Clint Eastwood's directorial debut was a curiousity, Play Misty for Me (1971) pitting petite Evelyn (Jessica Walter) against big tough radio jazz jocky Dave (Clint Eastwood).
A famously macho actor menaced by a knife-weilding psycho slasher half his size wouldn't seem to be the biggest source of suspense, but it goes far beyond the curiosity of being an early example of reversing the usual pattern for slasher films, which more often delight in having a big scary guy frightening & hacking up women.
It's the primary influence on, & better than Fatal Attraction (1987). Evelyn is a horrific banshee who'd scare even God, & Dave's quite rightly edgy & extremely sorry ever to have encouraged her obsession initially with his radio voice, ultimately with him.
It's a serious, well acted film, & for 1971, even rather graphic. I saw it when it was new & it left a strong impression on me. The second time I saw it many years later it was an edited version on network television.
I'd told my aunty how good it was & we watched it together. But by censoring & gutting it of anything that even hinted of the bloody, the build-ups led to nothing, & the film scarsely even made sense, & certainly didn't have a strong enough plot line to retain interest with all the punchlines excised.
On third viewing, this time of the unedited original, it's not a strong story, but it's well acted & suspenseful. Knife-weilding maniacs have gone so much further in the intervening decades that Play Misty for Me is no longer shocking, but it remains a fine thriller, reliant more on its direction & editing & acting than on the dialogue or plot. It remains one of Eastwood's better films, though not the equal of the psychologically twisted Tightrope (1974) which is Eastwood's darkest thriller.
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