Play Misty for Me (Clint Eastwood, 1971)

Pretty terrifying, and almost exclusively because of Jessica Walter’s acting. An Ally-like obsessive psychopath to be sure, but I like how little to no effort is made to explain, say, her past or any other reason for that madness. All we see is a quirky but cute girl who mixes an impossibly innocent/childlike smile and laugh with terrifying verbal outbursts and a surprising sexuality that contrasts completely with that innocence at the drop of a hat, all of which gradually descends into outright mania when she becomes more and more obsessed with Eastwood’s radio DJ Dave the more he pushes her away. The mystery as to why she’s so crazy makes the crazy that much more interesting. Eastwood doesn’t do his film any favors with his acting, with the same whispery/raspy voice as his Man with No Name just not really fitting in contemporary California, other than seeming custom-made for a radio show. However, look for instance at the odd little Adam and Eve, Roberta Flack interlude that sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the Jessica Walter-centric suspense, as Eastwood and his girlfriend feel safe at last and make love in the woods. The whole time during this long, drawn-out sex scene, I was expecting Clint to lean his head down and kiss his girl, only for him to lift his head up and for us to see that it’s suddenly Jessica Walter, and then he wakes up all sweaty in his bed. That never happens, which arguably makes this scene out of nowhere seem even more out of place, but at the same time, I applaud Eastwood for refusing to use the long-unoriginal it-was-all-a-nightmare gag. In fact, that I was expecting something terrible to happen in this scene of utter idyll is testament to how Clint, directing a film for the first time, was able to combine a truly creepy performance out of Jessica Walter and a simple yet incredibly effective air of suspense (combining ‘is she watching him just off in the distance?’ stretches with sudden moments of jarring, shaky-camera, exploitative violence) to keep your attention from start to finish. Eastwood’s transition of power from the front of the screen to behind it made a great beginning here.

8/10

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