PLAY MISTY FOR ME—“We don’t have a goddam thing between us! Now how many ways do I have to say it?” That admonition is hissed by bedeviled deejay ‘Dave Garver’ (Clint Eastwood) at persistent fan(atic) ‘Evelyn Draper’ (Jessica Walter) in 1971’s early warning stalker fave. The brush-off gives Dave only temporary relief from Evelyn’s ever-worsening worship issues, but Clint’s steam-blow will send a shiver of recall rippling through many who watch, summoning warm fuzzy memories of psychos from hell met in their own land-mine stroll through Mateville, USA. *
We know going in that Dave is one hip dude: he has a laid-back job in seductively gorgeous Carmel, California, and sports around in a blue ’61 Jaguar XK150 convertible with Dee Barton’s jazzy-rock score in the background. Mr. Casual Catnip has an admiring ex in sweet & pretty artist ‘Tobie’ (Donna Mills) but his world, hers and those of several other unfortunate locals will be rudely ripped open by sexy, chipper, seemingly free-spirit Evelyn, whose one-night tryst with Dave doesn’t require a full moon to rabidly werewolve into Carmel’s Last Stand. Evelyn really needs to meet a Cliff.
Eastwood’s first run at directing scored with critics, studio suits and fans (the kind who didn’t track him home). Reviewers noted his ease at the steering wheel (helped greatly by cinematographer Bruce Surtees), production overlords were pleased he came in ahead of schedule and under-budget at $950,000, then brigades of moviegoers, pre-groomed by Eastwood’s actioners, made it the 37th most-attended item of the year, grossing $10,600,000.
Written by Eastwood confederates Jo Heims (Breezy) and Dean Riesner (Dirty Harry), his drivers seat debut also featured, in a cameo as a bartender, Don Siegel, who’d directed Clint in Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled, Two Mules For Sister Sara and later Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz. Having the experienced pro was good buffer insurance, plus Siegel brought along cameraman Surtees and editor Carl Pingatore. Clint also scored a real coup by paying $2,000 to use Roberta Flack’s dreamy ode “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, which had been overlooked in her debut album; after the movie it shot up as a single to #1 for six weeks.
To fill the standard 102 minutes, the narrow plotline is padded with an excursion to the Monterey Jazz Festival (shoehorned in because Dave’s a jazz-oriented disc jockey, Eastwood a aficionado), and the scenes between Clint and Mills are awkward; she’s lovely but stilted, and their wooden post-dubbed dialogue doesn’t favor either of them.
Otherwise, pretty much a watch (if not Swiss then French or Austrian), with striking location work in one of California’s most scenic regions, genuine shock scares, and a neat supporting performance from veteran hardass John Larch. Other than going bland with Mills, Eastwood’s in fit form, sparring good-naturedly with fellow radio dude ‘Al Monte’ (James McEachin gets the script’s chuckles), Larch’s cop and Siegel’s barman. Used to seeing the actor dispatch bad guys by the truckload, it’s fun to see him flummoxed by a slim redhead on a mission.
Scenery’s nice and Clint (complete with the era-certified hair) is cool, but as the demented Evelyn, it’s the perfectly picked Jessica Walter who makes the movie: her indelible personification of the girl-next-to-a padded-door stands head-over-carving knife as one of the great lady killers of all time. She’s terrifying, yet believably enticing, a walking tornado, you can’t take your eyes off her. But why must she remind me of D___?…. and B___?…. and, yes, ___(initial left out because of the friggin’ Internet: I’m only brave to a point). And why do I keep the phone number? Play Stupid For Me…
* Lest some wokewitch (from either—any—sex) feel compelled to bring out the scissors: while the wackjob in this story is a woman, quite obviously the mentals who stalk among us are not gender specific, with legions of brutal, warp-wired men causing real-life misery to their victims. We don’t give flying fig how messed up your childhood was, or that 11th grade, 3rd period sucked: you don’t take it out on other people, especially those who can’t fight back. Do us a favor: find a high place, take a breath and jump.
Ironic counterpoint: enjoying Walter’s superb essay into border-destroying behavior in this early 70s relationship thriller it’s dismaying to digest the more recent, much-publicized revelations of how an out-of-control Jeffrey Tambor harassed the respected and then-elderly actress during the filming of their TV show, the aptly titled Arrested Development (“In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set.”) What a dickwad, and apparently serial to boot. A class act, Jessica Walter passed away at 80 in 2021.