Archive for the ‘Don Siegel’ Category

Play Misty For Me (1971)

By 1971, Clint Eastwood was a top box-office draw, having built his name on Westerns and war films.  PLAY MISTY FOR ME was Clint’s first film as director.  The first surprise is the logline:  A FATAL ATTRACTION style thriller about a radio DJ (Clint) who is stalked by an obsessed fan (Jessica Walter, now best known as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development, a fact which is sort of hilarious in context.)  A nightmare-romance movie.  That’s a long way from the action movies for which Clint was then, and is now still, best known.

Play Misty For Me (1971)

In PLAY MISTY FOR ME, Clint took a script written by a woman, Jo Heims — although Clint later had Dean Riesner, of DIRTY HARRY and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER fame, do some work on it — and essentially cast himself in the role of the victim.  It’s fucking fascinating.  Here is the definitive macho screen icon, choosing to play the traditionally female role.  Usually the psycho-killer is a man, and the pretty victim he’s obsessed with is a woman.  Here that paradigm is flipped.  Clint as Janet Leigh, Clint as Jamie Lee Curtis, and so on — this film exists in conversation with the thrillers of the past and the thrillers which at that point were yet to come.

Play Misty For Me (1971)

And of course it’s personal.  Clint sets the movie in his beloved Carmel and casts himself as a jazz DJ.  Those are personal touches.  The vibrant cinematography is by Eastwood & Siegel regular Bruce Surtees.  That scenery alone is worth the watch, even if you don’t agree with my championing of Clint’s work here.

Play Misty For Me (1971)

Play Misty For Me (1971)

I can see how another point of view might look at the villainization of Jessica Walter’s character as somehow less than feminist, but I don’t see it that way.  There’s way more feminism in this body of work than anyone is likely to pick up on. I think Clint is at the very least trying out some big ideas here, and whether or not you agree that he hit the target, it sure was a bold swing to make right out of the gate, accurately predicting the brilliant four-decade-long-and-counting directorial career that was to follow.

Play Misty For Me (1971)

Keep an eye out for the extended cameo by Clint’s mentor and DIRTY HARRY director Don Siegel — he’s really good in the part!

@jonnyabomb

P.S. Here’s the original trailer for PLAY MISTY FOR ME — that voiceover sounds a whole fuck of a lot like Orson Welles, don’t it?  That’s voice actor Paul Frees.  Brilliant.

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Masterpiece.  Masterpiece.  Masterpiece.  Masterpiece.  I almost don’t want to write about Unforgiven, not because it’s been written about to death but because I could write about it all day (and you’ve seen the length of some of the articles I write, so you can believe me.)  It’s one of my top five favorite movies, it is among the zeniths of arguably the greatest career in American movies, and it has what is in my opinion one of the greatest scripts ever brought to screen.

The truth is that almost anybody could have made a good movie with the script (originally titled “The Cut-Whore Killings”) by David Webb Peoples, but of course Clint was the best man for the job, because he brought the full weight of his literally-legendary cinematic persona to it.  He also brought out the humor in it, which is something I notice that people scarcely mention about Unforgiven.  Clint’s humor is such a part of his films.  Clint’s brand of humor is a light touch – gentle and breezy, so subtle you could miss it sometimes.  Why would you ever think that the guy with that squinty glare was joking?  It’s easy to overlook.  But you’d never care about William Munny’s friendship with Ned Logan, and you’d never feel the way you do about what happens to Ned and what Will does about it, if you didn’t have those light moments of humor that pass like gusts throughout the early going.

Unforgiven showcases what is maybe Clint’s greatest acting performance, as understated as ever but with vast reserves of rage and loss just beneath the surface.  Every other actor in the movie rises to that level — particularly Gene Hackman, who won the Academy Award for his performance as the charmingly down-home yet viciously despotic Little Bill Daggett.  Morgan Freeman is wonderful as always as William Munny’s trusted friend, Ned Logan, bringing a needed warmth to the movie.  I’ve read examinations of Unforgiven that accuse the film of dodging the issue of race in the old West, since the presence of Morgan Freeman automatically makes it pertinent.  I don’t buy those critiques.  Ned’s eventual fate has everything to do with race, whether or not it was originally written that way, and despite the fact that the matter of race is never overtly stated or discussed.  Unforgiven chooses to portray the matter using the most subtle method possible — with casting.  What happens to Ned would be horrible if it happened to anyone.  But when it happens to Morgan Freeman, there is a historic context that doesn’t need to be spoken.

Everything about Unforgiven evinces this theme, which I personally find so appealing as a mission statement:  Emotional power can still be derived from subtety and understatement.  Eastwood’s insistence on choosing and staying loyal to like-minded collaborators has everything to do with the lasting impact that is taken away from every viewing of Unforgiven.   The score by jazz composer Lennie Niehaus is spare but unforgettable.  The production design by Eastwood’s longtime collaborator Henry Bumstead is absorbing and utterly, invisibly convincing.  The most invisible cinematic art of all is editing, and the work done on this film by editor Joel Cox should not be overlooked.  (And it wasn’t, by the Academy Awards that year.)

And then there’s Jack Green’s cinematography in Unforgiven – it’s probably my favorite look of any movie ever.  I wish that every movie looked like Unforgiven, but then I guess they wouldn’t be Unforgiven.  It’s an important thing to talk about, how a movie looks.  So many people write about movies, but never talk about what they look like.  They talk about the script, which you can’t see, but not the photography, which you can.  They talk about the most obvious virtues, like actors and their appearances, but not the next most obvious, and that’s the reason why stars look as good as they do.  Movies are moving pictures, that’s what they are.  Few pictures move me like Unforgiven, and yeah, in this case I know for a fact it’s because of how good the script is, and how good the actors are, but I also know that it has plenty to do with how it looks.  And that’s a credit to Jack Green.  For his work alone, Unforgiven demands to be looked at on as big a screen as possible.

Unforgiven screens tonight FOR FREE! in Brooklyn Bridge Park

And you can find more from me here:  @jonnyabomb