Filmsite Movie Review
Play Misty For Me (1971)
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Play Misty For Me (1971), Clint Eastwood's first film as star and director, is a suspenseful, thrilling tale of psychotic sexual obsession (" invitation to terror..."), advertised with the tagline:

"The scream you hear may be your own!"

It was one of the first female stalker films, an early precursor to Fatal Attraction (1987). Jessica Walter convincingly played the part of a mad, assertive, and unpredictable female who insistently insinuated herself - with passionate jealousy, violence and rage - into the life of a womanizing man who was finally making plans to settle down domestically with his old girlfriend. The victim of the deranged psycho-slasher fan remained trapped, weak and fairly passive to the assaults on his life until the final few minutes of the film. It was a flipped paradigm and shift in gender power dynamics - reversing the normal pattern of a powerful and domineering man stalking a defenseless woman. The thriller carried on the tradition of strong females, in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Kitten with a Whip (1964), Pretty Poison (1968), and That Cold Day in the Park (1969).

Eastwood had acquired directorial knowledge and expertise from working with director Don Siegel in four contemporaneous films, including Dirty Harry (1971) (released in December), The Beguiled (1971) (released in March), Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), and Coogan's Bluff (1968). To save money on the film's production (with a budget of only $725,000), no sets were built for the picture, which was filmed entirely on location in Eastwood's hometown (over a period of a month), either outdoors or in existing buildings, including the landmark restaurant in Monterey, The Sardine Factory. Footage of the Monterey Jazz Festival was also briefly included in an interminable sequence that brought the film to an unintended halt. Some also criticized the film's mid-stream and trite, long romantic-musical interlude montage (to the tune of the hit song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" sung by Roberta Flack), reflecting Eastwood's early lack of experience in film-making.

[Trivia Note: In Siegel and Eastwood’s subsequent film, Dirty Harry (1971), when the character played by Eastwood's 'Dirty Harry' character chased a group of bank robbers early in the film, a San Francisco movie theater marquee advertised Play Misty for Me.]

The low-budget, R-rated suspenseful nailbiter (generally released to theaters in November 1971) was fairly well received by critics and by fans at the domestic box-office (with $10.6 million revenue).

Plot Synopsis

During the opening credits, there were beautiful travelogue-like coastal views (via helicopter) of Monterey Bay near the picturesque town of Carmel, California. The cool-talking, womanizing, all-night DJ on the jazzy, blues station KRML was mellow-voiced Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) (or "The Big D") who promised listeners "five hours of mellow groove" with sprinklings of poetry. He soothed his audiences each night with: "This is Dave Garver with a little verse, a little talk, and five hours of music to be very, very nice to each other by." He received regular requests to play "Misty" - the Erroll Garner jazz classic, from the same "groupie" - his # 1 fan - seductive listener/fan Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter). He would often give a breathy delivery when playing his musical dedications.

While relaxing with his long-time bartender-friend Murphy (director Don Siegel in a cameo) in his favorite local pickup bar, The Sardine Factory along Cannery Row in Monterey, Dave first met Evelyn face-to-face. They returned to his place for a no-strings attached one-night stand. Before sleeping together, he told her: "I keep getting the feeling I know you from someplace" - and realized she was the mysterious voice who always asked:

Play 'Misty' for me.

He told her she was a "very nice girl," to which she responded: "But who needs nice girls?" as they were about to kiss. He also confessed that he was "hung-up" on an ex-girlfriend, so they mutually agreed not to "complicate" their lives by getting seriously involved. She assented to having sex:

That's no reason we shouldn't sleep together tonight if we feel like it.

Soon after, Dave's blonde ex-girlfriend Tobie Williams (Donna Mills) unexpectedly returned from Sausalito to Carmel after 4 months away. She was struggling to make a living as an artist and sculptor. When they first spoke together, Tobie claimed: "I was trying to join the revolt against the representational. Didn't quite make that though. So now I'm just trying to play it cool. Not quite making that either." She had broken up with Dave (with a "whole Bette Davis, through-finished-kaput scene"). According to her effeminate friend Jay-Jay (Duke Everts): "I happen to think she could be a first-rate artist if her damned hormones didn't get in the way."

As the newly-reunited couple walked along the beach coastline, she was definitely uncertain about reigniting their relationship:

I just don't know if I'm up to it anymore....Those nights sitting and waiting for you to finish your program and come by. Nights when it would start to get late and I'd start to think: 'I wonder if he's run himself off a cliff or maybe he's run into a blonde.' There was a time when I started rooting for the accident, you know. I mean, if it was a choice between that and a blonde....I didn't wish you anything too serious. Just a couple of months in traction....You know, the thing I hate the most in the whole world is a jealous female and that's what I was getting to be. That's why I had to split. I was starting to be one of my most unfavorite people. I hated it. I know you did too.

She was concerned about his lack of commitment to her and his frequent womanizing, and he also confessed that he had become fed-up with her endless parade of roommates through her place, disrupting their privacy. When he suggested: "I can think of a thousand reasons why we should try again," she answered: "I've got about seven billion things to do."

Tobie: Four months in Sausalito is a long time. I am not gonna get back on that same old merry-go-round again...I need a couple of more days to try and figure out where I'm at.
Dave: Okay. You get your bearings, and then you'll give me a call, all right?

They would slowly begin to work out and rekindle their love.

In the meantime, he believed his one-night stand with Evelyn was just that - a one-night encounter. However, the increasingly-disturbing, overbearing and obsessive behavior of psycho-stalker Evelyn had already begun to exhibit itself. She had dropped in on Dave unexpectedly and uninvited (with a bag of groceries to cook dinner), and now, she stalked him at the Sardine Factory (by calling and then confronting him outside about lying regarding his whereabouts). Later that evening, she appeared at his doorstep and dropped her fur coat - revealing her nakedness (and she convinced him to let her remain overnight). The next morning, he noticed she drew a heart in lipstick on his bedroom mirror - with their initials.

When Evelyn assumed they had a dinner date (when he specifically told her he would call her first), Dave was frustrated with her and determined instead to have a "talk" with her. He was forthright about ending their relationship: "I'm just trying to be straight with you, that's all." During their telling conversation, Evelyn revealed her borderline personality problems and developing jealousy, distrust and anger - and he began to be increasingly terrified and upset by her. She gave six angry excuses and emotional outbursts for his coldness:

  • "I don't understand. Are you trying to say you don't love me anymore?"
  • "It's that other bitch, isn't it?"
  • "Big deal. 'He never lied to me.' Well, what do you want for that? The Congressional Medal of Honor?"
  • "What am I supposed to do? Sit here all dressed up in my little whore suit, waiting for my lord and master to call?"
  • "You're not dumping me, buster blue-eyes!"
  • "Get off your back? That's where you've been keeping me, isn't it? You're nothing! You're not even good in bed! I just felt sorry for you, that's all!"

After her tirade of yelling at him as he drove away from her place, she violently shouted after him: "Bastard! You poor, pathetic bastard!" Slightly later, she apologized by phone but he hung up on her. It wasn't long before the hysterical woman barged into his place again and promptly accused him of being unfaithful (after spying on him with Tobie) although she found no evidence of Tobie sleeping at his place. She was surprised that he was alone, and then Dave became furious and livid when she told him that she thought they had a 'relationship' together - he reacted with a vehement denial:

Evelyn: Oh, God, don't look at me like that, Dave.
Garver: I just don't know what to say to you.
Evelyn: I'm sorry I mistrusted you. I should have known you'd never do anything to spoil it.
Garver: To spoil what?
Evelyn: What we have between us.
Garver: We don't have a god-damn thing between us. Now how many ways am I gonna have to say this to you?
Evelyn: I don't care how many ways you have to say it, it's not true!
Garver: What do I have to do to convince you?
Evelyn: It's not true! Oh, it's not....Why are you playing these games? Why are you pretending you don't love me?
Garver: I don't even believe I'm hearing this.
Evelyn: But I-I love you!
Garver: You haven't got the vaguest idea what love is. We don't even know each other.

Feeling abandoned, Evelyn internalized the pain and attempted suicide by slitting her wrists in Dave's bathroom, and he was manipulatively forced (through Evelyn's faked guilt trip) to care for her for a few days. In the meantime, he missed a party date with Tobie. Evelyn took Dave's car into town to buy groceries, and while she was there, she secretly made a copy of Dave's house key.

When Dave left for a business luncheon, Evelyn didn't believe his 'excuse' and disrupted Dave's business meeting in a bay-side restaurant. She burst in and accused Dave of unfaithfulness - with white-haired Madge Brenner (Irene Hervey), an influential radio-station owner with whom Dave was seeking employment with an audition tape:

Well, isn't this cozy? So this is your business lunch? How's business?...Just another trick, honey!...Is that your idea of a dish? My God, she's a little old for you, isn't she? What is this? 'Be Kind to Senior Citizens Week?'

She called him "a tasteless bastard." Fed up, he rose from his seat, fought her off, and dragged her screaming out of the restaurant - creating a huge scene. He threw her into an awaiting cab as she reached out toward him, screaming: "I did it because I LOVE YOU, don't you understand?" When he returned to the lunch table, Madge had departed without his tape.

There were more signs of her increasing volatility - she vandalized and destroyed his possessions in his home. When Dave's black cleaning housekeeper Birdie (Clarice Taylor) arrived, Evelyn was in the midst of ripping up Dave's clothes in the bedroom. She was viciously slashed (sending her to the hospital on a stretcher). As a result, Evelyn was to be put away in a state sanitarium.

A long musical interlude montage sequence followed (to the tune of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" sung by Roberta Flack), when Tobie and Dave were reconciling their relationship and walking along the coastline. They found themselves embracing and making love in the nude in a heavily-wooded area. After she was released, Evelyn called Dave from a phone booth (telling him that she was in San Francisco) to request her nightly Misty tune, and claimed she was on her way to a new job in Hawaii. She profusely apologized and promised Dave that she was cured, and as she said goodbye, she quoted from Edgar Allan Poe's macabre 'Annabel Lee' poem:

Because this maiden, she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by you.

However, Evelyn was especially crazed upon learning (through spying) that he had resumed his romantic relationship with his ex-girlfriend Tobie. In a horrifying scene that night, Garver was awakened in the middle of the night in his bedroom to the sounds of 'Misty' being played (a close-up of the spinning record). Evelyn, now a possessive, obsessive, murderous psychotic stalker, appeared above him with a butcher knife ready to stab him - she missed but stabbed his pillow - leaving the knife in an erect phallic position. He evaded her and saved his life, but she escaped.

Dave informed police Sgt. McCallum (John Larch) that he had been terrorized: "She just paid me a visit with a butcher knife." He was told, after the fact - about Evelyn's release: "She was released on parole pending further legal action...a week ago." McCallum pressured Dave to remember Evelyn's exact words when she called him, especially the line from a poem that she had quoted. A plan was devised to have Dave remain at work, so that if Evelyn phoned in, her call could be traced to her location. As the tension built, Dave feared for his girlfriend Tobie's life, so Sgt. McCallum reassuringly agreed to check in on her.

In a chilling revelation, Tobie's recently-acquired new roommate emerged from the shadows in Tobie's living room - it was the crazed Evelyn (using the name Annabel - from Edgar Allan Poe's poem 'Annabel Lee' she had referenced earlier). And then Tobie saw her roommate's wrist-scars and realized who she really was. Evelyn menacingly picked up a knife and approached Tobie: "God, you're dumb!" At the exact same time at the radio station, Dave browsed through an Edgar Allan Poe poetry book and found the poem 'Annabel Lee' - he remembered Evelyn's use of the quote. To warn Tobie, Dave called her house, but Evelyn answered and said: "We're waiting for you, David" - to lure him to the house.

After switching to a pre-recorded taped show, Dave left the studio and raced to the house. At the same time in Tobie's house, Evelyn had tied her up as a hostage and terrorized her in the dark with a long pair of scissors, threatening to cut her hair:

Careful, I might put your eye out. I'll bet David loves your eyes. And your hair. Does he run his fingers through your hair? Have to get you all nice for David. For David. I hope he likes what he sees when he walks in here, because that's what he's taking to Hell with him.

In another truly scary and shocking sequence, as Sgt. McCallum approached the house, he was suddenly stabbed to death in the heart by Evelyn with the scissors. Dave arrived shortly later, found McCallum's dead body, and located Tobie bound and gagged on a bed where he was confronted by Evelyn from behind. He was again attacked and badly wounded by Evelyn. After being slashed numerous times, he punched her in the jaw, sending her through both the balcony window and the wooden railing and plunging her to her death, down a rocky cliff and into the ocean far below.

In the film's ironic ending, after staggering back into the house and while comforting Tobie, the radio was heard in the background playing an earlier recorded tape of Dave honoring Evelyn's request to play Misty:

And now here's a pretty one for lonely lovers on a cool, cool night. It's the great Erroll Garner classic, Misty. And this one is especially for Evelyn.

Evelyn's body washed away in the tide.