and be happy. Launching into an all out slashing ‘fest on a random, innocent and unrelated character is a really big transition into evil psycho territory.
It marks a turning point in the movie, and is followed by a soft montage underscored with Roberta Flack’s beautiful ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Both the song (beautiful as it is), and the visuals are a little cheesy now. Some of the shots of Garver and Tobie naked in the woods or making love in a rock pool are borderline comical. The scene is still effective though as a deep breath, exhalation and painkiller to the stress and menace that had been gradually building throughout the first half of the movie. Eastwood as director lets things breathe, and I think lets pretty much the whole song play out.
For me it is here that the movie takes a slight downward nose. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the sequence of events. I like that even after the montage we spend time at the (actual) Monterey Jazz festival, and are given a sense that more time has elapsed, and things have returned to a state of normalcy. Even the ‘reveal’ that Tobie’s new roommate ‘Annabel’ is in fact Evelyn (released from care and planning her revenge on Dave), is effective (even if most modern audiences would probably guess it in advance). No, it’s when the shit hits the fan again and the movie begins racing to the finish line that I feel Clint himself causes problems.
We all know and love Clint Eastwood’s cool, ‘man of few words’ economical acting style, and within the common or garden context of a western or Dirty Harry movie, it works for him really well. Later in his career, he was definitely able to more successfully channel this style into more dramatic or character driven roles too. Here however, it seems constantly at odds with both his character (a late night DJ, not a .44 Magnum wielding cop), and the higher volume of dialogue in the movie. I love the idea of Eastwood playing against type and being more the victim, and not any kind of ‘equipped’ hero, but I think it was a stretch too far in some ways.
Throughout the entire ‘finale’ when things have really gone pear-shaped; he seems unflustered, unhurried, calm and kind of lopes through without delivering anything in the way of pressure, fear or panic. Even while Evelyn is screaming out of the shadows and carving him up with a butcher’s knife, Clint seems just too cool for school; seemingly just waiting for his chance to pop her in the face with one of those Philo Beddoe punches. Once he does, it’s all over.
His balls are just too big goddammit!
So for me, watching the movie now is a game of two halves, or two great thirds and an OK third (if you see what I mean). I absolutely love the set up, build up and masterful control Eastwood has in bringing the story to the point at which Evelyn makes her final return known to Garver. After that, things are far more text book, and less interesting on all levels, plus you have that strangely inert performance from Clint. I guess it would still be a few years before Clint was really able to find an effective way to build serious character nuance and weakness into his style and delivery.
Love the dude though.
Kudos again to Mr. Eastwood for making such a tidy little movie, I still love it.
Oh and by the way, yes that is director Don Siegel cameoing as the bartender.
Many thanks to everyone who reads this, I hope you get something out of it, and if you don’t….sorry.
And so ends my 50th review for Filmwerk, It’s been almost a year I think, since I wrote my first piece and I’ve enjoyed writing every one.
Here’s to the next 50!!