I haven’t seen Play Misty for Me in many, many years. And I forgot a lot of it, so it was like a new experience watching it. I decided to rewatch the film for several reasons. The first is because recently Jessica Walter passed away and I wanted to watch one of her movies. The second is that this is the 50th anniversary and that seems crazy to me. And third, I wanted to see if Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut was any good. And to see about that last question I had… it doesn’t hold up. This movie is really only saved by Walter’s performance as she’s the only one who knows what kind of movie she’s in.
But before I get into her performance, let’s take a look at the story. The movie centers around a popular radio show DJ named Dave Garner (Clint Eastwood). Every night he gets a request from a mysterious woman to play the song “Misty” for her. After work he goes to a bar and picks up a woman to go home with. However, the woman, Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter), was intentionally there and tells him she’s the one who calls the station every night. Now, to anyone else, this would set off some major red flags. But Dave is so dumb that after hearing she has basically been stalking him, he has sex with her. This comes to bite him in the ass as now Evelyn won’t leave him alone. She finds out where he lives, she goes from happy to angry in an instant, she stalks him while he sees another woman with him, and eventually she tries to ruin his life. He tries to break off the relationship between them but it’s too late for that now.
You could say this film was the first to depict the female stalker character. While there were plenty of movies before this with crazy woman characters, this was the first one that plays into the fear of a vengeful, psychopathic, obsessive, female stalkers. Evelyn, at first, seems like the dream girl. She’s beautiful, smart, has a kind personality, and wants to be with the main character. But as she grows closer to him she reveals her true, demented self. Not only do we know that she’s been stalking him for, who knows how long, but she also flips her emotions whenever he tries to break it off with her. She barges into his house when he doesn’t want her to, she interrupts an important meeting he has with another woman because she thinks he’s cheating on her, and she goes from one extreme emotion to the other. Evelyn is the template for later female characters like this in other films such as Fatal Attraction (1987), Misery (1990), and Basic Instinct (1992).
And Jessica Walter’s sells the hell out of this character and how insane she is. Not only does she play up the feme fatal part in the first act so well, but she plays crazy really well too. Probably my favorite moment from her is when she, out of nowhere, visits Dave at his usual hang out spot. She tries to steal his car keys in order to get his attention. By this point in the film Dave is starting to get fed up with her obsessive behavior and tries to forcefully get his keys back. Two men interrupt the two and ask if everything is alright. To which Evelyn, who was playful a moment ago, yells angerly “Yeah, get lost asshole!” Dave, shocked, looks at her and she goes from angry to smiling again. It’s such a great moment as Walter is having so much fun with this character. And she only gets more nutty as she does some crazy shit like nearly killing Dave’s housekeeper and tries to kill herself to get his attention. Walter sells every emotion on display and I love her for it.
That being said the rest of the film is really uninteresting. Whenever Walter is not on screen, I kind of get bored by the movie because the other characters are dull. Dave has a love interest but she has no character or real agency outside of the climax. Dave is also a boring character as he has no personality outside of his job or his relationships with women. He’s also really stupid as he makes some of the worst decisions in any movie. Like, if someone told you they were stalking you, why would you sleep with them? Why wouldn’t you tell your girlfriend that this woman won’t leave you alone and that she might hurt you? Why doesn’t he file a restraining order against Evelyn? And why, after seeing that she is clearly insane, why does he continue to sleep with her? Dave is just a moron who should know not to have sex with crazy women. All of his decisions are ridiculously convoluted in order to keep the story going.
It also doesn’t help that Eastwood is an awful actor. The man could never act and he’s only good when he doesn’t talk a lot. That’s why he works in those Spaghetti Westerns, because he doesn’t talk a lot. And he’s really bad here as, being the lead, he has the most dialogue. But his line delivery and acting ability is so bad. The film isn’t directed very well either. I know this is Eastwood’s first film, and as he got older he got a lot better at directing. But this movie looks like it could have been shot by anyone from that era. There’s also a lot of filler and pacing problems. A good 40% of the film is Dave walking around the beach or the woods spouting out exposition of things we already know. And towards the end of the second act we cut to a jazz concert that plays out and it feels like the movie is stalling for time. By the end you feel like you’ve just wasted time in order to get to the climax which, I won’t spoil, but is also really stupid and slowly paced.
As an overall cohesive whole, Play Misty for Me is not a good film. It’s boring, has pacing issues, has a stupid main character, and a lot of it is too much explaining to the audience about things we know. But, if you want a reason to watch it, that reason would be Jessica Walter. She absolutely carries this film on her shoulders. She’s the best actor and whenever she’s on screen the movie picks up the pace and is enjoyable. Walter knows exactly what kind of trashy movie she’s in and she embraces it. She saves this movie from being a forgotten mess and her character would later create the crazy female stalker we see in most thriller or horror films today. Play Misty for Me sucks, but Jessica Walter does not.