[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]
Breezy confirms the fitful but definite promise of Play Misty for Me and High Plains Drifter: Clint Eastwood can direct. Not brilliantly—at this point, anyway—but intelligently, and with conviction to spare. Conviction has a lot to do with the success of his third film, a movie one has only to synopsize in order to appreciate its bountiful capacity for ending up something dreadful: footloose hippie with big dark eyes, a funky hat, and a guitar keeps getting entangled with middleaged, joyless-playboy divorcé in real estate; she decides she loves him, he decides he “can’t cope” with loving her, they part, and an endearingly disproportionate dog reunites them. You can cut yourself off a generous portion of skepticism and still be won over by the cliché-trampling sincerity of Kay Lenz and William Holden in the respective roles. Eastwood himself stays offscreen this time (save for a brief atmosphere bit in longshot) and perhaps that helped his directorial concentration. Yet in another sense one almost feels his presence in the unforced sympathy he brings to both the young representatives of the counterculture (Breezy’s nicely characterized pals as well as the girl herself) and the well-preserved, semi-sporty, but distinctly middleaged lovers and other strangers Holden shares his California lifestyle with (Eastwood, almost incredibly, is pushing 50). It was by no means a given that Holden’s silvering hair and creased face should play off so movingly against Kai Lenz’s breathtakingly tawny-sleek flesh and clear eyes; shot after shot unobtrusively defines their awakening to a kind of mutual knowledge beyond facile paraphrase, and when Holden turns to Lenz in the night after recounting the failure of his marriage and fairly gasps, “You’re so incredibly new!”—well, it’s a considerably more awesome moment than anyone would have expected from a one-time cattle drover on Friday night CBS.
There are still flat-footed instants—but only instants—as when a setup is arranged around a telephone in the foreground because the telephone is going to ring, and Eastwood puts up with some glaring mismatches in color and light during several reverse-cut sequences in tricky lighting situations (there’s never more than the most tenuous justification for this on an expressive level); and there is one of those telephoto beach walks with Michel Legrand theme song voiceover (nothing so out-of-place or protracted as the rock festival footage in Play Misty, though). Still, much of the time the touch is very sure, and it’s incontestably Eastwood’s touch: the avuncular shades of Siegel and Leone aren’t haunting any corners of this movie. But, visually attractive and authoritative as the film may be, it’s with performers that Eastwood scores most tellingly. Kay Lenz has a lot of infuriatingly serene hippie-dippy things to say (which reflects no discredit on Jo Heims’s script—she should talk like that), but her character has a redeeming sense of self-irony that takes the taint off the cultural affectation, and the actress seems to have invested herself in the role completely. William Holden is simply superb, and if here and there he and/or the director have his character hesitating too predictably before leaving a room or acknowledging some shock of revelation, his every other action, expression, gesture—indeed, every one of those sun-, wind-, and age-creases seem unpretentiously important, humanely valuable. Eastwood can take pride in this film, and audiences should be grateful for its thoroughly earned sense of sheer pleasantness.
Direction: Clint Eastwood. Screenplay: Jo Heims. Cinematography: Frank Stanley. Editing: Ferris Webster. Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen. Music: Michel Legrand; Song Lyrics: Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Production: Robert Daley; Associate: Jo Heims.
The Players: William Holden, Kay Lenz, Roger C. Carmel, Marj Dusay.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard T. Jameson