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Play Misty for Me (Special Edition)
Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) is on the cusp of a major life change. After a period of philandering and fooling around (no doubt partially facilitated through his minor celebrity status as a late-night jazz DJ in the small California coastline town of Carmel-by-the-Sea), he's considering not only a career change (with his resume out to a TV producer), but also thinking about his ex-girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills), who left him and cut off contact because he couldn't stay faithful to her. The good news is that Tobie reappears, and is willing to consider reconciliation; the bad news is that she appears after Dave has what he believes is a one-night stand with Evelyn (Jessica Walter), who has been calling into his radio show anonymously, asking him to play Erroll Garner's "Misty." Evelyn seems nice at first, but quickly becomes possessive and then deranged, with a mind to making sure nothing comes between her and what she believes is true love.
Although he had already become a Western icon in Sergio Leone's Man With No Name trilogy and the TV series "Rawhide," 1971 has to be one of the most important years in Clint Eastwood's career. He put out three movies, each of which was important for different reasons (and all involving the help of his close friend and key collaborator Don Siegel): he starred in the first of five Dirty Harry movies, kicking off one of his most iconic characters; he played one of his only outright villains in The Beguiled, deftly subverting his star image; and he made Play Misty For Me, the first entry in a celebrated directing career that continues to this day.
When Eastwood's ex-wife and fellow filmmaker Sondra Locke died in 2018, there was a renewed discussion about their ugly relationship, and it might be natural to approach a film like Misty with a bit of caution -- the premise's potential for misogyny would be high in anyone's hands. In execution, however, Misty (like much of Clint's '90s and present-day films) looks more like a thoughtful examination of masculinity, and possibly even of Clint's own persona or reputation. Much of the credit likely goes to Jo Heims, who wrote the treatment in the '60s and co-wrote the screenplay with Eastwood's collaborator Dean Reisner. It's fair to make the case that Evelyn is a caricature rather than a fleshed-out person, but that'd be missing the point: her obsessiveness and possessiveness serve to illustrate how little Tobie (the fully-realized and complex character) was actually asking of him, and how foolish he was to ignore it.
Eastwood goes into his first directorial effort with a somewhat playful attitude. While most of the film is shot fairly simply, with elegant compositions that don't call attention to themselves, he gives himself room to play around a bit as the film goes on. Three sequences stand out against the rest of the movie, in an unrefined but not unpleasant way. A lovemaking sequence with him and Tobie in the woods is arguably the film's most dated sequence, with shots of hands falling gently into the leaves, and a ridiculously idyllic image of Dave and Tobie embracing naked in the pool under a waterfall that has stuck with me for more than fifteen years. To be clear, it's not bad -- just so earnest it reads a little silly. Shortly thereafter, Dave and others attend the Monterey Music Festival, with the film briefly adopting a fly-on-the-wall documentary style. There is also a brutal attack sequence involving a knife that clearly takes some cues from Psycho, full of quick cuts and glimpses of brutality.
Clint has always come off as a modest director, often bringing things in ahead of schedule and under budget, and Misty was no exception. As such, any flaws with the picture are pretty minor. I'm not sure what Helms or Reisner were attempting to accomplish with the tension between Dave and McCallum (John Larch), the policeman who is assigned to Dave's case when Evelyn starts going off the deep end. At Eastwood's behest, the film was shot entirely on location, which looks fantastic but also means a great deal of the movie was looped, giving parts of the film a strange, disembodied quality. It's also inevitably true that, even with the screenplay taking the thoughtful route, there will be viewers who have complicated feelings with the film's climax, given the ways it intersects with Clint's real-life behavior. Still, Play Misty For Me is a surprisingly thoughtful, intelligently-made thriller that handily proves Eastwood knew what he was doing behind the camera as well as in front of it.
Kino has gone all-out on the packaging for Play Misty For Me, offering both a reversible sleeve and a matte cardboard slipcover. On the default side of the sleeve and the slipcover, they've used the original poster art that adorned Universal's old DVD, featuring Eastwood on the bottom half of the image, lying in bed but looking panicked, with Walter's screaming face and an arm brandishing a knife in the upper half. On the reverse of the sleeve, there's a more abstract approach, with Eastwood's face in pencil illustration on a green backdrop. The red silhouette of a knife covers one of his eyes, and inside it are full-color, painted illustrations of Walter, two characters lovemaking, and a body with a knife in it. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Like The Beguiled, Play Misty For Me has been given a brand new 2K master for this Kino Blu-ray, which looks very nice. Universal previously issued the film on Blu-ray in 2015, and it was one of their more adequate catalog efforts, but this new scan improves on it, strengthening fine details, restoring the texture of the photography, and adding vibrancy to the color palette. Grain is extremely fine, almost invisible during the daytime scenes, but there is still a pleasing filmic texture on display. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and it is also quite nice, capturing the dialogue, jazz music, and sound effects with relative ease. As mentioned in the review, and covered multiple times in the extras, the film was shot on location in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and one of the resulting effects is that much of the dialogue is looped. It creates a certain kind of dissonance, but it is part of the movie. English subtitles are also provided (and, after a few discs with flawed captioning syntax, I noticed no errors).
Universal's 2001 DVD release was one of their Collector's Editions, and all of the extras from that disc have been ported to this new Blu-ray. They include the very nice Laurent Bouzereau retrospective documentary "Play It Again...A Look Back at Play Misty For Me" (49:22), "The Beguiled, Misty, Don and Clint" (6:12), the photo montages "Clint Eastwood Directs and Acts" (2:02) and "The Evolution of a Poster" (2:37), and a standard photo gallery (3:54).
On top of this, Kino has produced some substantial, brand-new extras. Historian Tim Lucas has provided an audio commentary for the feature film. This is a detailed overview of the history behind the production and the people involved with it, all exhaustively researched and carefully arranged by Lucas. Although he fills the vast majority of the running time, Lucas is a little more laid-back than some other historians hired by Kino (an observation, not a criticism), slipping in a bit more personal assessment than I tend to hear on tracks like this. Next, there is a new interview with co-star Donna Mills (11:30). This opens with a warning about the video quality, as it was shot over video chat during quarantine, but, as the note says, it doesn't affect the quality of the interview itself. Mills was also interviewed for Bouzereau's documentary, and she covers some of the same ground, but also provides some additional details about her process, about her limited prep time, the way the people of Carmel treated Clint, and attending the premiere. Last, but definitely not least, there is a massive video essay by film historian Howard S. Berger (1:13:24). This is an incredibly deep dive into the film's themes, as expressed through visual or conceptual symbolism. Berger is a very eloquent speaker and the essay is put together with a light, polished touch. There are a handful of details he mentioned that feel like a stretch (YMMV) or are more coincidence than concept, but the vast majority of his assessment of how the three primary characters complement and reflect each other, and his compilation of tiny details and choices that support the overall portrait the film paints of said characters and their conflict are very interesting. It's a long haul, but well worth a look.
Under the special features menu, Kino has included trailers for High Plains Drifter, Breezy, and The Eiger Sanction. Two original theatrical trailers and two TV spots for Play Misty For Me are also included. Lastly, there is also a Trailers From Hell on Play Misty For Me (2:07), featuring filmmaker Adam Rifkin.
The years have been kind to Play Misty For Me. In the Bouzereau documentary, Clint mentions that he was drawn to Heims' treatment because it wasn't something he'd seen much of. Now, years later, the stalker thriller is commonplace, and yet Misty remains one of the genre's most thoughtful and well-made examples. Kino's Blu-ray is equally impressive, taking a movie that already had an okay A/V presentation and a strong supplement package and improved on both halves. Highly recommended.
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