As the sun sets over the scenic coastal town of Carmel by the Sea, resident disc jockey Dave Garver reports for his evening shift at KRML -- an easy listening jazz station, where Garver (Eastwood) spins records and reads poetry for all the hopeless romantics and lonely hearts listening out there in the ether. And his shift has barely begun before getting his first request of the night over the phone; a woman, who wants to hear the song “Misty.” And as Garver spins the Erroll Garner classic, “Sweet” Al Monte (McEachin), whose rotation just ended, recognizes the caller as the “Little Misty” chick, who has apparently made this request of Garver more than once.
After his shift, Garver stops by his favorite bar, The Sardine Factory, for a drink on the house as recompense for plugging the joint on the air -- even though this doesn’t appear to be helping that much; as aside from Garver and Murphy (Siegel), the bartender, the only other person present is a woman sitting alone at the end of the bar. Garver gives this pretty brunette the once over and likes what he sees, but Murphy says to forget it; she’s been waiting for someone all night, and everyone else who tried to pick her up has struck out swinging. Undaunted, Garver and the bartender play a little nonsensical strategy game with some expended corks, moving them around the bar like chess pieces, which draws the curious woman over, who introduces herself as Evelyn Draper (Walters). With that, Garver declares himself the winner as this was all a ruse to get her to talk to him.
Admitting she should be mad for being tricked but isn’t, Evelyn also declares she’s been stood up and asks for a ride home. At her apartment, these two make small talk, mix a few drinks, and start a fire, which they cozy up to. And even though they’ve never met, Garver feels there’s something familiar about this woman. Then, the truth finally comes out as Evelyn admits she only went to the bar because Garver plugs it on his program all the time, hoping to run into him. She also admits to being the woman who always requests “Misty.” And as some foreplay heats up, Garver hesitates, admitting he’s still hung up on a girl that got away. But Evelyn presses on, saying they’re just having sex, so why not? Which Garver, through his actions, answers, yeah, why not.
The following morning, Garver tries to sneak out on this one-night stand but is caught by Evelyn, who is essentially brushed-off with a promise of a phone call that will probably never come. Later, Monte stops by Garver’s hep bachelor pad -- which truly is amazing, hoping his buddy will join him later for a double-date. Garver declines, saying he’s both too busy and doesn’t have date to hold up his end. But Monte begs to differ as Evelyn suddenly shows up out of the blue with a couple bags of groceries.
Once his friend leaves, a confused Garver is none too happy as the woman makes herself right at home in his kitchen. When asked about waiting for that phone call, Evelyn begs him not to be mad or send her away. She only wanted to surprise him -- and not to worry. She’s not interested in a relationship, just some “sloppy seconds.” With that, Garver lets her make dinner, steaks, rare, and the two have sex again. But once the deed is done, Garver escorts Evelyn to her car, and once more stresses this will be the end of it. Thinking he's just kidding, Evelyn laughs out loud, too loud, which draws the attention of a rousted neighbor, who yells at them for making too much noise, people are trying to sleep after all, causing the woman to viciously snap and scream a request for the man to go screw himself, and then lays into her horn before a startled Garver can put a stop to this egregious overreaction.
Later that morning, while driving in town, Garver spots a woman wearing a familiar sweater and hustles to catch up with her on foot; only it’s not his old ex-girlfriend like he thought but her new (in a long line of) roomate(s). And so, Tobie Williams is back in town after all, and Garver checks in at her studio to see where she’s been these past few months. Seems Tobie (Mills) both dumped and had been avoiding Garver over his constant philandering. At the time, Garver says he wasn’t ready to settle into a monogamous relationship, but he really digs Tobie and is looking for a second chance. And, hey, he’s even tried to curb his sexual escapades in a show of good faith. Except for that one groupie. Whom he slept with. Twice. Needless to say, Tobie is gonna need a few days to think this over.
Meantime, Garver doesn’t realize it yet but he’s picked himself up a stalker as Evelyn follows and spies on him everywhere. She catches him in a lie when she calls the bar, where Murphy claims he isn’t there even though Evelyn can clearly see her prey from the phonebooth across the street. And she’s waiting in his convertible when Garver leaves, and asks why he hasn’t called yet. She also has an answer for all of his excuses, swipes his keys, and plays keep-away. And while she thinks this is all a game, Garver is starting to get a little freaked out when two Samaritans try to step in on what appears to be an assault in progress, only to be called assholes by Evelyn, told to get lost, and move on, thinking it’s only a lover’s spat. Only it isn’t. At least not to Garver, who finally gets his keys away from her and flees the scene.
But this isn’t the end of it. Far from it, as Evelyn shows up in his driveway in a fur coat and not much else, and then quickly hustled inside when she loses the coat and reveals the not much else. The following morning, Garver awakens to an empty bed and a message scrawled on his mirror in lipstick: E.D. luvs D.G. and a note inviting him over for dinner at her place on Thursday. On the day, Garver confides his strange predicament with Monte, and how he can’t seem to get rid of this needy and smothering chick or make her understand the meaning of casual sex with no strings attached. But Monte, quite rightfully, isn’t all that sympathetic, saying Tobie is the real victim here, reminding his friend he who lives by the sword, will most likely die by the sword.
Garver, obviously, knows this parable is really about his dick, which he can’t seem to keep in his very fashionable pants. Later, Evelyn calls to remind him of their dinner date. Garver, who was going to blow her off, says he didn’t forget because there’s something he really needs to tell her and promises to dedicate “Misty” to her one last time before hanging up.
Of course, things kinda hit the fan when Garver refuses any food or gifts, and gets right down to business as he tries to explain to Evelyn they have no relationship and he never loved her despite what she thinks. Here, Evelyn loses it, screaming about the other bitch; the “bitch” in the picture frame by his bed. (For the record: it’s a picture of Tobie.) And as she continues to rant and rave, Garver washes his hands of the whole business and withdraws while Evelyn continues to scream at him, exclaiming how lousy he was in bed and what a bastard he truly is. But when he gets home, the phone is ringing incessantly. It’s Evelyn, apologizing for her outburst. She begs to see him again but he refuses and hangs up on her. She tries to call again, and again, and on the third time Garver unplugs the phone.
The next day, thinking Evelyn is finally behind him, Garver meets up with Tobie in the woods near the beach, where they hash out a few things, agreeing their break-up wasn’t all on Garver screwing around. Mostly, but not all. This “not all” has to do with Tobie’s ever-revolving roommate situation, which doesn’t really allow for any intimacy with a constant third wheel. But she can’t really do anything about this, needing the rent money to make payments on the house Tobie’s father left her. But the house is rather secluded and too far from town, explaining away why no roommate stays for very long.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the couple, Evelyn has been watching them, hidden back in the trees this whole time. And that’s why later that night, Evelyn barges into Garver’s home, figuring she’d catch the two of them in bed together and torpedo her rival’s relationship forever -- only Tobie, still undecided about Garver, isn’t there. And as an angered Garver gets dressed to take this psychotic intruder home, Evelyn seems to suffer a complete nervous breakdown as she collapses on the bed, sobbing and heaving, but then just as quickly snaps back out of it and agrees to leave on her own after she uses the bathroom to clean up her mascara scarred face. Garver agrees, but Evelyn tarries too long and won’t answer when he knocks on the door, forcing the man to break it down. Inside, the walls are covered in blood -- Evelyn’s blood, who, unable to cope with living without him, slit her wrists open in one last desperate act of unrequited love...
There’s an apocryphal story from the day both Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were simultaneously released from their contracts at Universal International in the late 1950s. Seems Reynolds was told he couldn’t act, and Eastwood just didn’t have the classic features of a leading man mostly due to his height, turkey neck, and perpetual squint. And as the legend goes, as the two friends said goodbye in the parking lot, Reynolds told Eastwood he’d be taking acting lessons but had no idea what his friend would do to solve his problems.
But Eastwood landed on his feet well enough, securing a role as the second lead, Rowdy Yates, in the long running TV western, Rawhide (1959-1965), when he was spotted while visiting the CBS lot by a studio exec who thought he looked like a cowboy. And it was during the show’s hiatus in 1964 when Eastwood traveled to Italy to star in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) as the Man with No Name, and then subsequently returned for For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
But it wasn’t until these three films got picked up by United Artists and released in the States throughout 1967, and the last entry went through the roof at the box-office, before Eastwood, now 37, went from an undistinguished TV actor to a bona fide box-office attraction almost overnight, following up this success with Hang ‘Em High (1968), Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), and Kelly’s Heroes (1970) before becoming a cultural icon with the role that would define his post-spaghetti western career, Dirty Harry (1971).
Along the way, this run of success gave Eastwood the leverage he needed to branch out into other aspects of filmmaking. Seems while making Where Eagles Dare (1968) and the oddball musical, Paint Your Wagon (1969), Eastwood grew irritated by the money he deemed wasted on the bloated behind the scenes productions costs for these big studio blockbusters. And wanting more creative control over his career, he decided to form Malpaso Productions with his long-time financial advisor, Irving Leonard, to make pictures his way, which produced and co-financed most of those successful action pictures already listed (-- all except for Kelly’s Heroes). This freedom also allowed Eastwood to stray out of his box-office comfort zone with The Beguiled (1971). And with the successful launch of this enterprise, it left Eastwood with only one cinematic ambition left unfulfilled, whose subject matter of psychological horror was even further out of his audience’s comfort zone in an effort to escape his current typecasting permanently.
Ever since his days of riding the range on Rawhide, Eastwood had the itch to direct. In fact, he was in negotiations to direct an episode in one of the later seasons of the sagebrush serial but one of his co-stars already beat him to this (-- I’ll assume Eric Fleming), who went way over schedule and budget, giving CBS immediate cold feet to let anyone else try. Still, the actor observed everything he could and learned the trade over the subsequent years, saying, "After seventeen years of bouncing my head against the wall, hanging around sets, maybe influencing certain camera set-ups with my own opinions, watching actors go through all kinds of hell without any help, and working with both good directors and bad ones, I'm at the point where I'm ready to make my own pictures. I stored away all the mistakes I made and saved up all the good things I learned, and now I know enough to control my own projects and get what I want out of actors."
And so, for his first directing gig, Eastwood looked to his past. Seems the actor had crossed paths with Joyce “Jo” Heims back in his Universal International days; back when Eastwood had bit parts in things like Revenge of the Creature (1955) and Tarantula (1955). Heims was a legal secretary at the studio back then with ambitions to become a screenwriter, and eventually found a modicum of success with The Girl in Lover’s Lane (1960) and the Elvis Presley vehicle, Double Trouble (1967). The two stayed in touch over the years and Heims showed Eastwood a treatment for a script based on her own experiences with an obsessive and dangerous stalker. Eastwood saw the potential and optioned the screenplay during his spaghetti western days but could never get it off the ground. Heims’ script would later draw interest from Universal as a possible vehicle for Steve McQueen and Eastwood happily released his option so his old friend could cash-in.
But the McQueen version fell apart at some point, making the script readily available when Eastwood signed a three picture deal with Universal in 1970, who pegged it for his next starring feature. And when Eastwood approached Universal’s head honcho, Lew Wasserman, about also directing the film he agreed on the basis Eastwood only be paid the director's guild minimum instead of his usual salary. At the time, Eastwood would've directed the film for free just for the chance but his agent at least got him a percentage on top of the scaled pay, which would actually cost the studio more when Play Misty for Me (1971) would prove to be a hit.
Like with Steven Spielberg, who directed Duel (1971) the very same year, and then followed that up with JAWS (1975), it’s really too bad Eastwood never really directed another horror movie because, turns out, he was really good at it as his debut garnered favorable comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock -- and rightfully so. The novice director showed a deft touch at building up a nice slow burn of rising tension and unease, which were punctuated with explosions of terror as Evelyn Draper slowly unravels mentally and her violence escalates physically as Garver realizes too late he’s been sleeping with an unstable schizophrenic -- my old Psych 101 textbook points to Borderline Personality Disorder, where one cannot regulate their emotions, leading to volatile outbursts, a lack of impulse control, and obsessive compulsions to deal with chronic loneliness, sadness, and anxiety.
And after Evelyn’s suicide attempt over his latest rejection, in perhaps not the wisest of moves, instead of getting the girl some professional help Garver tries to sweep this all under the rug just so Tobie won’t find out and calls in a favor owed by one of his doctor friends, who makes a house call, patches the girl up without reporting it (-- turns out the wounds were superficial), but advises to keep an eye on her. Here, Evelyn manipulates Garver’s guilt into cancelling an important date with Tobie to stay with her. But her uncontrollable jealousy continues to make Evelyn lash out, causing her to crash and ruin an important business meeting at a public restaurant between Garver and Madge Brenner (Hervey), the manager of a radio station in San Francisco, mistaking the older woman for yet another romantic rival and profanely rips into both of them until Garver physically drags her out of the restaurant, tosses her into a cab, and pays the driver to take her anywhere but here. When Garver returns to his table, Brenner is gone but his audition reel remains.
Meantime, after spying another meeting between Garver and Tobie, where Garver fesses up to everything, seemingly rejected again, Evelyn uses a key she secretly copied to gain entry into Garver’s house, which she subsequently trashes in a fit of rage, which escalates even further when Garver’s housekeeper, Birdie (Taylor), stumbles on the scene and the intruder savagely attacks her with the butcher knife she was using to carve up the furniture. Luckily, Birdie survives this assault because the neighbors heard her screaming and called the cops, who take Evelyn into custody. Garver is interviewed by a Sergeant McCallum (Larch), who at first thinks this is a domestic dispute, since the woman claims to be Garver’s girlfriend. Garver denies this, says the woman is obsessed and obviously crazy, he barely knows her -- slept with her multiple times, sure, but swears he never led her on and they have no relationship except in her fractured mind.
After the incident, Evelyn is committed for an extended psych-evaluation to see if she’s competent to stand trial, and Garver and Tobie work to patch things up with a startlingly effective silent montage sequence set to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” And Tobie, perhaps thinking Garver’s libido has finally been scared straight, takes him back. Months pass, their relationship solidifies, including an extended visit to the Monterey Jazz Festival, which Tobie has to leave early to welcome yet another new roommate. But just when things seem to be settled and life returned to normal, Garver gets a sudden jolt when Evelyn calls during his shift at KRML and request he play “Misty” for her. Apparently she was discharged, is feeling much better, is so over him, and is currently at the airport for a flight to Hawaii where a new job awaits, leaving him with a bit of poetry before she hangs up, reciting, “This maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by you."
And while Garver takes her at her word, and apparently forgetting about the pending assault case on his maid, later that night, he awakens to find Evelyn standing over him holding a knife but manages to bail off the bed before she plunges it into his vacant pillow. And for a brief second, Garver, and the audience, wasn’t sure if this was just a nightmare but the knife stuck in his bed answers this riddle. Evelyn is long gone before McCallum arrives, who brings news of Evelyn’s parole while awaiting trial too late. He advises Garver to change his locks, and they go over everything she said during their phone conversation but Garver can’t quite place the poem she quoted to him. Next, Garver warns Tobie that Evelyn is back and maybe they should stay away from each other until the police catch her. And to do this, McCallum arranges to have the call traced when Evelyn phones the radio station again, which both men feel she will certainly do.
Worried about Tobie’s safety, McCallum agrees to drive out to her house to check on her while Garver stays on the air as bait. During the next song, Garver calls Tobie to say McCallum will be stopping by. Tobie answers not to worry, she and her new roommate, Annabel, are doing fine. But when she hangs up, it’s revealed this Annabel is really Evelyn. But as Evelyn serves coffee and comments rather negatively on the portrait her roommate painted of Garver, Tobie finally notices the scars on her wrists ending the ruse. But it’s too late for her. Evelyn has a knife, and scoffs at her ignorance lasting this long. Back at the station, Garver finally realizes Evelyn’s verse was taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, Annabel Lee -- stress on the Annabel, and quickly calls Tobie. Evelyn answers, says they’re waiting for him, and hangs up.
At the house, Evelyn is eviscerating the portrait of Garver with a large pair of scissors. She then crawls over to poor Tobie, who is bound, gagged, and helpless as Evelyn uses the scissors to butcher her hair in preparation of Garver’s arrival. McCallum, of course, beats him there, but Evelyn is their to greet the detective at the door and buries those scissors into his heart, killing him almost instantaneously.
Thus, when he arrives at the darkened house, Garver finds the body first, then Tobie, still restrained, in the bedroom, who tries to warn it was all a trap before Evelyn lunges out of the darkness and stabs him repeatedly with a very large knife. And as this struggle continues throughout the house, and Garver sustains multiple stab wounds, the man rallies for one last punch, that sends Evelyn reeling through a sliding glass door, and over the balcony, for a long and fatal plunge into the surf below. And as Garver frees Tobie and they vacate the premises, we cut back to Evelyn’s body gently floating in the water and we tune into KRML, where Garver, on tape, dedicates “Misty” to her one last time.
Once the deal was made to make Play Misty for Me, Eastwood brought in Dean Riesner to further adapt Heim’s script to fit the characters and surroundings he hoped to employ. Eastwood had known Riesner since his days on Rawhide. In fact, it was another friend from this Rowdy Yates era, an editor on the show, who suggested adding a second love interest to the plot, making Tobie Williams all Sonia Chernus’ idea, to help balance things out.
It was Burt Reynolds who suggested Donna Mills for the role of Tobie, who had recently migrated to Hollywood from New York and wound up on an episode of Dan August opposite Reynolds, the star of that series, who saw something special there, showed his old friend some of her dailies, who agreed; and Mills landed the role and showed up for shooting having both never read for the part or met her director and co-star. Mills never quite made it on the big screen but on TV she was huge, starring in countless TV movies and a plum role as the queen bitch of the cul de sac in the prime-time soap, Knots Landing. And she was great. Here, she brings a wonderful trusting presence to the character that, alas, constantly gets her into trouble.
Initially Universal wanted another big name to co-star alongside Eastwood as Evelyn Draper, and really pushed for Lee Remick. But Eastwood had been impressed with Jessica Walter’s performance in Sidney Lumet’s The Group (1966), a female ensemble piece, which also featured Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett and Shirley Knight. Turns out Remick’s loss was the audience’s gain as Walter just kills it as the mercurial and venomous Evelyn. To her this is all a game -- the earlier scenes where she plays with Garver, teasing him, like a cat with a cornered mouse are amazing; but the character doesn’t comprehend the consequences of the havoc she wreaks. As with most psychopaths, the word “no” does not compute; and it’s her world and everyone else is just scenery to be manipulated or eliminated.
And as the film plays out, Walter steals the movie and Eastwood graciously lets her. There was some concern about the climax, with Eastwood hitting a woman, but I think at the moment Walter could’ve taken him and anyone in their right mind would’ve punched her under those dire and deadly circumstances. And that last shot of the movie, when Evelyn is seen floating in the surf, that’s not a stunt-woman or a body double. That’s Walter, taking one for the team.
Rounding out the minimal cast are solid character actors John Larch, James McEachin, and Clarice Taylor, who are essentially the three-headed comedy relief along with Don Siegel. Siegel, who had directed Eastwood’s last four pictures, had allowed his star to direct some second unit in all four and took many suggestions. And so, when Eastwood asked his mentor to play a bit part in the film and then hang around in case he fell flat on his face and needed a lifeline, Siegel happily agreed but knew Eastwood was ready and said as much. And the only sage advice Siegel gave Eastwood was to not slough off on himself -- he was the star after all, which caused Eastwood at least one sleepless night as the pre-production phase came to a close. The first scene shot was at the bar, where Eastwood made the nervous Siegel, who had never acted before, do eleven takes first, and then told the cameraman to finally put film in the camera.
Aside from pushing Remick, the one final sticking point with the studio was the choice of music. From the beginning, Eastwood had wanted to use “Misty” after seeing Erroll Garner perform at a music festival. Universal had hoped to use a song they already had the rights to and pushed Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” to save some money; but Eastwood stood his ground until the studio relented and paid the licensing fees. Eastwood would later cough-up $2,000 out of his own pocket to use Roberta Flack’s moving torch-song, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Some find the whole montage sequence where the entire song is expended to show Garver and Tobie reconciling their differences and consummate this second try, which was essentially all made up on the spot, to be intrusive or self-indulgent. Not me. It works beautifully and lets us know all we need to know without a single word spoken. The song was several years old and out of rotation at the time, but once the movie was released the single got back into circulation, where it eventually reached the top of the Hot 100 charts of 1971 and became an AM radio classic.
Aside from that, Universal essentially left Eastwood alone, allowing him to move the production from Los Angeles to Carmel, where Eastwood eschewed any sets and shot on location in real homes, bars, restaurants, and a radio station -- and filmed live at the Monterey Jazz Festival, turning multiple cameras loose to get the coverage he needed, which was something he learned while filming in Europe that added production value at minimal cost. And this move felt like a good choice as the sleepy little hamlet has a real fairy tale like quality to it -- as if something sinister lurked just beneath the carefully manicured surface.
Kudos to cinematographer Bruce Surtees, too, who, under Eastwood’s steady hand, utilized the locations splendidly and made everything look more intimate, more personable, making everything even more threatening. Also a shout-out to editor Carl Pingitore for the film’s outstanding montage sequences. We’ve already touched on the romantic interlude, but I also loved the scene during the climax as he crash-cuts between Evelyn destroying the painting and Garver racing to the rescue where not one single frame of film was ever repeated, ratcheting up the tension considerably.
In the end, Eastwood rewarded Universal’s trust by bringing Play Misty for Me in four days ahead of schedule and significantly under-budget. All the actors loved working with him, and there were a few tears shed when filming wrapped. The film was a success, Eastwood’s directing style of playing it loose with minimal takes was firmly established, and the rest was Hollywood history.
Which I guess leaves us with only a few lingering questions about the film. There was talk early in production to make Garver a married man but Eastwood felt that kinda torpedoed the suspense a bit as the protagonist gets caught in a deadly web of his own making. This angle was later covered in Fatal Attraction (1987), which kinda was a stealth remake of Play Misty for Me that bent over backwards to absolve Michael Douglas’s character of any real guilt for bringing psycho Glenn Close into his family’s lives after a one-night stand goes wrong. In Play Misty for Me, Garver kinda digs his own grave here.
Sure, at first he thought Tobie might’ve been out of the picture for good but his experiment with chastity was a total cluster. You get the sense that Garver has had sex with a lot of women, and a lot of groupies, over the years. And that’s why it’s kinda hard to call Evelyn the real villain of the piece. She’s mentally ill after all. So, my money’s on Garver’s dick. Because between you and me, Garver and those around him probably didn’t deserve any of this, but he totally had it coming.
What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow the collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 16 reviews down with 10 to go! Up Next: An Aztec Demigod resurrects in Manhattan and takes a bite out of the Big Apple.
Play Misty for Me (1971) The Malpaso Company :: Universal Pictures / P: Robert Daley, Jennings Lang / AP: Bob Larson / D: Clint Eastwood / W: Jo Heims, Dean Riesner / C: Bruce Surtees / E: Carl Pingitore / M: Dee Barton/ S: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, James McEachin, John Larch, Don Siegel, Clarice Taylor