Play Misty For Me (1971)

Repeat | May 3, 2016 | Carlos Castillo

Well-done thriller, Clint’s debut behind the camera. Trademark straightforward approach that marks the Eastwood directorial brand. If you want to take it as a pure popcorn movie, it works. Evelyn is the psycho chick who won’t take no for an answer. A very simple premise. At first glance, “Play Misty For Me” could be mistaken for a genre film with cookie-cutter characters. But there’s meat on this bone.

When Eastwood took the project to Universal, the response was, “Who wants to see Clint Eastwood playing a disc jockey?” Eastwood obviously saw an everyman in Dave Garvin, albeit a horny one looking to play the field in the freewheeling 1970s. I would imagine that in Garvin’s backstory, he was an avid Playboy reader happily sowing his oats in Carmel, a sleepy seaside community a stone’s throw from the free-love epicenter of San Francisco.

Probably every person has at least experienced one relationship where the other side was a bit needy, maybe even a scarily so. Garvin pulls the short stick with Evelyn and deals with the deadly consequences. Anybody can see the movie at this level and have an enjoyable experience.

However, if one digs down a bit further, you’ll find some good stuff. I especially like the way Garvin muddles along as this sinkhole expands. Even when his maid is waylaid upon discovering Evelyn in a fit of fury, Garvin seems dumbfounded. You want him to spill every bean to the police investigator and end this nightmare once and for all. Instead he responds in his typical coy, laconic way that makes it evident that Garvin has no intention of acknowledging his part in this mess.

Another layer of depth to Garvin’s character is that he’s a very routinized dude. Spouts poetry before playing jazzy love songs on his radio program, collects messages at his favorite watering hole, picks up one-night stands and heads home to get a good solo sleep in his man cave. This guy has worn a comfortable groove into his life. But then Evelyn colors outside the lines and he’s peeved. He can’t understand that his straightforward proclamations about the casualness of their relationship don’t resonate with this woman. Garvin sticks to his belief that he was upfront and honest and that should have been enough. It’s this stubbornness and reluctance to recognize the seriousness of the situation that escalates the problem. Garvin just wants it all to go away so he can get back to living his care-free life.

The writers did a great job disguising the plot twist that leads to the film’s climax. I’ve seen the movie a half dozen times and it still surprises me. As a director, Eastwood does not clutter up the movie with unnecessary plot and exposition, another hallmark of his spare, straightforward style. In his first directing effort, Eastwood didn’t try to overreach and get overwhelmed in the process. In that way, he was Garvin-esque, staying in his comfort zone and keeping things moving along at a comfortable pace.

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