Clint Eastwood’s Lothario ways have been known throughout Hollywood for years. The fact that he worked as a lifeguard at Fort Ord when he was in the Army just adds to his manly man tough attitude that he portrayed on screen early in his career. He appeared as The Man With No Name in Sergio Leone’s Spaghtti Western trilogy and as Inspector Harry Calahan in the five Dirty Harry movies. He was also in numerous westerns and war movies.
So, appearing in a movie like Play Misty for Me, Eastwood is playing a different character. Dave Garver is the type of bachelor who lives the perfect life for his type. He has his own radio show that begins in the afternoon and runs through the night so he doesn’t have to get up early. His home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. is right on the coast and there’s an open atrium in his house. He doesn’t even have to worry about tidying up as he pays an older woman, Birdie (Clarice Taylor), to clean it up. He drives a convertible and after his show ends he goes to the nearby bar to get a few drinks, bullshit with the proprietor, Murphy (Donald Siegel), who helps him pick up whatever lonely woman is there.
One night, he meets Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) and they go back to her place. They have sex but Evelyn tells him she’s an avid listener and often calls in for him to play a jazz version of “Misty.” Thinking it’s just another one-night stand, Dave leaves and goes home. But Evelyn shows up the next day unannounced and univited wanting to cook him dinner. A little bit upset by her showing up, Dave initially lets it slide and welcomes her in.
Unfortunately, it’s the most pleasant she’ll be as her behavior becomes more erratic and possessive. She thinks they’re a couple and gets mad when he doesn’t show up at her house for what she thought was a dinner date. She wants to be with him at all times, even going so far as ruining a business meeting with a radio executive from the bigger city when she suspects he’s cheating on her. And her behavior is getting worse as she’s got a copy made of Dave’s house key.
At the same time, Dave is trying to rekindle a relationship he had with a former girlfriend, Tobie Williams (Donna Mills). Tobie is a more stable girlfriend but she has grown tired of Dave’s philandering behavior. But Evelyn won’t stay away. She attempts suicide by slashing her wrists and even though Dave gets a doctor to treat her without going to the hospital, she keeps him from going on a date with Tobie claiming she had a nightmare that he left her so he’ll stay with her.
Things go from bad to worse when she spots Dave with Tobie (through a great wide shot that looks like a peaceful walk through the woods until we see her arm appear in the foreground as they are in the background). Evelyn freaks out and goes to Dave’s house destroying a lot of his personal items, but Birdie arrives while Evelyn is still there and she is stabbed. Birdie survives and the police arrestEvelyn but a detective Sgt. McCallum (John Larch) feels Dave knows more than he’s telling.
This, of course, will only get worse as Evelyn’s behavior becomes more violent. What I like about this movie is how it was made during the Sexual Revolution of the era and shows the dangers that people of the time didn’t consider. Most people expected just to get an STD. The movie would go on to be mentioned in That 70’s Show when Fez (Wilder Valderrama) takes a girl to go see it but she is just as jealous and possessive as Evelyn.
And Walter as Evelyn is the Queen Mother of the Psycho Hose Beast that would later be played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and all the other movies that would be made mostly straight to video or on cable following the success of Fatal Attraction. Walter, who would go one to appear in many movies and TV shows, such as the cult college comedy PCU and as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development and voiced Mallory Archer on the show Archer, is perfect at showing Evelyn’s deranged status. It’s obvious that she has been daydreaming about her relationship with Dave long before meeting him at the bar. In 1971, the idea of a stalker wasn’t something law enforcement took seriously. Now, it’s a textbook example of a stalker.
As for Eastwood, this is mostly a reaction role, which is needed for his first time in the director’s chair. Eastwood would be able to show off his more sophisticated culture, such as his affinity for music, such as jazz, and poetry, which Dave reads on the radio station. The movie also spotlights the artistic and musical society that the area is known for. There’s even an openly gay character which is uncommon for 1971 event though he does come off as a nosey middle-aged man, so it’s dated. Eastwood would later be elected mayor of Carmel for one 2-year term in 1986.
With help from Siegel along with cinematographer Bruce Surtees and editor Carl Pingitore, who had often collaborated with Siegel, Eastwood was able to plan the shooting schedules so well for a first-time director he was able to finish a few days ahead of schedule as well as $50,000 under the allotted $1 million budget. Eastwood would later become known for only filming one take of a scene and even incorporating goofs or mistakes the actors would make if he felt it fit with the spontaniety of the scene.
This would be the first of about 40 movies Eastwood would direct over the years. There is some controversy over The Outlaw Josey Whales as Eastwood reportedly used his star power to have Philip Kaufman fired so he could take over. Eastwood and Kaufman were also reportedly eyeing actress Sondra Locke, who Eastwood would later begin a tumultous relationship with. The Directors Guild of America later changed policy that no one connected with a movie’s production could step in as a replacement director. A third party person had to be hired.
Eastwood reportedly stepped in to direct many scenes on the 1984 thriller Tightrope after he found Richard Tuggle’s direction too slow. This was the same way he felt about Kaufman. Tuggle still retains director’s credit. However, his private life would somewhat mirror or even eclipse what we saw on screen in Misty. Eastwood would legally be married to his first wife, Maggie Johnson, from 1953 to 1984 but he began a relationship with Locke in 1975 even having her get a tubal ligation because he didn’t want to have more children.
Yet he would have an affair with Jacklyn Reeves, a flight attendant, in the mid-1980s which produced his son, Scott Eastwood, and a daughter, Kathryn. He dated actress Frances Fisher who he costarred with on Unforgiven, before marrying Dina Ruiz, a California news achor in 1996. Their marriage ended in 2014. And even at 92, rumors still circulate that he is involved in relationships.
Walter was married to Broadway stage manager and television director Ross Bowman from 1966 to 1978. Their daughter, Brooke Bowman, would later work as an executive for 20th Century Fox and ABC Family. In 1983, Walter married actor Ron Leibman and they were together until 2019 when Leibman passed away. Two years later, Walter passed away in her sleep on March 24, 2021.
Her role as Evelyn earned her a Golden Globe nomination. She was nominated for an Emmy six times, only winning once in 1975 for Amy Prentiss. An actress of movies, TV and the stage, she had over 160 credits through her life appeared on stage in about two dozen productions.
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One thought on “Eastwood’s Directorial Debut ‘Play Misty For Me’ Still Great Decades Later”
I knew about Jessica’s breakthrough role in Play Misty For Me for a long time and finally got to see the film in this century. She was a remarkable actress and is greatly missed. Thank you, Zane, for your review.
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