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Play Misty For Me

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 98 mins . M15+ . PAL


It’s 1971, and after making a name for himself as a leading man and action hero in the Sergio Leone westerns of the late sixties, Clint Eastwood turns to drama and the Don Siegel film The Beguiled to win himself new roles and expand his audience. Through Siegel (now a good friend), he finds the connections he needs to finally pursue his other ambition – directing. And so, later the same year, Universal agrees to let Eastwood direct a film written by another of his close friends Jo Heims. The film, Play Misty for Me, is an ambitious first outing - a suspenseful thriller of psychotic sexual obsession. The film goes on to great success and helps re-launch Eastwood’s career - now both behind and in front of the camera. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dave Garver (Eastwood, with help from sizeable sideburns) is a suave disc jockey for a small radio station in Carmel, California. With a radio show that boasts jazz, poetry readings, and that raspy Eastwood voice, Dave’s show is popular and he enjoys a reputation as a bit of a ladies man. It’s little wonder he has some devoted fans, and most nights he receives a request to play the Erroll Garner classic “Misty” from the same sultry female voice.

One night the sultry voice approaches him in his favourite bar, and turns out to belong to a sultry young woman, Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter). Intrigued and more than a little flattered by her blatant infatuation, he ends up driving her home and – you guessed it - stays the night. Despite agreeing that their one-night-stand was 'no strings attached', in no time at all Evelyn seems to be everywhere – at his house, at the bar, even at the station. At first Evelyn seems harmless enough, but soon Dave’s life descends into hell as he is slowly suffocated by her constant need.

"You’re not dumping me buster blue-eyes!"

Just as his cool demeanour begins to crack, Dave’s old girlfriend Toby (Donna Mills) returns to town, having left him without a word four months previously. Realising that he loves Toby, Dave is overjoyed at her return and is soon begging her forgiveness. But his return to Toby enrages the emotionally unstable Evelyn, who is seemingly only a gnat’s chuff short of psychotic bitch from hell...

Being his directional debut, there was always going to be scrutiny of Eastwood’s efforts, and he acquits himself very nicely indeed to produce a surprisingly effective thriller. There is more than a little Hitchcock in the tone and construction, and the dramatic pacing is perfect, slowly revealing the horrible truth about Evelyn as the film approaches its climax. Having promised Universal to complete the film for less than a million dollars using natural locations instead of studio-sets, Eastwood took full advantage of the scenic Carmel area and the resulting cinematography is excellent. The film is not without its faults – at the end of the second act the film drags somewhat with two drawn-out montage sequences designed to lull the viewer into a coma before the final climax – but as a whole, the film works beautifully.

Ultimately, the film’s success lies in its cast – in particular Jessica Walter, whose portrayal of the schizophrenic and totally psychotic Evelyn contains the perfect balance of charm, raw sexuality, and need. Clint is also strong as Garver - a man who, realising suddenly what it is that he wants from life, is powerless to control the sword of Damocles dangling treacherously over his head. The supporting cast is just as strong with the then newcomer Donna Mills giving a reasonable performance as Dave’s old flame, and Clint’s sideburns acquitting themselves admirably. There is even a small part for the man who made it all possible - Don Siegel.


Universal have presented us with an anamorphic transfer of Play Misty for Me, at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and supplied on a single-sided dual-layer disc. With the film now over 30 years old, the video quality is quite variable, with shadow detail and black level being the main problems. Shadow detail fares rather poorly throughout. Black level is at times perfect, and at times exhibits a terrible bluish tinge and crawls with low-level noise. This is especially true of those scenes that are obviously shot day-for-night. On the whole, colours are well rendered with good skin tone and strong bold hues in those scenes that are well-lit. In others (lower-light or outdoor scenes) the colours seem just a tad washed out.

Sharpness is generally good, and at times detail is plentiful – especially in the foreground shots. However, detail is also variable, and backgrounds often lose out - on a few occasions affected by compression shimmer. This is especially true during panning shots. There are also several instances of moirč, mostly on dense foliage (pine trees) and coarse grass.

On the positive side the print, whilst retaining some specks, scratches and hairs, is pretty bloody clean given the film’s age and the minimal number of film artefacts are never distracting. The layer change, when it comes at 1:04, is almost imperceptible.

All in all this is a reasonable job from Universal, given the film’s age, but one that's positively screaming for a remaster.


In terms of audio, Play Misty for Me is presented with its original mono soundtrack in English, French, Italian and German. Needless to say there is no surround or subwoofer activity, but the movie still sounds perfectly reasonable. Despite a mono presentation, the dialogue is always clear and distinct, and there’s no hiss, pops or clicks.

The soundtrack itself is fairly minimal, with silence used extensively to build the tension rather than using dramatic scoring. The film does carry a soft signature tune, but most of the music in the film is gentle jazz, supplied by the radio that plays softly in the background of most scenes. By far the most distinguishing feature of the soundtrack, however, is a distant, rolling surf (Dave's house is by the sea) that provides the film with a constant heartbeat and adds to the tension very effectively.

In summary, Play Misty for Me provides a soundtrack that's very unassuming, but one that's in keeping with the film's age and that provides a great compliment to the film.


After a nicely animated introduction, the anamorphic menus are static with the film’s minimalist theme playing behind. Universal have compiled a fantastic bunch of extras for this 30th Aniversary Collectors Edition that, despite lacking a commentary by Eastwood, easily makes up the slack:

  • Play it Again... A Look Back at Play Misty For Me: Presented in full frame, this nearly one hour long retrospective documentary regarding the making of the film is definitely the show-piece of the disc’s special features. It provides a great insight into the film’s production, with cast and crew interviews (featuring all of the key cast members), and interspersed with clips from the movie and behind the scenes stills. Comprehensive in its coverage of the film, Clint talks about most of the issues he would have brought up in a commentary track.

  • The Beguiled, Misty, Don and Clint: A six minute retrospective discussion by film critic Richard Schickel, with looks at the similarities between Clint Eastwood and Don Seigel as directors, the influence of Don on Clint’s career, and the part The Beguiled played in Clint’s career. The similarities between The Beguiled and Play Misty For Me are also discussed, focussing on the similarities between Clint’s character in both films. Clint also supplies a few remarks on these subjects, as well as reminiscing on their relationship as collaborators and friends. Presented in full frame, with a good transfer compiled from video interview source, production stills and snippets from the various films.

  • Clint Eastwood on DVD: A short snippet (1min 20secs) of interview footage is presented in full frame, in which Clint waxes lyrical on the virtues of the DVD format.

  • Photo Montage: A montage of 46 publicity and other still photos from the production, including wardrobe and publicity shots. All three stars, Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter and Donna Mills, are featured

  • Clint Eastwood Directs and Acts: A montage of 24 still photographs from on-set showing Clint Eastwood performing his directorial duties behind the camera. Presented in full frame.

  • Evolution of a Poster: A montage of 31 stills showing the progression from photographs of Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walter through various artwork concepts to the chosen film poster design. Presented in full frame.

  • Theatrical Trailer: Full frame and of reasonable quality, although the print is a little dirty.

  • Production Notes: 11 pages of interesting notes on the production, locations, Eastwood’s direction and the success of the film.

  • Cast and Crew Biographies: Comprehensive biographies of the film’s stars (Eastwood, Walter, Mills) as well as supporting cast members John Larch, Jack Ging, Irene Hervey, James McEachin and Clarise Taylor.

  • DVD-ROM Feature - InterActual Player: When you slip the disc into your DVD-ROM drive, you are prompted to install the InterActual DVD player. This player gives you access to a slightly different view of the disc than that offered by conventional players – not better, just different (different menus for example), and provides easy access to web links and other DVD-ROM content.

  • DVD-ROM Feature – Script to Screen: The main reason to actually install InterActual is to gain access to an absolutely fantastic ‘script to screen’ feature that plays scenes from the film in a small window beside a scrollable text version of the script. Fantastic!

I think you’ll agree – a fine collection, and worthy of the DVD purchase price itself. We again see the appearance of those nasty Universal menu icons, but with such a stellar disc I don’t think I should mention them (oops).


If Hitchcock thrillers disappoint you because they feel a little dated, then chances are Play Misty for Me will feel a little dated too. However, Eastwood's directorial debut is an entertaining sexual thriller that contains some great performances from a solid cast. It should appeal to movie lovers, Eastwood and genre fans alike.

Universal have gone all out for the release of this Collector's Edition, with more extras than you can poke a kitchen knife at. Providing a great insight into the film and Eastwood the man, these extras are worth the cost of the disc alone.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1271
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      And I quote...
    "...more extras than you can poke a kitchen knife at."
    - Gavin Turner
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