Play it Again Clint
Glenn Close's bunny boiling bitch from "Fatal Attraction" may be one of the best known women scorned in cinema's history, Jessica Walter's Evelyn from "Play Misty for Me" could certainly give her a run for her money, she is terrifying. In fact if Clint Eastwood, in his directional debut, was aiming to scare men out of casual relationships he achieves it because the psychotic behaviour of Evelyn is so terrifying that it could put a man off of women for life. But "Play Misty for Me" is more than just a terrific and terrifying performance from Jessica Walter's it is also a solid directional debut from Eastwood, with the exception of what for me are 2 misplaced scenes half way through it works.
Following another 5 hours on KRML radio, disc jockey Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood - The Beguiled) finds himself spending the night with one of his most loyal fans, Evelyn (Jessica Walter - Grounded), who phones up and always asks for him to play "Misty" for her. Making it clear that it is just a casual thing Dave is shocked when Evelyn shows up at his the next day with groceries and becomes even more concerned when it becomes clear that not only is she stalking him but she is delusional thinking he loves her. And she doesn't stop there, vandalizing is home, ruining his chances of a better job and putting at risk his relationship with girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills).
You have to give Eastwood a lot of credit because to put it simply "Play Misty for Me" feels like something Hitchcock would have directed with its story of a woman who turns possessive and psychotic after a one night stand. But Eastwood doesn't try to give us Hitchcock; he puts his own stamp on things but still brings in a touch of Hitchcock style with various camera shots especially a spine tingling scene which uses shadows. As well as that little touch of Hitchcock there is also a touch of the Don Siegel about it, who happens to cameo as the barman, and so along with clever shots there is also in your face action. So what we get is a surprisingly stylish 70s thriller with action which builds to an in your face crescendo and for a directional debut it is impressive.
What is also impressive is the way that Eastwood treats the story because the story of a woman who becomes a crazed stalker isn't something new. Whilst Eastwood's character is at the centre of the trouble and his relationship with Tobie signals a less than surprising twist he allows Evelyn to be the main focus. And so we watch as she goes from this avid fan to this psychotic bitch who doesn't understand the meaning of no and trust me the more psychotic and persistent she becomes the more terrifying it gets. Even before the big action finale just watching Evelyn go from nice one minute to screaming wildcat the next whilst also being vindictive and possessive is enough to make any man give up women.
But of course this does build to the big climax as you would expect and Eastwood certainly doesn't let things down with some seriously in your face violence which makes you shudder. In fact it is one of the clever things about "Play Misty for Me" because it is so well paced that when the action and violence does arrive it takes you by surprise at how intense it is.
Now whilst Eastwood may also star as well as direct, and to be honest delivers his usual confident performance as David it is Jessica Walter who is the star of "Play Misty for Me". The way the character of Evelyn can switch from being nice to abusive is shocking especially in those scenes where she screams at David's neighbour. And the way Jessica grows the character becoming increasingly psychotic and delusional is amazing and as I said when it comes to terrifying women she can give Glenn Close's character from "Fatal Attraction" a run for her money.
Considering that "Play Misty for Me" was Eastwood's directional debut it is very impressive but it's not faultless and two scenes half way through end up spoiling things. We have the overly choreographed love making scene in the woods to the sounds of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and then the dancing at the Monterey Jazz festival. These two musically influenced scenes jar with the rest of the movie especially the love making scene which feels completely out of place and quite cheesy.
What this all boils down to is that with the exception of a couple of issues "Play Misty for Me" is not only a very good directional debut but also a good movie. the reason it's good is not only in the way that Eastwood builds the story but also in the terrifying performance from Jessica Walter as the psychotic Evelyn.