The Screaming Mini: Play Misty for Me

The Screaming Minis are a new experiment in short (well, shorter) individual reviews, as way for us to talk a little more about the other movies of note we’re watching but without the involved, in-depth discussion delivered as a duo. The name comes from The Screaming Mimi, the 1949 pulp novel by Frederic Brown that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

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Play Misty for Me 
Director: Clint Eastwood
Released: 1971
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, and James McEachin
Running time: 102 minutes
Genre: thriller

Before it was an MST3K joke, Play Misty for Me was a effective thriller, and Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut to boot.

KRML DJ and all around happening ladies man Dave Garver plays smoov jazz and poetry all night, at least till it’s time for bar-hopping and lady-bedding to begin. One night he picks up Evelyn, who turns out to be more than he can handle. He picks her up–or vice versa?–at his hangout, the Sardine Factory bar. Once they’re at her place, Evelyn admits that she’s the voice in the night who frequently calls to request that he play “Misty,” and that she went down to the bar purposely looking for him. Though Dave makes a token statement to the effect of being “sort of hung up” on a “good girl,” when Evelyn makes the old “no strings” play, he goes for it without hesitation. He heads out the next morning, ready to go on to the next thing. Only, Evelyn’s intent on being the only thing.

She shows up unannounced at his place some time later, and when Dave tosses “no strings at her,” she lobs back with “seconds.” Conceeding the point, Dave takes a moment to educate her on the use of a phone and making plans, then succumbs to steak and wine … and free tail on delivery. When she leaves in the morning, she’s off his mind again, for his old flame Tobie’s back in town, the one that got away, and Dave makes a play for convincing her that she’s The One, his main squeeze, and that he’s done with all the others. “I haven’t exactly been the monk of the month or anything like that, but I have been making an effort,” he tells her. With Tobie back in, Evelyn’s out, and she doesn’t take kindly to it. Evelyn escalates her bids for attention with calls, gifts dropping by, dropping by in the nude, and so on. But though Dave tries to subtly explain that he’s just not into her, he’s also just a guy who can’t say no.

I can’t help but see this as a personal film for Clint, not just because it was his first, and his chance to do it right, but because well, it’s essentially an ideal him: Silver-tongued, big-haired Don Juan tooling around Carmel-By-the-Sea in his Jag roadster, living the life of the jazzy bachelor cocksman out and about at swingin’ joints, boozing it up with with with stalwart barkeep Murphy (Don Siegel, real-life five-time Eastwood director), knee-deep in rampant totty–but still TROO IN HIS HART to the one that got away–and literally driving women MAD. As a noted serial womanizer himself, it’s hard for Clint to escape comparisons to Dave Garver and his predatory nature.

Regardless, here we have a satisfying and savvy little suspense film (later ripped off by the reactionary Fatal Attraction). Evelyn’s escalating efforts are never too aberrant, but do convincingly ramp up the tension as Dave’s selfishness and self-indulgence further confuse her feelings. Despite charges of misogyny, Misty is anything but callous to Evelyn, who comes across as funny and sensitive–and not a little bit psycho. This is thanks as much to Jessica Walter’s scarily good performance as it is to Clint’s direction or Jo Heims’ story. Clint’s Dave is also nuanced, played as detached, irresponsible, and weak, and most of all, absolutely complicit in the destruction of a damaged woman. Whether he learns from it remains to be seen.

Misty does run a bit long, however, dragging when beefed up by indulgent footage from the Monterey Jazz festival, and during a decidedly embarrassing interlude o’ love set to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I Saw Your Face.” I cringed. The mise-en-scène is rather delightfully dated (I particularly dug the gold paint and Klute-esque shags), and though I loathe jazz, Gator Creek’s “Dirty Boogie” and some funky shocking lime titles over shots of Clint cruising down 101 make for one of my favorite title sequences. Anything but a vanity project, Clint’s directorial debut holds up forty years later, a low-risk thriller that paid high dividends.

The Screaming Minis: I Start Counting

The Screaming Minis is a new experiment in short (well, shorter) individual reviews, as way for us to talk a little more about the other movies of note we’re watching but without the involved, in-depth discussion delivered as a duo. The name comes from The Screaming Mimi, the 1949 pulp novel by Frederic Brown that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

i start counting the ways in which this poster deceives

I Start Counting
Director: David Greene
Released: 1969
Starring: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Simon Ward, Clare Sutcliffe, Gregory Phillips
Running time: 105 minutes
Genre: thriller

Another random recommendation from NFLX Watch Instantly, my watching I Start Counting was a happy accident. David Greene’s decidedly obscure 1969 kitchen sink drama cum thriller recalls the political and social realism of the Sixties while embracing the increasing permissiveness of European exploitation in the Seventies. I Start Counting follows Wynne (Jenny Agutter: Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London), a naïf Catholic girl adopted by a working class English family. In the absence of a paterfamilias, Wynne’s eldest brother George (Bryan Marshall: The Witches) is both father figure to her–and imagined lover. Surrendering herself to her incestuous infatuation, Wynne finds less confusion in the simple matter of her first love. Except that it’s not so simple. Wynne is fourteen and George is thirty-two. And her adoptive brother. And he’s got some skeletons in his closet. Oh, and there’s a serial killer stalking the area, and Wynne believes that George could be the culprit.

Greene makes every lovely image count. Wynne’s world is rife–RIFE!–with symbolism, such as the abandoned and soon to be demolished family cottage representing both Wynne’s and Britain’s pasts, and which she cannot stop visiting. There’s also the gritty suburban hell of the family now lives in, and the teeming streets Wynne and her best friend Corinne walk. Corinne is Wynne’s polar opposite, hiding her innocence beneath a brash facade, prancing about in miniskirts and loudly (and falsely) proclaiming her status as a non-virgin. Much as she clings to her beloved stuffed rabbit, Wynne clings to their sheltered schoolgirl world, but Corinne is eager to leave it behind. Their developing social and sexual agency is both threatening and a promise of a rich, albeit permissive future, and the adults seem ready to frustrate the girls at every turn. Wynne longs to protect George, and insists she loves and understands him, her affection only heightened by her suspicions as she conceals any evidence that might link George to the crimes. But Greene mocks the notion of feminine love as a civilizing force with both Wynne’s urgent yet impotent love and George’s own tragic personal life (no spoilers!).

Though dismissed upon initial release as being chiefly notable for featuring a seventeen-year-old Jenny Agutter in her underwear and masturbating (not that that isn’t notable), I Start Counting is deserving of reassessment, being less sexploitation slasher than enchanting, dreamy thriller. I thought it was a really lovely little movie, both charming and moving at times, but also suspenseful. Greene handles the element of suspense well, going places Shadow of a Doubt never dared, while perfectly capturing some of adolescence’s mortifications. It’s also a remarkable snapshot of the period; watch particularly for groovy brother Len’s record shop, a retro futuristic dream come true. Plus, a nearly naked Jenny Agutter, masturbating with a stuffed rabbit.

Some galleries of screencaps are up over at the PB&G Tumblr.

(In the absence of an available trailer, here is the opening sequence.)