Play Misty For Me

Play Misty For Me (1971)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch
Extras: Documentary, Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer, Still Photos, Production Notes, Talent Bios

By 1971 it was no secret to anyone that Clint Eastwood was a major star, an action hero, the guy with the cold stare and raspy voice poised to shoot the bad guys. What was unknown at this time, however, was that Mr. Eastwood could also direct. Thirty years later, Clint has directed over 20 pictures and picked up an Oscar for doing so ("Unforgiven"), all the while continuing to be a bankable star and a Hollywood legend. In honor of this anniversary, Universal Home Video has brought a special edition of the film that started his second career to DVD, the thrilling tale of obsession "Play Misty for Me."

Dave Garver (Eastwood) is a local and semi-known Disc Jockey for a jazz station in Carmel, California. Aside from spinning records and reading verses of poems in that cool, windy voice of his, Garver is also known around town as a bit of a lady’s man. Not that he gets around more than a moped or anything, Garver just isn’t the type to settle down. His previous gal Toby (Donna Mills) has been out of town for four months and has made no efforts to contact him. Thus, when he meets Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) at his favorite bar, he’s at first intrigued by the inherent possibilities with this new girl, the same girl it turns out, who calls him consistently at the station, always requesting the same song, "Misty." Knowing himself scores better than he’s apparently ever gotten to know anyone else, Dave makes it clear from the first date that he’s not looking to be tied down, just a good time. Evelyn not only accepts this ultimatum, but also agrees with it herself. Or so it seems.

A few days after their first date, who else but Evelyn barges into Dave’s house, groceries in hand and ready to make them dinner. Dave’s a tad taken back by this spontaneity and again expresses his desire to keep things loose, reminding her that most dates are made by using the phone first. Alas, Dave can’t help himself and winds up having more than dinner with Evelyn. Their relationship continues with these sudden bursts of impatience from Evelyn to see Dave. It soon becomes obvious that she’s a little too attached and has a potentially frightening temper. When Dave says it as clearly as he can that she’s making more out of their relationship than there actually is, Evelyn is more than upset and he thinks the point has finally been made and understood.

In the meantime, old Toby has showed back up in town and Dave quickly lets her know that he’s interested in renewing their relationship if she’s willing. Toby tells him she has to think about it first, wanting to know that if she agrees, she’ll be the only girl in his life and that he’ll be committed to at least attempting to have a normal relationship. Since normal is not a word that can be used to describe Evelyn, Dave assures her that that’s what he wants and what Toby will get. There’s just one thing the two former lovers don’t count on: the depth of Evelyn’s obsession. It soon becomes obvious that if she can’t have Dave, no one will. The last half of the film unfolds in a handful of surprises, a bit of bloodshed, and the finalization of one of the two relationships Dave has got himself involved in. What can a man do to escape the wrath of a woman scorned? Watch "Play Misty for Me" and find out.

Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut is a surprisingly effective thriller, a little more than influenced by Hitchcock, but nonetheless original enough in it’s execution to standout. The bulk of the movie’s success lies in the casting of Jessica Walter as Evelyn. Her role is a crucial balance of charm, sexuality, and sheer murderous obsession, and she pulls it off without a false step. The depth of her character unfolds at an elegant pace that allows the viewer to question her intentions without completely predicting where she’s headed by the third act. Eastwood is also strong as Garver, a man with obvious flaws who has gotten himself in a situation that even as cool as he is, has no idea how to handle. "Play Misty for Me" is a solid thriller that is only slightly dated by costumes, haircuts, and music, and is no doubt responsible for more than a few recent films that deal with stalkers and obsessive lovers. The only problems the film seems to have are two montage sequences, one which does little more than show off Eastwood’s own love for jazz, another that shows off his bare body, both of which are used to detract the viewer from the story enough to again be caught off guard by the suspense that follows, but instead overstay their welcome a bit, detracting from the movie altogether. They work in a way that is similar to the almost European style of the movie, yet seem completely out of context, using today’s thriller as a comparison.

Video is presented in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> on this DVD and looks fairly solid for a film thirty years old. There is no doubt whatsoever that the print could have been cleaned up, given a transformation, and looked way better than what we’re given, but unfortunately not every film is provided that opportunity. What we have is a bit faded and dull, with noticeable artifacts during many of the scenes that were obviously shot day-for-night. Skin tones are pretty good, however, and when strong colors are used they appear precise and bold. The print itself is in decent shape, with only a hint of its age showing every now and then.

Audio is presented in <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 and with mixed results. At times, I found the mix completely overbearing, having to ride the remote throughout to withstand the harsh screams and occasional song that just seemed way too loud for the rest of the film. Dialogue is clear and clean for the most part, though again, there were times where it seemed right on the verge of distorting. The use of surround effects are limited and the score is decent, if not mostly subdued given the relative theme of jazz in the film.

Where this disc excels is in the special features department, starting first and foremost with the forty-six minute retrospective documentary "Play It Again: A Look Back at ‘Play Misty for Me.’" Produced by the now infamous Laurent Bouzereau, the documentary covers all the bases from how the film got made, what it was about the script that Clint just had to direct it, Clint’s partnership with director (and bartender in the film) Don Siegel, and how Eastwood and others see the film now after thirty years of imitators. The documentary also features interviews with Jessica Walter and Donna Mills, who talk about their first big roles in Hollywood, what it was about their characters they liked, and what it was like working with Clint as a director and an actor. Always interesting, informative, and personal, this feature is a real winner. Be sure to keep your ears perked for an amusing quote by John Cassavetes regarding Clint’s movie and its relation to Hitchcock.

Also on board are two short featurettes entitled "’The Beguiled,’ Misty, Don and Clint," and "Clint Eastwood on DVD." The first further examines the friendship between Eastwood and the late Don Siegel, tracing their history in movies together, while the second is essentially Clint’s opinion of revisiting films in a new medium. Next up are three photo montages, all set to music and not dependent upon you and your remote to move the photos, which showcase productions stills, Eastwood directing or acting, and the evolution of the theatrical poster (the final poster and dvd cover, I should add, is awesome). All in all, nice little displays of archived material. Finally we have the theatrical trailer, production notes, and cast and crew bios. Also, look for an additional trailer in the Universal Recommends section. Those of you with DVD-ROM drives can further delve into "Misty" by reading the provided script.

"Play Misty for Me" is a more than competent thriller and a worthy debut of Clint Eastwood, director. While the film may seem a little tame by today’s standards, there are enough surprises and twists to hold your attention throughout, and a great scream of a performance by Jessica Walter. The audio and video show their age a bit more than I would have hoped for, but this is a solid DVD with excellent features, and comes as an easy recommendation.