Fans are fickle strangers whose comings and goings should not surprise the artist, whether that is monumental box office draw Clint Eastwood or the small-time disc jockey he portrays in his directing debut. Play Misty for Me is an odd turn for Eastwood. Not least because his efforts before this do not showcase him as a man easily disturbed. That tough as nails western hero is not easily pushed to the boundaries of fear, yet Play Misty for Me shows that weaker side to him. Every protagonist has his or her downfall, and what Eastwood does in his debut is lean into his fears and his problems on a personified, expressive level.
A slow descent is shown by Eastwood. His smooth-talking disc jockey, Dave, is as cocky as he is creative. A knack for radio is one thing, but what he shows in the directing chair on his first time is impressive. His sense of pacing and style is comfortable and at ease, if a little jagged when the later elements of the film are meant to construct terror in a fearless man. Erroll Garner’s hit track, Misty, is the crux for this stalker and her radio obsession. Jessica Walter brings that to life incredibly well, a superb leading role that matches the charisma of Eastwood easily. It’s the possession of passion that these two tackle, with interjections and veiled criticisms of the bachelor lifestyle from those around them. Dave is warned by many, from friends to strangers, about the dangers of Evelyn. James McEachin best of all, but it takes time for his character to develop.
Dave is confused, certainly, but he could explain himself better. Interjections and awkward moments between himself and Evelyn give time to these characters and their development. Eastwood captures that with simplicity. Shot-reverse-shot, tracking cameras as they stumble through some guilt-ridden, clunky sets. Play Misty for Me has an iconography that screams out for the last remnants of 1960s architecture and design but does nothing with it. It is so infused with the characters that it becomes a natural element of their personalities, rather than a topic Eastwood wishes to discuss or even give much time to. His focus is simple and clear, a cat and mouse game where we’re not sure if Dave or Evelyn is the dominant force.
Tonally mistifying, and a tad all over the place. Eastwood’s debut feature is not bad, but there is a collision of themes far too often. He cannot wrangle the beasts he creates, and seeing them fight for the spotlight is nothing of real interest. Brief flings and sudden encounters mould the horrors and chilling moments well, but they are meant to ricochet around the star power Eastwood holds. That much is clear, and even fun at times, but Play Misty for Me staggers around with little else to do. It is the back and forth of a romantic film until the twist takes hold. There are few moments within that can convince us that Dave and Evelyn are right for one another, which is why it is hard to take the film all that seriously when the script realises that too.