Clint Eastwood’s First Movie As Director Was a Dark, Twisted Fantasy
As a director, Clint Eastwood has made better movies than ‘Play Misty for Me.’ He even directed a better one in the ’70s, a decade in which he was earning money to make his not-quite mainstream films by co-starring alongside a beer-guzzling orangutan. But he never made a movie as dark and as twisted as his first.
‘Play Misty for Me’ was released in 1971, the same year ‘Dirty Harry’ made Eastwood a star. During the later part of the previous decade, he slowly built a reputation as a wordless badass cowboy in a series of westerns, most notably Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy. By the ’70s, he was ready to move on to something different.
Written by Dean Riesner and Jo Heims (from a story by Heims), ‘Play Misty for Me’ is about a Carmel, Calif., DJ named Dave Garver, played by Eastwood, who makes the terrible mistake of sleeping with one of his groupies. Actually, she sorta tricks him into bed, as these things go, picking him up in a bar and never letting on that she’s the one calling in with the titular request every night.
Eastwood, being Cool Early-’70s, Eastwood tells her it was fun, babe, and he’ll give her a call sometime. Which most people would take as, OK, maybe I’ll see you around, but don’t count on it. But not crazy Evelyn. She takes her romp with the jazz disc jockey a little too seriously, showing up at his house unannounced and with a bag of groceries, ready for another night of the ol’ Eastwood special.
It doesn’t take long for DJ Dave to realize that Evelyn is a f—ing psycho. She yells at his neighbors. She makes a scene at a bar. She ruins a big job opportunity for him. And she slices up his housekeeper.
By the way, Evelyn is played by Jessica Walter, who later portrayed Lucille Bluth on ‘Arrested Development.’ Apparently, overbearing, smothering sociopaths come naturally to her. Enjoy some of her best ‘Arrested Development’ moments here:
At its heart, ‘Play Misty for Me’ is a dark, twisted fantasy about casual modern-day relationships and the potential terror hookups can result in. In a way, it’s an early version of ‘Fatal Attraction.’ But it’s so much more than that. There’s male-female tension here . . . and more than a little hate. Eastwood puts an end to this nightmare of a woman the only way he knew how to back then: by delivering one solid punch to her face that sends her off a balcony and crashing onto the rocks below.
It’s a bit misogynist, for sure. But after 100 minutes of a psychopath threatening your girlfriend, invading your space, requesting the same damn song over and over and generally c—-blocking your every move, what else can a red-blooded American male in 1971 do?
In 1973, Eastwood would return with his next notable film as director, ‘High Plains Drifter,’ another dark, twisted fantasy — this time played out as a western inspired by the ’60s movies that launched his career. But unlike those famous spaghetti westerns, ‘High Plains Drifter’ was rooted in the supernatural, as Eastwood’s nameless Stranger literally paints a town red and turns it into hell.
It’s a revenge fantasy, not unlike ‘Play Misty for Me’ at times. And it’s a better movie. But his first film as director is more crucial, a turn into ’70s noir that peers into the not-so-distant past and pulls up a look at an alpha-male jazz lover and his casual hookups that’s as cynical as it is revealing. And it sure beats working with a farting ape.