Play ‘Misty’ for Me: Eastwood Debut–Precursor of Fatal Attraction

play_misty_for_me_posterClint Eastwood’s first film as a director, Play Misty for Me, is a suspenseful thriller that reveals a lot about Eastwood’s star persona and his vigorous style as a filmmaker.

Thematically, the film deals with the same issue–psychotic sexual obsession—that the blockbuster and Oscar nominee Fatal Attraction would revisit in 1987.

In many ways, Play Misty for Me launched the sub-genre of the “stalker” film, which became popular in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Set in Carmel, California (where Eastwood has resided and served as mayor), the star plays a DJ named Dave Garver.  Strangely, he begins to receive many requests to play “Misty,” the Erroll Garner tune from a female listener, who introduces herself as Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter).

He then meets the seductive Evelyn in a local bar, The Sardine Factory, and they have a one-night stand, while he is unaware that she is the mysterious voice who calls him. For him, it’s a brief encounter, but for her it’s much more.

play_misty_for_me_5_eastwoodEvelyn begins to stalk him, drops in on him unexpectedly, causing problems, especially after realizing that Garver is again dating Tobie Williams (Donna Mills).

Gradually, Garver becomes upset, even scared by her. At one point, she gets so jealous angry that she stabs his housekeeper and destroys some of his possessions. She is put away in a mental institution, but when she is later released, she resumes her nightly demands for Misty, claiming she is cured.

play_misty_for_me_4_eastwoodIn the terrifically staged climax, set in the middle of the night, Garver hears in his bed the ‘Misty’ song being played. The obsessive and psychotic Evelyn shows up with a butcher knife (just as Glenn Close did in her confrontation with Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction). He manages to save his life and she leaves.

But now Garver is fearful for his girlfriend’s life, especially after learning that Evelyn is Tobie’s new roommate.  Police sergeant McCallum (John Larch), who’s sent to protect her, loses his life with scissors’ attack and Tobie is tied up in the house as bait.

During another scary confrontation, Garver is wounded by Evelyn, but he succeeds in kicking her with his punches out of the balcony to the ocean.

The ending is both ambiguous and ironic: Dave is seen with Tobie, while the radio honors Evelyn by playing a tape with her request to play Misty.

play_misty_for_me_3_eastwoodThe script was conceived by Jo Heims, a former dancer turned secretary, and was polished by Dean Riesner. The idea of another love interest, represented by girlfriend Tobie, was suggested by Sonia Chernus, an editor and Eastwood’s friend.

Eastwood said about his directing debut:”After 17 years of bouncing my head against the wall, hanging around sets, maybe influencing certain camera set-ups with my own opinions, watching actors go through all kinds of hell without any help, and working with both good directors and bad ones, I’m at the point where I’m ready to make my own pictures. I stored away all the mistakes I made and saved up all the good things I learned, and now I know enough to control my own projects and get what I want out of actors.”

play_misty_for_me_2_eastwoodShooting began in Monterey in September 1970.   Vet director Don Siegel stood by Eastwood to help him; he also played a bartender in the film. Longtime collaborators of Siegel’s,  cinematographer Bruce Surtees, editor Carl Pingitore, and composer Dee Barton, worked on the picture.

A commercial success, Play Misty for Me grossed $10.6 million at the box office vis-a-vis the small budget of $725,000.

 

Cast

Clint Eastwood as Dave Garver

Jessica Walter as Evelyn Draper

Donna Mills as Tobie Williams

John Larch as Sgt. McCallum

Jack Ging as Frank

Irene Hervey as Madge

James McEachin as Al Monte

Clarice Taylor as Birdie