Remember that time when Archer’s mom tried to kill Dirty Harry? No? That’s probably because Clint Eastwood‘s 1971 directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, isn’t streaming anywhere—which is a shame. Misty kicked off Eastwood’s longtime habit of directing himself onscreen and is an effective little psychological thriller to boot.
Clint Eastwood stars in Play Misty for Me opposite Arrested Development‘s Jessica Walter. Eastwood plays a radio DJ named Dave Garver. Garver runs into a woman named Evelyn Draper at a bar and quickly finds out she’s the listener who calls into his radio station every night requesting that Dave play the jazz song “Misty.” Draper even admits she specifically staked out that particular bar knowing that Dave would be there.
Despite her slightly obsessive interest in him, Dave sleeps with Evelyn and the two begin to date casually. Wackiness Terror ensues as Dave tries to break up with Evelyn prompting the stalker to first attempt to take her own life and then the life of her crush. Jessica Walter gives an especially effective performance as the obsessive stalker, one which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Clintwood directed Play Misty for Me based on a screenplay originally written by former model-turned-secretary Jo Heims and further polished by Dean Riesner. Clint had been trying for years to direct his own movie, and when the opportunity finally came along, he pounced on it. “I’m at the point where I’m ready to make my own pictures. I stored away all the mistakes I made and saved up all the good things I learned,” Eastwood remarked at the time, reminiscing about the almost twenty years it took for him to finally helm his own film.
The film was shot in the California city Carmel-by-the-Sea at Clint Eastwood’s insistence. Play Misty for Me was originally set in Los Angeles, but Eastwood preferred Carmel. The city had a radio station the director could shoot as well as plenty of other locations, including bars and houses belonging to Eastwood’s friends.
Because it was Clint Eastwood’s first time directing, Coogan’s Bluff director Don Siegel hung around the set to help the fledgling director with any problems he might have. In return, Clint Eastwood put his former director and friend in the very first scene shot for Play Misty for Me. Eastwood, as a joke, made Siegel do eleven takes as Murph, the bartender, before shouting to the cameraman to put some film in the camera.
Clint Eastwood planned out Play Misty for Me so well that the director was able to finish his debut for $50,000 less than the $1 million he was given and five days earlier than scheduled. The movie was a financial success grossing over 10 times its budget at the box office. Critically, the film was met with positive reviews, with uber critic Roger Ebert going so far as to say in his review, “Play Misty for Me is not the artistic equal of Psycho, but in the business of collecting an audience into the palm of its hand and then squeezing hard, it is supreme.
In the years since its initial release, Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut has made its presence felt throughout the pop culture landscape, especially when discussing the ’70s. Dirty Harry, Keeping Up Appearances, 227, and That ’70s Show have all made reference to Play Misty for Me.
Even video games aren’t immune to Misty‘s viral nature. PS2 classic Grand Theft Auto III features a mission called “Drive Misty for Me,” a play on the film’s title. 2017’s Fortnite: Save the World also plays around with the movie’s title featuring a quest called “Slay Misties for Me.” The movie also shows up in a 17-minute song by Bob Dylan titled “Murder Most Foul,” though fans would be excused for not being able to decipher the words coming out of Bob Dylan’s mouth—especially 2020 Dylan.
Perhaps the biggest legacy left behind by Play Misty for Me is that of Clint Eastwood’s directorial career. Eastwood managed to parlay his success with Misty into a long and prestigious career that has included—according to the actor/director’s IMDb page—45 other films. Eastwood’s most acclaimed works like Unforgiven, Mystic River, and the one-two punch of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima have garnered the star countless awards and nominations in various categories.