Thursday, February 13, 2014

Movies I’ve stared at on TCM Encore #60 (Clint Eastwood Edition)


I received a rather unpleasant surprise last night when I sat down to watch a pair of Gunsmoke episodes that I DVR’d…neither of them recorded.  Further investigation revealed that our U-Verse largesse of the Encore channels has been rescinded.  I do not know the official explanation for this: whether it was a limited offer (it seems to me that if it was a 30-day trial thing we still had a few days to go); or whether someone at U-Verse realized their mistake…or the possibility that someone sang like a canary and ratted us out.  (I think the second option is perhaps the most probable…and while I was disappointed, they were perfectly within their rights to do this since we hadn’t subscribed to the package.)

The movies I recorded already, however, were still intact—I watched one last night after sitting through the other with the ‘rents as we prayed that we would not lose our power due to Pax Stormicus.

Play Misty for Me (1971) – Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) is a nighttime DJ (for KRML, a radio station in Carmel-by-the-Sea…the town that would elect Eastwood its mayor in 1986) who has a groupie that calls in to request the Errol Garner standard Misty from time to time.  He comes face-to-face with his fan, Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter), at his favorite watering hole after his shift…though he doesn’t realize she’s the caller until after the two of them have gone to her place for a little what-have-you.

Dave’s problem is that he intended for their tête-a-tête to be nothing more than a one-night stand…but Evelyn is a bit clingier than the women he’s accustomed to dating.  She becomes obsessed, stalking him and turning up at his bachelor digs at inopportune times; she even scotches a job interview he’s conducting during a lunch meeting with his prospective employer (Irene Hervey).  When he reconciles with old girlfriend Tobie Williams (Donna Mills), the fit really hits the shan—and Dave soon learns that hell hath no fury, etc.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Eastwood’s heralded directorial debut; a friend of mine recommended it to me because of its subject matter (radio jock threatened by female admirer) since I was in the radio bidness many years ago.  I’ll confess I never experienced anything remotely like what the protagonist encounters in Misty (I always tried to keep the gab between me and callers to a minimum, since it distracted me from my work), but I worked with a lot of “Dave Garvers” in my short radio career so I get a small sadistic pleasure in watching Eastwood’s character (he’s no angel, particularly when he doesn’t exactly come clean with detective John Larch on how he got involved with Walter) squirm.  (I’m not exactly sure how Eastwood affords the pad he’s living in on a jock’s salary—unless he’s taking payola—and the fact that he shows up six minutes before he’s supposed to be on the air always has me rooting for Walter.)

Misty is a first-rate thriller (if a bit dated), and demonstrates that Clint was paying attention all those years of Rawhide and spaghetti westerns; Walter is one of the most terrifying villainesses in the history of movies (I love her meltdown scene in the restaurant when she finds Clint talking with Hervey, and how he wishes he could be anywhere but there when she lets loose with a stream of profanity) and deservedly got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (she blends vulnerability and cray-cray so well).  The musical interludes are the only weak parts of the film (Misty features the Roberta Flack hit The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and sequences from the Johnny Otis Show and other artists that were featured at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival) since they interfere with the pacing.  Of course, it was nice of Clint to cast his pal Don Siegel as the bartender (Siegel directed the star in The Beguiled and Dirty Harry that same year).

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) – First time for me watching this movie that put director Michael Cimino on the map (Clint had originally planned to tackle this one himself but handed it off to writer Cimino, who was able to do 1978’s The Deer Hunter on the success of the film); Clint’s a Korean War vet posing as a preacher in the Montana backwoods when he crosses paths with “Lightfoot,” a ne’er-do-well and car thief played by Jeff Bridges.  The two men are eventually tracked down by Clint’s former partners, George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis, who fill Lightfoot in on his new pal’s backstory: he’s known as “Thunderbolt,” and the three men were involved in a heist on a bank that netted them nada because the mastermind hid the loot in an old schoolhouse…that was apparently torn down to make room for a new one.  The quartet then decides to hit the bank again with the same game plan.

If your movie tastes run toward non-think drive-in fare, Thunderbolt is definitely your meat; I had some problems with the movie because a few of its plot progressions are incoherent and require leaps of faith I wouldn’t attempt on a snowboard in Sochi.  (The four men somehow acquire a 20mm cannon for their heist and no one bats an eyelash at this…then again, with as many gun fellatists as there are in Montana this might not be as farfetched as I think.)  I did enjoy it (my mother figured out where the plot twist was headed, so points to her) for a number of reasons—impressive action sequences, offbeat dialogue and interesting characters (Deliverance’s Bill McKinney turns up a crazed motorist who gives Eastwood and Bridges a lift).  You’ll see a few familiar TV faces in Catherine Bach (The Dukes of Hazzard) and Vic Tayback (Alice); character faves like Dub Taylor, Burton Gilliam and Alvin Childress; and a young Gary (spelled Garey) Busey before he went insane.  (And of course, The Man Who Would Be Sprague—Jack Dodson—as the bank manager, which made me giggle.)  Bridges walks off with the movie (he grabbed an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actor) but I preferred Lewis’ amusing turn as a gentle thug who suffers from incontinence.

1 comment:

grouchomarxist said...

You gotta admit, though, that's one impressive way to crack a safe! (And acquainted as I am with some major gun nuts, I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss the notion of a 20mm recoilless antitank gun in private hands.)

I saw "Play Misty for Me" many years ago and thought it was a great film, but I'd forgotten Eastwood directed it until I caught it again on TCM last year. Very impressive for a first effort. Jessica Walters makes one heck of a spooky lady, a really cringe-inducing performance -- but I mean that in a good way.

True story:

Back in the latter half of the 70s I had a job as a waterbed installer. One day, I was sent to this guy's house to replace his mattress. He'd already drained the bed, but as I was folding up the old mattress, I noticed it had several long slashes in it. When I asked the guy what had happened, he told me his ex-girlfriend had taken a butcher knife to it.

Now, this was not long after I'd first seen PMfM. This guy had his radio tuned to a small college station which specialized in playing jazz and R & B, and I swear to God, not five minutes after he told me about his vengeful ex, they started playing -- you guessed it -- "Misty".

Needless to say, I finished up and got out of there as quickly as I could.