Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, Jack Ging, Irene Hervey, James McEachin, Clarice Taylor, Don Siegel, Duke Everts, George Fargo, Mervin W. Frates, Tim Frawley. Otis Kadani, Brit Lind
Written by: Jo Heims, Dean Riesner, based on a story by Jo Heims
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 102
Date: 11/02/1971

Play Misty for Me (1971)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Jazz Wringer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In retrospect, it seems like a canny move for Clint Eastwood to make his directorial debut with a thriller. No one would attach any great weight to it, but it would be a chance for the future master to show his chops. Eastwood stars as a Carmel jazz disc jockey, Dave, who regularly attracts female attention. So he's not surprised when Evelyn (Jessica Walter) goes home with him for a night of passion. (She likes to call in to his show and request "Misty.")

When she starts acting strange and clingy, he tries to blow her off, but she won't get the hint. She keeps returning, apparently under the impression that she and Dave have formed some kind of permanent bond. Her activities being to take on a sinister quality, eventually becoming murderous, and everything she does somehow makes Dave look guilty.

The film would eventually offer plenty for Eastwood's detractors in the argument that he was a misogynist, but it's fairly clear that Dave is working hard to win the love of his life, Tobie (Donna Mills), and the fear-of-women idea is more of a subconscious jolt (the exact same idea worked in Fatal Attraction to enormous success). Regardless, Eastwood's camera is rarely misplaced, and he shows a talent for the thriller genre worthy of a comparison to Hitchcock.

Eastwood's mentor, Don Siegel, appears in a rather clever scene as a bartender, and of course, Eastwood shows great chunks of footage from the Monterey Jazz Festival. Poor Jessica Walter was so effective that she scared off most potential employers, but Eastwood had perhaps the greatest year of his career, with this, Dirty Harry and The Beguiled.

In 2020, Kino Lorber released a fantastic, restored 2K Blu-ray edition with gorgeous Monterey landscapes and inky, creepy interiors. Tim Lucas provides a new commentary track, and there's a Zoom interview with Mills. Film historian Howard S. Berger offers a video essay on the film, and there's a vintage 49-minute making-of documentary. A short featurette on the collaboration between Siegel and Eastwood is here (as well as on the new Beguiled Blu-ray), as well as trailers, photos, and lots of other stuff. Highly recommended.

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