Friday, May 9, 2014

PLAY MISTY FOR ME 1971

I have a comprehensive familiarity with the movies of Clint Eastwood that is grossly disproportionate to my relative indifference to him as an actor. Neither actively seeking him out nor going out of my way to avoid him, I’ve somehow managed to see roughly 19 films starring the empty chair monologist of the 2012 GOP convention. That’s neck to neck with the number of Joan Crawford films I’ve seen…and she’s a favorite!   

Part of this I lay at the feet of my older sister. In my youth, she harbored such a take-no-prisoners crush on the former Rawhide star, that whenever one of his movies played at the local theater, seeing it was a fait accompli in our house. No discussion. No argument. No resistance. I saw Paint Your Wagon, Coogan’s Bluff, and all those indistinguishable “rob, rape, ‘n’ shoot” spaghetti westerns of his, more times than I can possibly count. 
The other, more persuasive, part of this I attribute to Eastwood’s rather savvy handling of his career. Clint Eastwood has always had an eye for choosing movies that don’t press too heavily against his self-professed limited range, yet are intriguing and thought-provoking enough to stand alone as films I’m interested in seeing, independent of any consideration of his participation. Indeed, the one thing The Beguiled, Tightrope, The Bridges of Madison County, Unforgiven, A Perfect World, Million Dollar Baby, and Sudden Impact all have in common is that, based on storyline alone, each is a movie I’d be clamoring to see no matter the star. 
Clint Eastwood as David Garver
Jessica Walter as Evelyn Draper
Donna Mills as Tobie Williams
Can we all pause for a moment to appreciate these awesome/awful 70s hairdos? 
Clint rocks an intricately-sculptured, casual mass of blow-dried masculinity, while Walters and Mills both sport saucy variations on the ubiquitous Jane Fonda/Susannah York/Carol Brady layered shag .

The plot of Play Misty for Me is as simple as it is familiar: David Garver (Eastwood) is the honey-voiced (and by the look of his bachelor pad, very successful) deejay of a light jazz radio program in picturesque Carmel, California. Although “hung up” on local artist Tobie Williams (Mills) - aka “One of the foxiest chicks on the peninsula” - freewheeling David is also known to play the field a bit; a swinging 70s, love-the-one-you’re-with propensity that lands the smooth-talker in the bed of dark-eyed Evelyn Draper (Walters), a one-night-stand bar pickup who also just happens to be the provocative “Play ‘Misty’ for me” serial caller to his radio show.
While it would be two more years before Erica Jong’s “zipless fuck” entered into the sexual revolution lexicon; almost immediately David’s no-strings hookup with the pleasant-appearing easy-listening groupie begins showing signs of growing increasingly less zipless and markedly more fucked. Faster than you can say, “boiled bunnies” (see: Fatal Attraction, Play Misty for Me’s unofficial 1987 remake), Evelyn goes from fan to raving fanatic as she launches on an ever-escalating campaign of stalking and harassment, desperate to have David for herself alone, or pledged to ruining his life in retaliation for the perceived rejection.

Always a fan of thrillers, I was keen on seeing Play Misty for Me the moment I saw its Psycho-esque poster in the “Coming Soon to This Theater!” display case in a movie theater lobby. And best of all, not a single gun, horse, or poncho in sight!  But wouldn’t you know it?... by 1971 my sister was old enough to move into a place of her own, and so subsequently, the opening of the latest Clint Eastwood film no longer engendered the same degree of mandatory household allegiance it once had. In fact, everybody was so relived to be freed of my sister’s despotic, Eastwood-stranglehold that I was unable to persuade a single soul to go with me to see Play Misty for Me. (Which was probably for the best, as nobody wants to see a 13-year-old boy watching a movie through the fingers thrust over his eyes.)
"...an invitation to terror!" (Early advertising tagline)
In his first outing as director, Clint Eastwood definitely shows his inexperience (the trite romantic montage and interminable Monterey Jazz Festival footage play havoc with the film’s already shaky pacing), but he also shows a great deal of talent. Play Misty for Me is a thrill-ride suspense thriller that actually works, which is something not every entry in the genre can lay claim to. The original screenplay by Jo Heims and Dean Riesner has an irresistibly relatable premise that Eastwood does justice to by filming in a professional, straightforward manner refreshingly devoid of the usual self-consciously arty affectations that tend to mar so many actor’s debut directorial efforts (that same year Jack Nicholson directed his first film: the plodding and oh-so-dated campus drama, Drive, He Said).
Don Siegel as Murphy 
As a favor to Eastwood, director Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) consented to appear in the cameo role as the bartender assisting David in his gambit to meet Evelyn. Siegel directed a total of five films with Eastwood and is said to have been instrumental in guiding Eastwood's hand in Play Misty for Me

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I get a huge kick out of movies where the leading men (especially if they are known for their macho and sex appeal) consciously take on roles which attempt to poke holes in the Male Mystique. Action fans tend to look on this as emasculating the hero, but if you’re longing to see men portrayed on the screen as something more authentic than wish-fulfillment templates of an idealized masculinity, these self-aware implosions of archaic gender roles make for arresting character drama. Warren Beatty did it beautifully in Shampoo, and in the provocative and underrated Civil War drama, The Beguiled (released eight months apart, both The Beguiled and Play Misty for Me were co-written by women) Eastwood and director Don Siegel messed with a lot of men’s heads by showing America’s #1 action hero at the mercy of a housefull of women.
Much like the aloof sex symbol humanized by showing she isn’t afraid to make a joke at her own expense (Candice Bergen in Starting Over, Raquel Welch in The Three Musketeers), I find the macho action star is only palatable to me when accompanied by a healthy dose of vulnerability.

I love how, in an almost Hitchcockian use of screen composition to heighten tension and emphasize character dynamics, Evelyn is so often photographed in poses of superiority over David. She is forever pinning him down, looming over him, and basically reinforcing her dominance. David's diminished importance in the shots seem to reflect his loss of control and power over his life. 

The vast majority of the characters Clint Eastwood built his career and reputation upon have struck me as being fairly insufferable. No matter how well-chiseled, a monosyllabic hunk of granite is still a rock. That's why I've always preferred him in average-Joe parts like Play Misty for Me's laid-back deejay, David Garver. Playing a man used to things going his way, suddenly forced to deal with circumstances and situations he's not at all sure how to handle, Eastwood's squinty impenetrability takes on human dimensions and it gives me a person I can relate to, if not necessarily care about. The humanizing effect is one big reason why, after all these years, Play Misty for Me has remained my favorite of all of his films. The other reason is the chilling and unforgettable performance of Jessica Walter.
Jessica Walter was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe for Play Misty for Me, but lost out to Jane Fonda in Klute. A case of dueling shag haircuts.
One of the more terrifying things I learned while researching Play Misty for Me for this post is that in 1970, The Hollywood Reporter noted that producer Ross Hunter (Portrait in Black) had purchased the rights to the property and planned to develop it as a vehicle for actress, Dana Wynter (which may go a long way toward explaining the motivation behind Wynter’s witch-on-wheels performance in Hunter’s Airport …it was an audition!) 

Clarice Taylor as Birdie
Fans of The Cosby Show will recognize Taylor as Anna Huxtable, Bill Cosby's mother

PERFORMANCES
"The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's ME, baby, remember?"  - Valley of the Dolls

Say what you will about Clint Eastwood, but he’s not one to surround himself with mediocrity in order to make himself look better. Many of his best films have been the result of his collaborating with talents which (in my opinion) far outclass his own : Meryl Streep, Geneviève Bujold, Geraldine Page, Gene Hackman -  and the results have been all the better for it. Maybe when you’re a megawatt personality like Barbra Streisand, it’s tough to find a male co-star with enough onscreen charisma to keep up (although I can’t say it ever looked like she wore herself out searching); but if you run as cool as Eastwood, in a film like this you’re smart to cast an actress who’ll bump up your game a notch. And it's to Eastwood's credit that he so graciously hands over the entirety of Play Misty for Me to Jessica Walter, whose portrayal seriously puts this film over. She's not just good, she's GOOD in this, and she not only makes Eastwood appear more engaged and present than usual, but gives her underwritten role just the right amount of sane and just the right amount of batshit crazy, to make for a compelling, chilling, and oh-so-convincing screen heavy.
Armed with precious little in the way of backstory (we don't even know what she lives on. The sole bit of information she discloses about herself is that she lived in Albany when she was 19, but even that could have been a lie), Walter creates a character whose mounting instability always feels as if it's coming from a place very real. Even if it's a reality that only takes place in her head. I first became aware of Jessica Walter in Sidney Lumet's ensemble drama,The Group (1966), in which her bitchy, motormouth character made a strong impression (as it also did, I understand, with Eastwood, who cast Walters after seeing her in the film in spite of the studio pressing for Lee Remick). Of course, I'm a huge fan of her priceless comedic work in TVs Arrested Development, but the knife-wielding Evelyn Draper is a bone chiller that will always make it one of my top favorite Jessica Walter performance.
Donna Mills (Knots Landing) is saddled with the largely thankless, ornamental role of Dave's true blue girlfriend, Tobie. Serving chiefly as a plot construct, Tobie is designed to make Eastwood's character more sympathetic, provide gender role contrast (she's sweet, soft-spoken, and passive to Evelyn's in-your-face directness), and potentially bump up the body count.
To add to the film's "hip" and "with it" quotient, Tobie has a swishy, gay best friend (my first exposure to the movie archetype that even now shows no signs of abatement) while Dave has the obligatory jive-talkin' soul brother buddy, plus a sassy, African-American housekeeper for good measure.
Design Technology for Tighty-Whities Had Not Yet Been Perfected
In later years my sister would tell me that this scene was the catalyst for her eventual disenchantment with Clint Eastwood (the uniform, Gumby-like taper of his physique), but I suspect it was really when he started making those redneck "Every Which Way..." comedies. 

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
My aforementioned affinity for films that tweak the hypermasculine ideal finds its complement in films depicting women turning the tables on men and acting out in assertive ways atypical to the conventions of the horror/suspense-thriller genres. 
I’m crazy about movies like Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Pretty Poison (1968 ), That Cold Day in the Park (1969), Kitten With a Whip (1964), Andy Warhlol’s BAD (1977), Eye of the Cat (1969), Remember My Name (1978), and of course, Fatal Attraction. Not just because I've grown weary of violence against women depicted as entertainment in 90% of what comes out of Hollywood, but because it intrigues me how the mere refocusing of the aggression from female to male in a narrative results in such a huge paradigm shift that even the old feels new.
My Not So Funny Valentine
Apropos of nothing perhaps, save our culture's weird courting rituals, but in watching Play Misty for Me recently, it struck me as odd how often the plot device of an ardent lover not being able to take no for an answer has been used in thrillers and horror movies, but also in quite a few romantic comedies. It's weird to think that you could take the basic "psycho-chick" plotline of Play Misty for Me, cast Clint Eastwood's pursued "victim" part with a rom-com darling like Sarah Jessica Parker or Drew Barrymore; recast Jessica Walter's obsessive stalker with Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen, and, taking away the knives and death threats...you have the same "chase her until you wear down her defenses" premise that's at the center of I don't know how many bad romantic comedies.
Perhaps that's what makes a thriller like Play Misty for Me click with audiences; we can all relate on some level. At one time or another we've all known what it's like to pursue or be pursued, yet unsure as to whether we're coming on too strong, misreading the signals, or inadvertently leading a person on. Romantic movies keep telling us that we should never stop trying to win the person we love, but then we have thrillers like Play Misty for Me that say, "Enough already!" 
After an argument, Evelyn shows up at David's door wearing nothing under her overcoat. In 1989 John Cusack would pull a similar stunt (with a blasting boombox substituting for standing there starkers) in Say Anything. Although depicted as a romantic gesture, it always seemed kind of stakler-ish as well. 

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Coming as it does at the tail end of the 60s “free love” movement and the start of the promiscuous, singles bar era that would dovetail into the joyless, Looking for Mr. Goodbar end of the sexual revolution; it’s difficult not to project onto Play Misty for Me’s rather straightforward thriller plot, a whole heap of sexual cautionary-tale subtext. (I say project because I have a hard time believing Eastwood had time to worry about much more than telling a story well.) 
Considerable footage (perhaps a tad too much) is devoted to capturing the beauty of the Carmel, California locations
When I look at the film today, I’m reminded not only of how very much Play Misty for Me is a product of its time in terms of clothing (oh, brother!), hairstyles (see above), slang (“Everythang is gonna be everythanng!”), and music (Misty, Erroll Garner’s 1954 classic is a hauntingly ideal piece to build a movie around); but how, as an adult I can appreciate the film as a still very effective thriller, yet allow myself to lapse into enjoying the elements that have taken on an air of camp for me. And by those I mean, how Evelyn, when she really flips out, tends to make me think I'm looking at the young Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development; or how, in these post-Mommie Dearest years, it's difficult (especially if you see this with an audience) not to find Evelyn's hair-trigger mood swings to be reminiscent of you-know-who (after all, scissors are involved in both). 
In early drafts of the screenplay, David did not have a steady girlfriend. It was decided that Evelyn would appear more dangerous  (and David more sympathetic) if she represented a threat to the couple's "domestic" happiness
What does seem to traverse all generations is the film’s reinforcement of the old-fashioned belief that behind all the desire for sexual freedom, emancipation, and lack of commitment, rue happiness can only be achieved through monogamy, domesticity, and adherence to traditional gender roles.

One of the reasons I think Play Misty for Me was so popular with the public is because long before Evelyn begins exhibiting signs of serious mental illness, she is depicted as a threat and disruption to the natural order of things. David is a skit-chaser, but a reformed one, dedicated to changing his ways and starting anew with torch carrying Tobie. But From the start Evelyn fails to adhere to normative standards of male/female interaction. She’s sexually the aggressor (David would prefer it if she’d wait until HE calls her); she has a temper (maybe women didn’t swear much in 1971, but every time Evelyn blurts out an obscenity, the camera cuts to a reaction shot worthy of The Bride of Frankenstein); and worst of all, she seeks to dominate.
Thrillers and horror movies are rooted in the introduction of chaos into order. In the 70s, what was more chaotic to the introduction of Women's Lib and the sexual revolution into the order male/ female relations? Play Misty for Me may not have been the first psycho-sexual thriller, but for me, sit still stands as one of the best. 

BONUS MATERIAL
An early ad mock-up reveals that, at least for a time, Universal was going to jettison the gracefulness of the title, Play Misty for Me, and go for the "hard sell" title: The Slasher! (A reaction, no doubt, to the boxoffice failure of Eastwood's prior film, The Beguiled, which suffered from a title which gave no indication of its subject matter, and an ad campaign that intentionally tried to make a character drama look like an action film.) As the term, "slasher film" eventually came to signify an entire subgenre of horror film that rose to popularity in the 70s, an argument could be made that the popularity of Play Misty for Me, it being one of the first (if not the first) entries of the decade, spearheaded a genuine trend.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the 70s TV show Starsky & Hutch flattered the hell out of Play Misty for Me in this copycat 1977 episode that finds Hutch (the blond one) the target of a fatal attraction by none other than pert and perky Karen Valentine. Watch the episode titled: "Fatal Charm" on YouTube

"Annabel Lee"  - Edgar Allan Poe 1849
Copyright © Ken Anderson

18 comments:

  1. Excellent review Ken! It took me a while to 'get' Eastwood, thanks in no small part to him being a favourite of my mum and dad (my dad took my mum on a date to see The Good The Bad And The Ugly, oh the romance!) and we always start out resisting what our parents like I guess! But some time in my 20s he started to click for me and he's made a good many films I enjoy, this being one of them. And you're totally right, I really like how he never seemed to be afraid of the roles or stories he chose, this and The Beguiled (another favourite of mine) are really subversive affairs that I would imagine other A listers of the time running away from. And I agreem Jessica Walter is amazing in this.

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    1. Hey there, Mark!
      That is such a cute story about your dad taking your mother to see Clint's spaghetti western on a date!! But your tale brings up an aspect of Clint Eastwood's appeal that I forget.
      As young Hollywood was embracing the "anti-hero" who thumbed his nose at conventional notions of masculinity and eschewed violence and "hawk vs dove" wartime aggression, Clint Eastwood had taken up the John Wayne mantle for a new generation (Wayne had turned down "Dirty Harry" and later regretted it, then wound up doing two terrible, Eastwood-esque copycat cop dramas - one of which, "Brannigan" was shot in London- trying to hold onto his unwillingly-abdicated crown).
      Your comment reminded me that Eastwood was one of the few "new" stars who appealed to the older generation.
      I lived in San Francisco during much of his "Dirty Harry" reign, and I tell you, as much as he made a fortune for the city, the right wing, pro-gun, anti-hippie attitude of his films never set very well with the younger , "peace and love" crowd.
      Like you, I came around to appreciating Eastwood when he began making some amazing "against type" acting decisions that didn't endear him to his action film fanbase, but made him into a much more interesting actor and director. Thanks for the compliment, Mark!

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  2. That part about the tighty-whities made me laugh out loud! But why was she disenchanted? Wasn't 'it" big enough? or did she just not like the way they looked? I don't think the coloured sort had "caught on' as yet, and the only thing that could look worse is BOXERS. Too funny the way today's kids think "boxers are sexy"- in my day they were ol' grampy-gotchies". and I STILL think of them as 'grampy-gotchies"

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    1. Hi Sufiya
      Ha! Yes, perhaps her real reason was that "it' wasn't big enough, but what she told me was that after imagining what an Adonis physique he must have been hiding under that poncho for so many years, it came as quite a shock to see her matinee idol rocking a thoroughly average, hairless body, and strutting about in JC Penny jockey shorts with a saggy bottom. (I didn’t include a rear-view screencap, but suffice it to say that the sight of it inspired some Berkeley Barb type newspaper of the day to write: “The residents of Carmel have taken up a collection to buy Mr. Eastwood an ass.”)
      And I'm with you, I don't think boxers are sexy at all (although I've never heard that term you used !) And movie actors aren't fooling anyone with that colored underwear gambit... it camouflages the goods.
      Mr. Eastwood was a star of the "Let it all hang out!" generation and that's the way it should be...droopy drawers or not.

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    2. I agree, I've no idea why boxer shorts are so popular these days, nor why men wear them so high on their hips. This sort of stuff used to be reserved for geriatrics.

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  3. I may be a few years older than you, Ken, but I spent a good part of watching "Play Misty for Me" for the first time with my hands over my eyes, peeking through my fingers. I'll never forget the cheer that went up among the guys in the audience when Dave finally dispatched Evelyn over the balcony with his fist. And I remember being impressed with Tobie's shag (though not Evelyn's). I also remember that this was the film that introduced Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," wasn't it? Huge hit song of the time.

    Wonderful review, Ken. You have a such a keen eye and are so nimble words, and I love being given something to think about and consider while being entertained.

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    1. Hello Eve
      Thank you for recounting what the experience was for those who saw "Play Misty for Me" at the theater! I thought it was just because I was young, but it WAS really violent for the time, and rather harrowing as far as the tension building to the big, scary ending.
      I remember the cheering you speak of being 100% identical to what I heard when I saw "Fatal Attraction" with an audience so many years later.
      This was one of those movies everybody at school was trying to get their parents to take them to see (the R rating and all).
      And yes, Mills definitely sports the cooler shag (Fonda's will always be my favorite, but Susannah York in "X, Y, & Zee" has the most AMAZING shag!)

      And thank you for for bringing up the lovely Roberta Flack song. For years I thought this movie debuted the song and wondered why such a popular tune (you couldn't escape it on the radio, back in the day) failed to get an Oscar nomination for best song. Only much later did I learn that Flack had actually released the song as far back as 1969, and that Eastwood heard it on the radio and purchased the rights.
      I had just taken for granted that Roberta Flack wrote the song, but in researching this post, I was amazed to learn it was actually a 1957(!) folk song and Flack's iconic recording a cover that followed on the heels of people like Peter, Pal, & Mary, and the Kingston Trio. What a shock! (I tell you, every now and then, this Internet thing redeems itself.)
      Lastly, i so much appreciate your compliment! You write so beautifully (and prolifically!) I'm always flattered when you stop by and take the time to comment. Cheers!

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  4. I enjoyed this when I watched it but it's not something that I harbor any deep affection for and I don't think I've seen it since. I'm not a big fan of Eastwood. He's not someone whose films I avoid because of his presence like Renee Zellweger or Nicole Kidman but his participation isn't a draw.

    However with all the movies you review you pointed out fun things I hadn't noticed or didn't know. I knew that Steve McQueen had been interested in Clint's part before his involvement in the project. He declined because the woman's part was stronger than the man's and that wasn't something that McQueen would ever be willing to have happen in one of his films. But I had no idea Lee Remick was under consideration for Evelyn if only by the studio. I adore her but can't envision her in the part, she had a sedate, level headedness that always shone through whatever role she played. Usually that added to her performances but in this it would have clashed with the cuckoo craziness of the part. Jessica Walter however has always possessed that tense coiled spring component within her acting even when she plays well adjusted or friendly characters so she's perfect for this.

    I had never noticed how much Donna Mills resembled Susannah York in this with their similar haircuts. Their individual looks diverged so much later as Donna became a cyclone of glamour and the queen of eye makeup on Knots Landing and Susannah remained an attractive but more down to earth lady. In that picture you included she certainly throws off that Susannah vibe. Hers is the best of the two versions of the shag, a style I'm no fan of. Even Jane Fonda's famous shag which complimented her more than most, I thought was less becoming than most of her other looks through the years.

    I'm glad you mentioned The Beguiled, now that is a trippy movie! Filled with eerie atmosphere and a cast of great actresses it's something that would never be made today. I have read that he and Geraldine Page did not hit it off during filming of the picture leading to Miss Page's acerbic quote "Yes I have acted with Clint Eastwood. Or rather, I have acted opposite Clint Eastwood."

    As you said Clint has always been willing to try different things and does seem to understand what will work for him within his limited range and how to test it out in different genres. Like you I'll try his films because they have varied themes. I'll have to give this one another look, it's been years, with your perspective in mind.

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    1. Hi Joel
      One of these days you'll have to let me know about your Zellweger/Kidman aversion (my partner avoids Zellweger too. For me, it's Nicolas Cage and Adam Sandler).

      You've contributed a heap of very entertaining comments, my friend!
      I think your descriptions of the unique qualities of Lee Remick and Jessica Walter (love the "tense coiled spring" line) are quite on the money. Even if the original script was quite different (which I sense it was, if Dana Wynter could be a candidate) I just cannot picture Lee Remick. Eastwood mentions this on one of the DVD interviews.
      I'd heard the Steve McQueen thing, and that is one of the few areas where I will give it up for Eastwood. Can't think of another action star that allowed his machismo to be upstaged by women. His Dirty Harry films with Bujold, Tyne Daly, and Sondra Locke are almost subversive in their having characters who confront Eastwood's/Callahan's sexism.

      I also got a big kick out of your comments about Donna Mills, principally because you brought up something I had excised from an earlier draft of this post (a reference to my associating her with industrial-strength eye makeup later in her career).
      Oh, and of course, I adore the Geraldine Page line! One of the things about "The Beguiled" that stays with me is the casting of Elizabeth Hartman. Such a favorite of mine, she reminds me of a certain kind of Eastwood "type". His co-stars, Hartman, Sondra Locke, and Frances Fisher all remind me of one another.

      Even when our tastes in films don't align, you always have interesting, knowledgeable comments to contribute. Thanks, Joel

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  5. My mother LOVED this film and used to talk about it, but as I was four when it came out, I had to wait until later to see it. I think it still holds up as a thriller even in the wake of so many more graphic and involved ones later to come (though I think of "Fatal Attraction" as the gold standard of this particular type, owing as it does to "Misty!") The Flack song is so richly simple/involving that it makes for a nice, short-cut way to demonstrate Eastwood and Mills' relationship. I might be old-fashioned, but I like montages, be they even the God-help-us-all type from "The Adventurers" with Candice Bergen and whatsisface to the deliberately hilarious one with Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley in "The Naked Gun." The Monterrey Pop Festival is harder for me to take because it seems so random, but at least it makes for a neat time capsule of that event in that moment in time. On Mills' eyes, even here in their unadulterated form Eastwood manages to make good use of them near the climax. On his underwear... oh lord... Can those be called "tighty"-whities?? Maybe more like "saggy-waggies" but, you know what? I'd rather have a real human being playing an everyday type of person on display like this than be confronted with a buffed, waxed, sprayed, chiseled, bronzed beautifully-lit mannequin preening around in $100 underwear and be asked to accept that this is an authentic character. That's part of the magic of the '70s cinema - that everything is very "as it was" in most cases, take it or leave it. Taylor is a total hoot, of course, and it was nice to see 1930s actress Irene Hervey as Eastwood's business associate who Walter claims, "couldn't get laid in a lumber camp!" a great line!! Hervey was the mother of singer Jack "The Love Boat" Jones! Thanks again for yet another engrossing examination of a fun film.

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  6. What a wonderful essay on a film that grows on me more each time I see it. Never a fan of westerns or of his Dirty Harry series, I first acknowledged Clint Eastwood's talent and star power when I saw Escape from Alcatraz as a teenager. Then I came upon Play Misty on a late late show and realized what a looker Mr. Eastwood was, too. Positively dreamy, and that voice!...pure velvet. In the 80s I enjoyed him in the comedies that spoofed his mach image, like Every Which Way But Loose (wasn't Ruth Gordon his mom in that one?) Then, later, as he became known and respected as a film director, I realized that he had directed Play Misty...and I have seen it many times since. It's my favorite of all his films.

    I love, as you point out, that he really lets the great talents around him shine, particularly the fantastically talented Jessica Walter, and Clarice Taylor in that delicious small role of the no-nonsense housekeeper. (Sooo 1970s...I'm reminded of the wonderful actress who played Barbra Streisand's acerbic cleaning lady in For Pete's Sake. African-Americans were still playing domestics, but they started to talk back, pointedly!!) Walter really pulls out all the stops in her role as the wild-eyed woman scorned. It's almost camp the way she rushes around with that bag of groceries, determined to cook dinner for Clint, but oh so entertaining! Though her role is indeed thankless, Donna Mills has great chemistry with Eastwood, and she's already displaying star quality.

    The iconic Carmel location shots are among the most beautiful in any film of that era...Eastwood's love of the town he would one day become the mayor of is evident. His friend and neighbor Doris Day used the same locations for a film she produced in 1956, her own stalker epic called Julie, but that was in black-and-white. Eastwood's Carmel is an absolutely stunning backdrop for this pure escapist fare.

    Looking forward to seeing this one again, and again. It's a perfect double feature with one of my other faves you mentioned, Fatal Attraction. Great post, as always, Ken!!

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    1. Hi Chris
      Once again, it appears as if we channel similar tastes in film, this also being my fave Eastwood film of so many. All of Clint's attributes you note are on fine display in this movie. He was indeed very handsome during this period, and he had an ideal voice for a radio DJ. It's odd that I never developed a crush on him. Perhaps I sensed my sister would have pulled an "Evelyn" on me had I ever gave voice to such feelings.
      Interesting point you bring up about blacks in 70s films. Almost as if to keep in step with the more assertive, Black Power times, more films were featuring black supporting players. Almost always in domestic or subordinate roles (still), yet often amusingly aware and vocal about the power inequities. Always amazes me how the status quo is so staunchly adhered to, no matter how much the world shows signs of moving on.

      The camp element you speak of in Walters performance is really evident when watching this film with an audience. Her character is almost regarded like the shark in "Jaws" or that little boy in "The Omen"...everybody just seems to take so much delight in the havoc she wreaks. And indeed, when it played here in LA in the 90s, it was paired with Fatal Attraction. both movies have essentially become comedies to a certain audience.
      Although I knew of Eastwood's mayoral run and his love of Carmel, I never made the connection with the locations in "Julie"! I love that movie and have seen it many times, but didn't know where it was shot.
      Good to hear from you Chris, and thank you for the kind words!

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  7. Clint Eastwood--one of my favourites! There have been relatively few actors and directors whose works I have most eagerly anticipated to arrive at cinemas, but Eastwood is one of them. Now speaking for myself, I do like Eastwood the actor-director, but I must say, Ken, even if Eastwood wasn't the reason, I would still be attracted to his films because, as you so rightly mentioned, they tend to be such interesting ideas.

    (I must say, I'm a HUGE fans of Eastwood in the "Dollars" trilogy, not to mention his work as "Dirty Harry", moreso the first two films than the later installments).

    It would be fun to compile a list of "disc jockey" movies--I think this would make for an intriguing subgenre. Ken, you already know of my adoration for "WUSA" (1970), but one thing that this "disc jockey" film lacks is that Paul Newman having any sort of relationship or interaction with his listeners (surprising, considering that Newman's character works for an extremely reactionary, terribly racist radio station in poverty-stricken, largely black-inhabited New Orleans--what, no irate callers who disagree with WUSA's "point of view"?). Whereas in "Play Misty for Me", Eastwood has a relationship with a particular listener that is the crux of the film. On a much less serious note, I would add "Cheerleaders Wild Weekend" (a.k.a. "The Great American Girl Robbery", 1979) to the list because of its Joyful Jerome character (Leon Isaac Kennedy) who is such an important part of the film, acting as the connection between the kidnappers and the detectives. I'm sure there are many others to be considered in the "disc jockey" subgenre. Think of all the themes and subtext that can be explored in "disc jockey" films.

    Thanks for pointing out Clarice Taylor, Ken: I didn't know that was her in "The Cosby Show" all those years later!

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    1. Hi Mark
      That's really great you're such an Eastwood fan, especially in that you like his western phase as well as his urban cop period.
      Of all the action stars that came up through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Eastwood remains my favorite simply due to his fearlessness, image-wise.
      The disc jockey movie is an interesting idea for a subgenre. My vote would go to the deep-voiced Adrienne Barbeau in "the Fog". Loved her in that!

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  8. I recently saw this film (on DVD) and was struck, first, by those awful hair styles and clothes (and also the horrible decor, all that low furniture and dangly bead things - how did we ever survive the 70s!); and then by how it captured the unease of a paradigm shift - the free love and liberation movements of the late 60s breaking down the old monogamous tradition. My impression of Walters's character is that she's, in part, someone acting the swinger but who really wants the monogamous-paradigm; she can't manage the shift and goes ballistic, to put it in crudely simplistic terms. My other impression was how the film does a turnaround in male-female terms: the majority of stalkers (particularly the dangerous ones) are men, but this film (as does Fatal Attraction) shows the woman as the problem. (A grad student once pointed out to me how, during the 90s when office sexual harassment of women by men became an issue, Hollywood came out with Disclosure, which of course depicted helpless Michael Douglas(!) being sexually harassed by mean Demi Moore.)

    I agree that, seen today, the montages of David with Tobie and of the jazz festival are distracting and slow the pace, but it's interesting to see how Eastwood was breaking in what was then the emerging 70s slasher genre; he's still operating by the more free freewheeling narrative techniques of the 60s, when films would take the time to offer dreamy montages set to romantic music, or capture the live feel of a topical event. As the slasher genre evolved, the later films became tighter and nastier and more violent (just compare the effects of Fatal Attraction), the body count goes up, and the 'monster' becomes harder to kill. Eastwood was more interested in characters and 'place' than in efficient plot mechanics, which then took over the genre.

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    1. I know what you mean about the 70s...i don't always remember them being as ugly as films like this remind me they were.
      Such an interesting point you make about Walter's character's "mixed" signals (free love / commitment) and how this fits in with the general confusion of the sexual revolution clashing with the women's movement and shifting gender roles.
      That's why I always think horror films do such a great job of conveying cultural anxiety. They always present themselves as escapist entertainment, but they invariably reveal what we as a culture are struggling with.
      The other great point you make is what (if anything) is signified by the gender switch of oppression in these stalker movies. You're right, they don't reflect reality, that's for sure.
      The 70s always strike me as the decade of the romantic montage, and indeed, it's very likely that, given the looser style employed by filmmakers at the time, these sequences didn't distract as much as they seem to now.
      I know I could certainly stand contemporary thrillers taking more time to show me more of the lead characters' world that is about to be thrown into chaos. Thanks for reading this older post and commenting!

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  9. 1971 was a great year for films, eg : Willy Wonka, Twiggy's The Boyfriend, Play Misty For Me, & c. It was also the final year wherein I was a true weekly cinema-attendee. ( By late 1972, I was far too busy with work in LA, to which I had just moved, & disenchanted with the increasing violence & blood & gore of the films. I have watched the Godfather films solely on commercial telly in a presumably censored form ; the talk of a detached horse's head & insanely long queues at the cinemas was enough to deter me. But I digress & stray. )

    You broached the subject of the musical-montage interludes. I've always thought of them as ' Antonioni interludes ' & have oft wondered if they might not be tributes by Eastwood to Michelangelo Antonioni's famous trilogy of L'Avventura, La Notte, & L'Eclisse. It might not be & might just be a coincidence. Antonioni influenced, oft banefully, many film-makers of the 60s & 70s. I write banefully, for many potentially promising films were marred by indulging in this technique. It was experimental, nouvelle vague, new wave, &, like a wave, should have been allowed to dissipate naturally. Indeed, I have no interest in Antonioni's later 60s films.

    When I 1st watched the film in 1971, my reaction to the interludes was similar to yours. I viewed their presence as a faux pas. With the passage of the years, though, I have become quite fond of them. They are pauses of dolce far niente, sweet-to-do-nothing montages & interludes, which effectively present the mise-en-scene of Carmel & the Monterrey jazz Festival. They are a time machine. I once ate at that Sardine-Factory restaurant.

    1959-1971, 1984-1997, & 1923-30 June 1934 are my favourite film periods, & this is part of the close of a great era for films. It's an impressive 1st film for director Eastwood.

    Ciao ! --Pearl ( via IMDb, naturally ! )

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    1. Hi Pearl
      I'm not as familiar with the films of Antonioni to offer much input, but I think you might have something there on the topic of montages. The European influence in early 70s films was considerable, so it wouldn't surprise me if Antonioni's movies were responsible for the surge in these interludes in virtually every early-70s romance film that came down the pike.
      i like that they appeal to you and feel like an integral part of the flow and mood of a movie. I'm not sure i feel that way about montages, but I know I've never been as averse to that other 70s movie trend - the flashback and flash forward - as so many fans of classic film are.
      Interesting too are your favorite film eras! Nice to see such a broad scope...rare in a classic film fan.
      Great hearing from you Pearl, and thanks for the revisits. Very flattering!

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