The directorial debut of Clint Eastwood, and the uncredited inspiration for FATAL ATTRACTION, was 1971’s seminal girlfriend-from-Hell chiller PLAY MISTY FOR ME. It was and remains a fine, quirky film, albeit one with many problems.
PLAY MISTY FOR ME, lensed on location in Clint Eastwood’s scenic hometown of Caramel, CA, functions as a companion-piece to another eccentric Eastwood project, the Don Siegel directed THE BEGUILED. Both feature Eastwood, then the world’s top action star, getting waylaid by women. THE BEGUILED, I feel, is the better film, although MISTY (which incidentally features Siegel in his first and only acting role) was the bigger money maker.
The film’s precise influence on FATAL ATTRACTION has never been fully disclosed, but the two films are suspiciously similar. PLAY MISTY FOR ME was slated to be remade in the early ‘00s, but that project thankfully has yet to materialize.
Dave Garver is a radio DJ residing in Carmel. He’s constantly harangued by a woman caller who repeats the same request: “Play Misty for me.” One night at a bar Dave meets the unassuming seductress Evelyn Draper, the voice behind the Misty calls. Dave takes her back to his beachfront home for what he thinks is a one night stand, but she unexpectedly turns back up the following evening. Following a second tryst he sends Evelyn off—this time, he hopes, for good. As she leaves, however, she shouts at a neighbor in a threatening manner, thus evincing a mean, and possibly psychotic, streak.
The next day Evelyn accosts Dave in the parking lot of his favorite bar, and all-but moves herself into his house. He freaks out and demands she stay away. She doesn’t, of course—in fact, she turns back up at his house and slashes her wrists in his bathroom. She survives, only to cause more trouble, eventually trashing Dave’s home and stabbing his maid nearly to death.
Evelyn is shipped off to an insane asylum, which gives Dave an opportunity to hook up with his angelic ex-girlfriend Annabel. But it’s not long before Evelyn is released from the nuthouse, a fact Dave is made aware of when she tries to stab him in his bed. Dave contacts the police, but they prove ineffectual in stopping Evelyn’s reign of terror, which inevitably comes to target Annabel.
This isn’t a great film, but it is a skillful one with a Hitchcock-worthy grasp of the mechanics of suspenseful moviemaking. It’s also quite unexpectedly quirky, with what has to be the wackiest opening credits font ever utilized in a thriller, and extensive coverage of the ultra-scenic Carmel locations. The latter make for a good counterpoint to the horror, but they’re overused, especially in the numerous wide shots in which the actors are dwarfed by the scenery.
The film further suffers from many annoying early seventies movie conventions, most notably a pastoral montage set to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (which became a hit single in the wake of this film). There’s also a wholly gratuitous jazz festival sequence that lasts nearly a full five minutes, which, given that the scene exists solely to impart a single line of exposition (that Annabel has a new roommate), is around 4 minutes and 57 seconds too long.
The spectacle of Clint Eastwood playing a romantic lead is downright surreal, an effect magnified by the fact that he affects many of his Dirty Harry mannerisms; the film derives as much of its suspense from Dave/Clint’s long-in-coming explosion as does from Evelyn’s psychosis. Jessica Walter is quite strong as Evelyn, so much so that the role (much like that of Andrew Robinson, who played the psycho in DIRTY HARRY) came to define her career—notice that despite a busy television career she hasn’t done much else of note in the ensuing decades.
PLAY MISTY FOR ME
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer: Robert Daley
Screenplay: Jo Heims, Dean Riesner
Cinematography: Bruce Surtees
Editing: Carl Pingitore
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, Jack Ging, Irene Hervey, James McEachin, Clarice Taylor, Donald Siegel, Duke Everts, George Fargo, Mervin W. Frates