Clint Eastwood's first film as a director, and first investigation into the anxiety at the root of the Eastwood persona -- a sprawling helicopter shot over the Carmel coastline locates the superstar in his pad like Narcissus at the pond, the drawn portrait he contemplates will by the end have its eyes poked out by scissors. Eastwood is a witching-hour DJ with poetry on the side, he gives a bit of Poe in between records and reaps the groupie-benefits afterwards in the bar. The throaty voice calling nightly to make the titular request takes the form of Jessica Walter, who begins as the latest in a string of one-nighters but quickly and ferociously comes to embody the memorable title of J. Hoberman's Fatal Attraction review ("The Other, Woman"). Eastwood's stud complacency is pierced as soon as Walter barges in the following morning with an armful of groceries and an increasingly abrasive edge -- her caricature of female servility ("It's Madame Butterfly time," she coos) segues into psychotic eruptions at the mere suggestion of a break-up, the Man With No Name finds himself trapped in freeze-frame, "completely smothered." The story's inquisitive progression has an unmistakable kinship to The Beguiled (Don Siegel himself is at the bar counter), with the protagonist's position between the assertive, dark witch and the docile, fair maiden (Donna Mills) suggesting an abstruse study of Vertigo. Mills recalls a failed stab as an artist "revolting against the representational," though Eastwood the auteur prefers a new kind of classicism, sturdy cement that reveals its cracks slowly: A pastoral image (Eastwood and Mills walking in the woods) will be composed merely to be unbalanced (Walter's arm enters the foreground, followed by a handheld camera on a freshly shredded living room). Eastwood's technique is already utterly lucid, he makes room for the vérité (the Monterey Jazz Festival sequence) and the Gothic (a Munch view of Walter as a butcher knife plunges into a pillow) while developing his chiaroscuro for the final confrontation, which doesn't so much restore the hero's stability as expose his emptiness. With John Larch, James McEachin, Jack Ging, Irene Harvey, and Clarice Taylor.
--- Fernando F. Croce