Growing up, my mother and I didn’t watch many movies together. We just didn’t have the same taste. And as much as she will blame my cousin for my love of horror, she was the one who introduced me to some of the finest creep shows of all time. It was my mother who showed me classics like The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and this cinema classic on which I choose to focus now, Play Misty for Me.
By today’s standards, Play Misty is fairly tame. The story surrounds the sordid love life of radio DJ, David Garver (played by screen veteran, Clint Eastwood, in his prime). Eastwood not only stars, but this was his directorial debut as well. The movie was released in November of 1971, so it begins with a cheesy, pop instrumental of the day with wide-open shots of David driving down a California highway—a young, carefree lothario.
Every night during his shift, a woman calls the radio station and requests David to play “Misty” for her, which he always does. At the end of his shift, he stops by his neighborhood bar for a nightcap. There he meets a woman with a familiar voice and takes her home. During their conversation, it becomes obvious that she is the “Misty” girl. Of course, they end up spending the night together.
The next morning, as David leaves her house, Evelyn (played expertly by Jessica Walter, who you will recognize as the mom from Arrested Development), watches wistfully. It’s obvious that last night meant more to her than it could have possibly meant to him. In fact, later that day, Evelyn shows up at David’s house unannounced with an armload of groceries announcing that she’s making him dinner. He’s obviously annoyed at the intrusion and admonishes her lightly but lets her stay and again, they spend the night together.
As they say goodbye in the morning, cracks in her façade begin to show. The couple is talking next to Evelyn’s car and a neighbor yells out the door for them to quiet down as it is very early in the morning. She loses it and yells back telling the neighbor to screw himself and begins honking her horn. David chastises her behavior and she switches moods immediately back to sweet Evelyn.
It’s about this time that we’re introduced to Tobie (Donna Mills), who David is really interested in as more than a fling. Tobie has just returned from some time apart from David after she found out about his cheating ways. He is doing his best to win her back and while she is apprehensive, she seems to be falling for it. Too bad for Tobie.
Evelyn stalks David at his favorite bar and is waiting for him in his car when he leaves. They get into a physical altercation where she once again shows her true colors to some bar patrons who try to come to her aid. David is beginning to see her instability and drives off, leaving her at the bar. Of course, she shows up at his house later that evening wearing nothing but a fur coat, and he lets her stay the night. Not a quick learner, that David.
It’s now that Evelyn begins ramping up the crazy. She begins calling David at the radio station swearing her love for him. She makes demands that he stop by her house after the show, which he does. She has purchased him a new pair of shoes and makes a reference to Madame Butterfly (also referenced in the classic film, Fatal Attraction) and tries to put the shoes on him. He gets spooked, they argue, and he tells her in no uncertain terms that they are not in a relationship and he doesn’t want to see her anymore (finally). She begins screaming and attacking him but by the time he returns home, she’s calling him begging him to come back because she loves him so much and can’t live without him.
The next day, David has a date with Tobie. They’re having a nice afternoon laying on the beach when the camera pans up and we see Evelyn watching from the bushes. She later arrives at David’s place and accuses him of cheating on her. Another argument ensues and she screams, “Why do you keep pretending not to love me?” He begins to try to take her home and she locks herself in the bathroom and slashes her wrists. He finds her and calls a physician friend to come and take a look at her. He ends up breaking a date with Tobie to stay with Evelyn while she recovers from the ordeal—again, sending mixed signals.
The women in David’s life soon become targets for Evelyn, and when I say “the women”, I mean no one is safe. David has a business lunch with an older woman and Evelyn shows up calling the woman all sorts of ludicrous names, ruining the business deal that was going so well. Even David’s cleaning lady is in danger when she shows up for her regular shift and finds that the house has been trashed by Evelyn who immediately begins slashing her with a butcher knife for no apparent reason other than she is inside David’s home. She is arrested for this and sent to a psychiatric hospital. Seems that David can now move on in peace with Tobie—cue the ‘70s love montage.
Of course, this happiness is short-lived when Tobie announces that she has another new roommate (a strange theme in the course of the movie is that Tobie has a revolving door of roommates) named Annabelle who will be moving in shortly. At about the same time, David is contacted by a detective who says that Evelyn has been released from the psych ward. Coincidence? David asks the detective to go check on Tobie at her house since he is at work, and the detective finds Evelyn there. She quickly disposes of him.
I won’t ruin the ending for you, but it isn’t far off from the way Fatal Attraction expertly played out a version of the same storyline in 1987. And Jessica Walter is every bit as creepy and unhinged as Glen Close’s character, Alex Forest. Play Misty has some tortured dialogue and the acting on Clint Eastwood’s part is not always worthy of his iconic stature, but the film is a fantastic psycho-killer thriller that shouldn’t be missed. In fact, why not make it a double feature with Fatal Attraction as a follow-up?